Wednesday, February 8, 2012

LINGO: A Perversion to Wine Descriptors

Ever heard an 'aficionado' pontificate- perhaps endlessly- with a litany of descriptors that either no human has actually experienced, or, don't even exist?

"This wine is redolent of kaffir lime blossom, truffled walnut oil, pit of under-overripe white peach, sassafras bark, Cambodian breast milk, and Keebler Pizzarias..."

It's ridiculous!  I mean, Keebler Pizzarias have been off the market for decades.  How are we supposed to remember their authentic pizzeria aromas and flavors, all baked- not fried- into a delicious, crispy chip?

Oh, I have a tough time with this argument.  Indeed, there are chemical compounds that exist in wine grapes and are created through the fermentation and aging processes that exist in nature: fruits, vegetables, organic matter, etc.  And, understanding the signature aromas of certain wines can help us all identify them better, thus improving our familiarity with them, and ultimately garnering greater appreciation for said wines.  A frame-of-reference is important, but it can quickly become a point of confusion.

Yes, there are incredibly astute tasters who smell the difference in yellow peach and white peach.  They pick out Chenin Blanc from the Loire in blind tastings because of a distinct nose of walnut oil.  For these cats, a need for extreme specificity exists.

However, for the average Joe Six-pack who wants to learn about wine, overly-esoteric descriptors can come across as less "helpful" and more "off-putting and confusing".  Thus, there exists a significant need to keep it simple when educating.  Saying wines smell of citrus or red berries or tropical fruits can help frame the aromas in a broad- and familiar- manner.  Then, any wine drinker who picks up on these general olfactory profiles can increase his/her enjoyment of the wine.  Indeed, successfully identification of a telltale aroma is... fun.

Of course, in the current profession, I come across this issue quite a bit.  When training a wait staff at a restaurant about my wines, I try to keep it very high-level.  It will behoove neither the waiter nor the customer to speak in confusing and unfamiliar aromas.  Unless, of course, there is a sporting motive.

With that said, I admit that it is fun to slip one in here and there.  But "tangelo leaf" and "fuji apple" and "white truffles" are all played-out.  Hackneyed fodder of the wine media.

So I present... L-I-N-G-O!  America's first- and finest- wacky wine descriptor challenge.

I guarantee that none of the descriptor in "L-I-N-G-O" have hit a tasting sheet.  I hope to see this game posted in restaurants across America.  The first server to successfully use enough descriptors throughout the night to earn "L-I-N-G-O", without question from the buyer, wins a prize.

Sounds simple, right?  Well, that remains to be seen.  I challenge you to describe a wine as being "funkier than Bootsie Collins, with powerful aromas of Skin Bracer and Tacos" without a pause or a raised eyebrow.

Let the games begin...

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