The Seven Pretentious Words to Avoid When Describing Wine

Written by Josh Perilo on . Posted in Dining Our Town, Dining West Side Spirit, Eat & Drink, Our Town, Our Town Downtown, The Penniless Epicure, West Side Spirit.


“You’re a writer, huh? What kind of stuff do you write?”

“Oh, a little of this,” I said, staring at my shoes, knowing exactly where this conversation was headed, “A little of that.”

“Like what? What’s one of the things you get paid to write about?”

“Wine.”

My single-word answer was followed by an unconscious frown from the gentleman I had just met. Indeed, he now knew all he needed to know about me, and he excused himself to grab another drink.

“It’s going to be a beer,” he sneered as he walked off. “Hope you don’t think less of me for that!”

I don’t blame the guy. I hate wine writers, too. We’re smug and arrogant and we assume that we know more than regular guys. The only thing my so-called wine knowledge has really got me is a handful of trivia answers about vinification and European geography.

I have always said, and I maintain, that the most important idea behind wine appreciation is “know what you like.” The more you drink, the more you know, and the more you know, the more you know what it is exactly that you like. All of the fancy-shmancy wine talk in the world can’t convince anyone that a crappy wine is anything other than a crappy wine.

So today I would like to feature the seven stupidest descriptors that wine writers use when describing the fermented juice. If I can encourage just one oenophile to refrain from using even one of these words, I feel this column will have served the greater good.

Barnyardy. Mmm, nothing like the smell of horse manure, rotting hay and moldy barn wood to whet the appetite for a tasty red from the south of France. Believe it or not, this is meant to be a compliment for a fuller-bodied, rustic wine, like those that come from the area of Cahors. But, honestly, the idea of it kind of makes one want to throw up in one’s mouth.

Foursquare. In case you were wondering, no, your bottle of wine has not decided to check in at the local Irish Pub on its smart phone. This meaning of foursquare is the one that Webster’s College Dictionary defines as “marked by boldness and conviction.” Oh, you mean “bold”? This snotty adjective was popularized by the king of snotty wine adjectives, Robert Parker Jr.

Pencil Shavings. While we’re bashing Mr. Parker, let’s address the No. 1 confounding “positive” descriptor that he uses when talking about older Bordeaux. Perhaps he had some kind of unnatural graphite fetish when he was in middle school, but for the majority of us, a good bottle does not remind one of sucking on a No. 2.

Biscuity. I know that there are droves of sommeliers who will disagree with me, but I have never sniffed a sparkling wine that I thought smelled like a biscuit. Yeasty, perhaps. Doughy or bready, sure, but KFC or Popeyes have never crossed my mind. And if we’re talking about biscuits as in cookies, then just say cookies. We’re not in bloody England.

Playful. Wines are not playful. I’ve never had the occasion to toss a ball back and forth with a pinot noir, nor have I engaged in a game of disc golf with a sauternes. This adjective is a cop-out for a wine writer with a crappy palate. It means “this wine is light and people tell me it’s good, but I don’t really get it.”

Quince. Now I will concede that this adjective is incredibly accurate for describing some wines. There are a handful of whites from specific areas that definitely have the taste of quince, but let me pose this question: When was the last time you ate quince? Using it to describe a wine is like telling a normal person (anyone who hasn’t had quince in the last five years) that the wine is too sophisticated for their palate.

Pipi du Chat. ‘Nuff said.

I will admit that I am guilty of using these descriptors from time to time. But hopefully now that we’ve admitted that the emperor has no clothes, we can all sip with a little less apprehension.

Follow Josh on Twitter: @joshperilo.

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