Winespeak – decoded
the man or woman who has just devoted a year of their life to making the stuff, or the ardent buyer, were peering anxiously over your shoulder.
Constructive criticism is one thing but I know about wine tasting, not wine making. Plus, sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. That’s part of the reason for talking in code.
A cheery “Oh yes, very commercial” at the end of a winery tasting usually means “This is a Turkey Twizzler of a wine”, a line that might not be greeted with such a big smile.
“Lots of fruit” can be another way of delivering bad news in a good way. “And that’s the only good thing about it” being the great unsaid here.
Then there’s the stuff we write down. OF is my rendering of “ruined by overenthusiastic oaking” – yes, I know “ruined” grapes that are slightly too ripe, but just doesn’t quite taste as good as it thinks it is.
These are not the tasting notes one learns in Wine School but they say far more. I don’t often let others see these curmudgeonly judgments but I was thrilled to look at someone else’s when the Wine Society’s champagne buyer, Marcel Ordord-Williams, published verbatim his notes from the annual champagne tasting in Whitehall last year, plus his verdicts on the 2011s. “Horrid,” he writes. “Sweet. Not my bag.” “No change, avoid.” “Great name, silly bottle, disgraceful wine at NV level.” And my favourite: “Sweet, common, don’t touch.” Apparently this swiftly became one of the most viewed posts on the Wine Society blog.
When wines aren’t up to much, there is rarely any point in detailed analysis. It’s the ones that are exciting that have the pen racing across the page, often with far-fetched notes. I was struggling to describe a slightly feral but delicious background note in one red wine when a friend (male, obviously) snapped: “Look, it’s like the armpits of a very beautiful girl after three sets of tennis.” Not one I’d have thought of myself – and not one I’ll forget in a hurry.
Truly great wines often reduce me to the same terseness as the bad ones. You don’t want to pick and parse, just to write: “Outstanding.” And if possible, sit down and drink them.
Keep it brief: if you have to taste up to 150 wines in a single day, there is no way you can go into rambling, evocative descriptions of each