It’s a naive domestic Burgundy without any breeding, but I think you’ll be amused by its presumption.

James Thurber

Sometimes I feel like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz.  I have what it takes to be brave and bold, but at the same time, self-preservation is first and foremost.  Let’s just say that I’m much into boat-rocking just because I happen to have a clever (to me) idea.

The words that many wine tasters, geeks, writers, journalists, and wonks use to describe their wine experiences have been the target of ridicule and scorn for decades. Just Google it. The James Thurber quote above, funny as it is to people who know wine, sounds like normal winespeak to almost everyone else.


But I can’t say that it’s not justified. I’ve read too many descriptors that bring up things that I can’t help but wonder how they know what these things taste like. I’ve openbook2actually seen in famous national wine publications such taste descriptors as “hot stone,” “wet earth,” “old leather,” and “cigar box.” Now I know that cigar box is a common one, but I wasn’t allowed to put the other stuff in my mouth. Especially the hot stone. Sounds painful.

Yours truly isn’t completely innocent of wine overspeak, by the way.  I vaguely recall – in the pre website-getting-hacked days – describing a Pinotage as “pugilistic.”

As I go through the paces of organizing my wine knowledge in preparation for future awesomeness, there are some things that I am learning that could potentially lay the foundation for future wine-snob-geek-speak (I made it up. what.)

The “Grid”

No, that’s not the title of some futuristic science-fiction blockbuster movie coming soon.  It’s the name of the process – using a “grid” guide on paper – that future sommeliers and other assorted knowledgeable wine geeks must learn in order to past tasting exams. On the serious side, this is very important to build knowledge and learn about the tasting and analysis process.

The grid (and there are several – I’m speaking generically here) is generally set into different sections and components. One section is how the wine looks (color, clarity, viscosity); how it smells (fruity, earthy, faulty);  how it is in the mouth (flavor, mouthfeel, finish); and finally the conclusion (varietal(s), place of origin, and vintage if you’re really good). Some will have a guided tasting of the wines on paper (that’s the style in the link), and others will be for blind tasting.

As an aside, Master Sommeliers rock these grids. They take the analysis to an incredible level.  Not only do they have to reach an accurate conclusion on the wine (“Cabernet Sauvignon”), but they have tell everything about it.  Here’s an example, artistic liberty notwithstanding:

“This is a 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Mt. Veeder AVA of Napa Valley. The grapes were sourced from the XXX Vineyard on a cool morning in late September. The winemaker was John Smith, whose teenage daughter ran away with an unseemly boyfriend earlier in the year, and his angst is displayed in the wine style for this vintage.”

I’m not there yet.

While I’m nailing the grid bit by bit, theres a bit of a rebel in me that wants to describe a wine with my emotions rather than a strict set of analytics.

Here’s an example.

Setting the scene:

Wine is poured into the glass.

In the glass it is very pretty. It has beautiful viscosity and makes me smile as the light catches it.

On the nose it smells delicious and beautiful, kind of like a morning after a rain. If it were perfume, I’d dab it behind my ear.

On the palate, it is delicious! There’s all kinds of fruit going on and I like the way it makes me feel. Yummy.

Conclusion: If this wine were a man, I’d date it.

Alas, such flights of fancy are frowned upon by the cognoscenti of this wine world that I have enthusiastically joined. Such descriptions would be treated with indignation and furrowed brows, and with finger-pointing derision from everybody else.

So I will continue to secretly admire James Thurber for his humorous take on winespeak. And I will stay connected to my inner Cowardly Lion and not rock the boat. But I will rock the grid.


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