On Wine

Wine language

2013-08-15T19:53:00Z Wine languageDAN BERGER Napa Valley Register
August 15, 2013 7:53 pm  • 

People love to talk about wine. It’s been called the beverage of conversation, but with some folks it’s really blather and with others it’s ostentation.

Showing off your knowledge, even if it’s completely inaccurate, is fun for some people. Snobs get a lot of credit for this. They toss off words like malolactic and délestage like they invented the ideas.

A lot of what passes for wine expertise these days is a lot of bunk. Just look at the florid language of press releases, the absurd claims of winery newsletters, the meanderings of a few of my contemporaries in the wine-writing dodge. And don’t get me started on bloggers or snooty waiters.

Some of this high-flown verbiage is embedded in wine reviews. Many of the phrases we see are simply gobbledegook.

Now, everyone with a Blackberry and a glass is an expert. And the euphemistic language of today’s wine blogger has evolved from “great” to “OMG!”

So pervasive is the wine chatter among social media types that everyone is now getting good at vinous verbal obfuscation. It’s no longer appropriate to simply say you like a wine. Now you have to sound like an expert.

Like, “This chardonnay is just like they do it in Alsace.” Or “Chile is noted for its great malbecs.”

What I recently have seen is the escalation of terms alleging greatness for wines that are expensive, and a consequent disparagement of wines of low price. This is natural. If something is $150 a bottle, it must be good, right?

Yet look at the results of many wine competitions held around the U.S. Most of the judges are professionals with lots of experience and they do not shy away from giving gold medals to inexpensive stuff.

Often, the two reasons for this are:

• the wines are tasted blind and the judges do not know their prices;

• cheap wines are getting really good.

Just look at two of the most popular wines on the market these days, Barefoot and the Target Wine Cube.

Barefoot, part of the giant E&J Gallo organization, has gotten better and better over the decades. The company wouldn’t be selling millions of cases of this stuff if it wasn’t exceptionally fine. And the Target Wine Cubes, made for the retail chain by Trinchero of the Napa Valley, has earned loads of medals in the last few years for quality wines.

No, you may not see a blogger refer to these wines like, “It’s a blockbuster, with gobs of hedonistic fruit.” But the wines are sound, tasty and really affordable.

To me, the most important chatter about a wine is what the judges at a wine competition think about it, which leads to our wine of the week.

Wine of the Week

2011 Beringer Chenin Blanc, California ($6) – Wine judge Bob Foster, after evaluating this wine at the Riverside International Wine Competition in May, said, “Lovely floral-spice nose. Great fruit on the palate with a long, rich finish. Great juice!”

Dan Berger lives in Sonoma County, where he publishes “Vintage Experiences,” a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at winenut@gmail.com.

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(2) Comments

  1. alderyarrow
    Report Abuse
    alderyarrow - August 16, 2013 11:51 am
    Dan, the assertion that wine quality can be inferred from sales numbers is preposterous to the point of being inane. You do realize you've just stated the wine equivalent of "McDonalds sells a lot of big macs, so they really must be excellent cuisine" don't you?

    Secondly, don't you think you ought to be disclosing your involvement with a major wine competition in the context of praising such competitions for their service to consumers?

    Finally, as one who numbers among the "bloggers" whose reputations you continue to impugn on a regular basis, don't you think such sweeping generalizations are beneath you? You come off sounding like a curmudgeon ranting about "kids these days!" rather than an intelligent commentator on the world of wine. Presumably you know that almost every major working wine writer in the English language has a wine blog these days? So in not distinguishing among bloggers, or qualifying your use of the term, you're oversimplifying. Or should I say, OMG, Dude!
  2. SonomaWilliam
    Report Abuse
    SonomaWilliam - August 22, 2013 6:50 am
    Well stated Alder. I continue to be amazed by the writings of the last year of the "old guard" of wine writers, whom have even go so far to call out Jon Bonne', one of the best wine writers of the new wine era, for championing 'maverick' varietals like Grenache. OMG dude! ;)

    On top of Alder's accurate comment about volume equating to quality, additionally the inference that wines receiving medals equates to quality is equally inane, and there have been several great posts on this topic the last few months. I have judged several of these large competitions and refuse to anymore. Thirty second speed tasting through 50 Zinfandels, rapidly giving scores, where the vast majority of wines medal is not a statement of quality - its an arcane ritual of new world driven palates by the old guard that I refuse to submit wines too. A phenomenal domestic sauv blanc, a ringer for Sancerre, didn't medal because it wasn't 'varietally correct' aka like New Zealand. Consumers serve better.
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