How often do you find yourself specifically choosing, or refusing, to use certain words when describing wine? We often select and refer to words that conjure up sense memory, but there are times I may select a word and find myself promptly removing it and choosing a different approach or descriptor. Several of my rarely-used descriptors originate from the stables: horses, saddle leather, horse sweat, manure, alfalfa pellets, oats, freshly plowed track soil, and variations on these.
Many of these words or phrases elicit negative connotations to me, hence my reluctance to use them. For example, the word “oily” simply feels negative to me while in the right situation it might be an ideal quality, like a properly aged baseball glove or the expected phrase, “a well-oiled machine”. One of the things I find interesting is that the words may not have similar reactions from others. I actually find saddle leather and gun oil comforting odors, and I have seen people put their nose close and drink the smell in deeply from a leather jacket in the same way I inhale the scent from a luxurious red. Perhaps the odors of the American West oppose the ideas formed during my French wine education?
In recent weeks, I have tasted several new reds, several old reds, and a handful of various wines that I’m incorrectly calling “winter” whites. They are only winter white wines to me, when in warm weather I enjoy a glass of white regularly I tend to ignore them during the cold months and stay with heavier flavors such as single batch bourbons or single malt scotch as a cocktail before a glass of red wine served with dinner.
What words I use to describe the season in which I try a wine has nothing to do with the winemaker’s intention, and a phase like ‘gun oil’ or ‘saddle leather’ might elicit a warm, fuzzy feeling to one reader and a negative image or memory from another. Interestingly, my intent in calling a wine a ‘winter white’ simply implies I enjoyed it out of my normal season for enjoying the grape, in the same way that I often ignore big, bold, complex cabs during the hotter months of the year, and YMMV.
My favorite descriptive word is “velvety” which I use for specific quality of odor and mouthfeel I’ve found in certain well-matured Bordeaux, while my least favorite descriptor is “cat urine“, which I’ve used unfortunately at tastings for some very high end Sauvignon Blancs. Tasting a vineyards’ $400/bottle premiere cru that has a strong odor of cat urine can be off-putting for many people. I knew something was amiss when I saw it was the only wine, and a white wine at that, decanted at the tasting!
If you’re not an avid reader of Robert Parker, you might not know about his glossary of wine terms, which can be a great reference.
What are your least or most favorite wine descriptors?