Cat LitterAnd Barnyard. And even, sometimes, Horse Sweat.

Some of the words used to describe wine’s varied characteristics are crazy, to say the least. But as I sit here this evening in my Muse sipping a wonderful Paso Robles Sauvignon Blanc, I understand why that is so.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not a “cat person.” I am most definitely a dog person. My two roomies love me without reservation and without the hidden snoot that’s in every feline. And the fact that I like – even *expect* – the aroma of cat pee in my Sauvignon Blanc in no way indicates that I have a fetish for sniffing cat boxes. Absolutely not. I avoid them whenever possible. Otherwise, I’d probably actually own a cat.

But you have to laugh at some of the wine words. And laugh even more at yourself when you realize that you actually understand what the wine critic was referring to. Let me give you a for-instance or two.

Barnyard. For most people, that means the smell of herbivore animal poo. As well as the damp smells of hay, cow, horse, chickens, and other farm critters and things all mixed up into a whole. But in some wines, this fragrance (or “stench” if you’re skeptical), is expected and desired. If you’re fortunate enough to experience a Bordeaux or a Burgundy (both from France), you will get just a whiff of that barnyard characteristic and go “ahh! I get it!” That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll like the wines, but at least you’ll understand the smell.

Not every descriptor is silly, of course. When you inhale the intense aromas of good German whites – Riesling or Gewürztraminer for instance – the descriptors of apricot, grapefruit, and pear are spot on and you get it.

Others may be a little more obscure. For instance, “spice box.” Yes, I’ve used the term as well. But had to ask myself … *which* spices? Cinnamon and nutmeg are going to have decidedly different characteristics than allspice and pepper. And if you’ve ever inhaled the aroma of a good Caribbean Jerk seasoning or a Vietnamese Pho spice combination, then you realize that “spice box” is a term that says, “I’m not sure what it is, but this sounds good enough ’cause there’s a lot of stuff happening on the nose that I can’t figure out.” At least that’s how I feel when I use the term. Your mileage may vary.

Actually, the only wine descriptors that truly annoy me are those that anthropomorphize the wine; that is, give it human personality characteristics. For example, some time ago I saw the following used to describe a white wine:  Impressive, showy, somewhat eccentric, but overall quite racy and distinctive.


Sounds like he’s talking about yours truly when I’m in a good-to-middlin’ mood, but that doesn’t tell me anything about the wine. What does it smell like?? What does it taste like?? With his description, it sounds like it may go stomping off in a snit if it’s not being properly worshipped. I may give the same wine a sniff and a sip and decide that it’s something like the following: Appears to be going through a PMS stage and seems to be a little cranky, pimply, and bloated.

Which, of course, still won’t tell you what the wine looks, smells, or tastes like. Only that it seems to be somewhat irritable.

And for those of you who are regular readers, you know that I easily will do the same thing. In my last review of Pinotages, for instance, I think I actually used the word belligerent and pugilistic to describe one of them. So my face is reddish. But I did throw in a few words about the taste. I think.

Yes, I’ve been enjoying poking fun at the way wine geeks – myself included – describe wines. I will continue to use the sometimes silly terms and so will you as you learn more about wines and more about winespeak. But don’t worry about it. Remember, most of the wines you drink you’re just going to pop, pour, drink, and enjoy.

But first you’ll take a whiff of the cat pee.

(Note:  I wrote this over three years ago when I had both of my beloved “roomies” Cooper and Conner sharing my home with me. They’ve since gone on to the bridge and my current roomie, Jake, is happy to take up the Wineaux Dog baton.)

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