KISS and Wine Writing

wordsHow do you talk about wine without talking about wine?

That’s roughly the question posed by Mike Steinberger in his blog, Wine He wrote a post about the way all of us wine writers, bloggers, and critics describe the wines we’re writing about. “Tasting Notes” are what we call our descriptions of how a wine looks, smells, and tastes.

OK, tasting notes don’t sound too controversial, and it seems they serve a useful purpose. The thing about them is… I for one am sick to death of reading them and writing them. Traditional Tasting Notes can be:

  • the same old “blah, blah, blah”;
  • ambiguous and misleading;
  • total gibberish; or
  • a pack of downright lies.

The truth is, there are only so many descriptors we can use, and so we use them again and again, ad nauseum. For fruit characteristics, we talk about cherry, black cherry, blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, black raspberry, and in one notable case, qumquat.

“Qumquat?” I read that in a tasting note somewhere and set out to find one so I would know what it tastes like. I shouldn’t have bothered — it tastes like grapefruit mixed with essence of dirty socks. Scratch that word off the descriptor list…

And what about those earthy/savory components? It’s not unusual to read about forest floor, pencil shavings, musk, or my personal favorite, wet bush. But who really relates to those things? When was the last time you tasted pencil shavings?

Here’s the thing — we’re trying (lamely) to use words to describe a very visceral experience, and it doesn’t always work. I suggest we revert to the kind of notes I used to read in Wine X Magazine. I loved that magazine’s style (back in the Olden Days when there were actually printed magazines instead of e-everything).

A review in Wine X would go something like this:

“Drinking this Cabernet is like making love in the vegetable aisle.”

Now that’s a review that captures a sensory experience, and gets your imagination working to boot. I think the wine writing community should make a pledge now:

  • No more notes describing the wine. We’ll describe how we feel when we drink the wine.

Can’t you just see it now? Reviews will be short and to the point:

  • “This wine will remind you of when your mother made you eat those disgusting lima beans,” or
  • “This wine oughta replace Viagra in the ED ads.”

I like it: simple, straight-forward, and insightful. Let me know if you agree with me, and if you’ll join me in the pledge. Cheers!

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