Posted on

Wet dog in wine, no kidding

It`s perhaps surprising, even bewildering, to think of the vocabulary we use to describe characteristics in wine. I don`t just mean the whole basket of fruit (in anyone`s kitchen, anywhere in the world), I refer to the `strange-and-wonderful` as well, the non-fruit. Just in the last month or so in this column I have mentioned a number of these: butter in wine due to malolactic fermentation; vanilla and spices in wine, from aging in oak; chocolate, mocha, coffee, smoke in wine, from charred barrels; chalk, graphite, iron and slate in wine, from soil; even, from native yeasts, funky farmyard, sweaty-saddle and mushroom aromas; and those rather more attractive esters derived from yeast-autolysis, giving us, in Champagne, for example, dreamy aromas of brioche, fresh-bread and biscuit. Those other curious `tertiary` aromas, as well, from bottle-age: honey, orchard, forest floor (in mature red burgundy: “sous-bois”), game, animal, earth. And here`s some more for you: the smell of petrol, in mature Riesling; tobacco or cigar box, in claret; and how about wet dog? Okay, that one`s a wine fault (a corked wine), like rotten eggs (reductive wine). All these words, and I have barely scratched the surface, such is the vocabulary of wine.  Not a language designed to keep outsiders out by clouding wine in mystery, as some would argue, rather, one we can enjoy and use to converse, a rich tapestry of words and phrases to communicate wine`s complex characteristics. It`s also true, by the way, that we can add our own words to the vocabulary. It`s not a strictly defined list. Wine is personal, sensory and subjective. I recall a member of staff smelling peanut butter once in a Pinot Gris from Alsace. I can`t say I did, but so what? It was her tasting note. It`s also true that tasting notes can be overly flowery and colourful at times. And why shouldn’t they be? Wine is complex, is it not? You can choose to write simple tasting notes if you like. Or, you can dig deep, let your imagination rip, and get wordy. It`s your choice. Cheers everyone.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *