Fine Whining

A reader of my suggested LGBT wine blends a while ago points to a provocation by our friends over at about wine criticism and wine rating in general, the point of which is that wine tasting is “all hooey.”  (Actually Riccochet cleaned up the original material, which was predictably bovine in origin.)  Wine experts disagree and often contradict themselves (unlike other experts?); the point-scale rating system is clearly subjective; and so forth.  And above all, wine writing is preposterous:

The wine review excerpted in the top image for this post, for example (which is a real review, by the way – somebody actually wrote those words about a bottle of wine, in earnest) lists the following components in the wine’s “principle flavor” profile: “red roses, lavender, geranium, dried hibiscus flowers, cranberry raisins, currant jelly, mango with skins [Ed. note: jesus wine-swilling christ – mango with skins?], red plums, cobbler, cinnamon, star anise, blackberry bramble, whole black peppercorn,” and more than a dozen other flavors that I refuse to continue listing lest my head implode.

The apotheosis of a pretentious, formulaic wine review would look like this:

“A velvety chocolate texture and enticingly layered, yet creamy, nose, this wine abounds with focused cassis and a silky ruby finish. Lush, elegant, and nuanced. Pair with pork and shellfish.”

Actually I agree with much of this critique.  In fact, I wrote an article almost twenty years ago on just this subject.  Some of it went like this:

A fondness for wine can corrupt one’s good character.  A quick perusal of The Wine Spectator shows why.  Talking about wine lends itself to the same kind of silly jargon that has justified the fraud called “modern art” and ruined literary criticism.  Someday I’m going to write a book about the subject.  I’ll call it Higher Humbug for the Truly Pretentious: How to Sound Like George Plimpton in Three Easy Lessons. . .

Fortunately, the world of wine criticism awaits any of the lit. crit. washouts.  The lingo of the wine world is fully developed.  Get command of it, and you can terrify and humiliate any host or hostess in the land.  All you need do is await your host’s solicitation on the evening’s main wine, look thoughtful, and say, “Superb, but—it dies a sudden death on the middle palate.”  If you wish to mitigate this cruel blow, you can add, “But it finishes well.”  We can see the headlines in the local tabloids now: “Publishing Mogul Brought Low by Cheeky Chardonnay.”

Higher wine criticism depends wholly upon a few simple adjectives of more than usual subjectivity when applied to the fruit of the vine.  Today a fine red wine will be described as “big, full, complex, with a long finish.”  “Intense, crisp, firm, tight, and elegant” are also in fashion at the moment.

Putting down a wine can be a lot of fun, but involves the same ponderous prose.  Consider this Wine Spectator evaluation of a Lyeth 1986 Sauvignon Blanc: “Perfumed and spicy with floral notes, more like a Gewurtztraminer than a Sauvignon Blanc, finishing dry, flat and slightly bitter.  Tasted twice.”  It’s the “tasted twice” that really seals the fate of this wine.

Or consider this assessment of a Chateau Woltner 1987 Chardonnay: “Has an extreme style that’s hard and austere . . . a wine of disjointed character and little charm.”  Now, I’ve had my prose described this way, but never my wine.  I can envision a pub with the sign: “Shirt and shoes required.  No disjointed wine served here.”

“Bramble” was much in fashion for a while in the 1970s, and even appeared on the labels of a few brands.  [NB: I see it is still alive from the piece mentioned above.]  It finally disappeared when people caught on that no one except Ewell Gibbons had any idea what “bramble” tastes like.  But I think I’ve spotted the next bogus trend.  Here’s the Wine Spectator’s rating of Ferrari Carano’s 1988 Fume Blanc: “Rich, intense and concentrated with round, smooth fruit that offers grapefruit, citrus, fig and stone flavors that finish with a soft touch.”  “Stone flavors?”  I don’t think I want to know.

Anyway, I just say this: “Drink what you like.” Or, as I sometimes put it, my philosophy of wine-food pairing is: Yes.  They should be paired.  And this month, according to the latest from the Paso Wine Guy, it’s Pinot that should be paired, though I’m not so sure about the Detroit sushi:

P.S.  My wine cellar, finally starting to get sorted out: