Beginners guides

Wine speak? Please! It’s just nonsense!

Firstly I am feeling very prosperous today. Well I would be if I was in Tonga if you know what I mean. I am wearing a particular belt for the first time. It’s not a new belt, it’s just the first time I have worn it. The belt was bought for me by my in-laws many years ago and was too big for me. I was unsure whether to be pleased I was thinner than they thought I was, or cross they thought I was so fat. Today I can wear it. So therefore I am fatter than I was a few years back. I prefer to think of myself as prosperous. In Tonga, prosperity is or certainly used to be measured by your girth.

It seems I am a visionary. I have been brewing this post for a week or so and on TV the other night was a whole section of a programme on this very issue. We woke up to Radio 4 this morning discussing this very same issue also. Extraordinary!

My post today is about how people who know about wine, describe the wine. When I was growing up we didn’t have wine much. For special occasions we might break out a bottle of Black Tower. We certainly never drank red wine as in New Zealand back in the 80’s red wine was also used as diesel I think. It certainly tasted like it. I had literally no idea whatsoever about anything to do with wine. In the 80’s I still wasnt drinking wine, just beer and spirits. I did get an after work job though as a wine waiter at the Coachman Hotel in Palmerston North. Seriously, I had hardly ever touched the stuff and I am serving, and even more ridiculously, recommending wine to diners who also generally knew nothing about wine. I would usually default to something like -“well the Gisborne Chardonnay is very popular”.

I left New Zealand in 1991 and came to the UK via Australia. I still didn’t drink red wine as my experience with it had invariably been bad. Kiwi reds in the old days weren’t good apparently. I seem to remember even as the industry was finding its feet, the common theme was drink Kiwi whites and Aussie reds. My first wife was very posh and a big drinker. I thought I would surprise her one day by getting a couple of smart whites in. I chose Le Piat D’Or. She nearly wet herself laughing at me. Bitch  ! But it was a salutary lesson. I started to have a look into what wine was, and why people chose the various styles that they do. I discovered all sorts of lovely new continental reds that I had never heard of. Rioja, for example, Tempranillo,  Chateau Neuf Du Pape, and all the vagaries of the French regions. I discovered that cheap French whites, to me, are so tasteless that they are just wine flavoured water. I figured out, over the years, how much you could spend and get away with a passable wine of whatever hue. Mostly though I have found out that the people who know about wine and the people who make wine talk absolute complete and utter gibberish when describing the wine to us.

I have a bottle beside me which says that the wine has “a long length!”

I was in a hotel restaurant a couple of years back and Oz Clarke sat at the table next to us. He was with a chum or a colleague and they were of course discussing at great length, the merits of the wine they were playing with. Well if they were drinking it, they were certainly doing it in a most odd fashion. All manner of sucking and swilling, rinsing and swishing. He said to his mate that the wine was showing “hints of graphite”. Graphite? seriously? How on earth would you know what graphite tastes like unless you have been sucking on pencil lead. I would venture if your wine tastes like pencil lead, you might want to send it back and try another one?

I have been having a look at the bottles in my wine rack and there is certainly a theme running through the back label. There is a bit of a description of the vineyard or area  and then some total bollocks about the contents of the bottle.  I have just now gone and grabbed two at random. One says “The altitude of the vines gives great elegance to this wine” What?  The bottle was £5.99 at Waitrose! Lets have a look at the next one. “The nose offers aroma’s of white and black peppers (What? Both?) with dark berries with a touch of spicy oak. It’s a complex wine with medium-bodied palate and an abundance of ripe dark fruit. Hints of cinnamon and chocolate flavours and a lingering finish”.  All that when all I wanted was a decent red wine. It is positively bursting with such a broad range of flavours there is no room left for the winey taste. I am enjoying this now, let’s have a look at another one.  This is a beauty. “This wine has rich ripe flavours of limes, peaches, and apples alongside the characteristic herbaceous components and a unique dry grainy texture (yuck?) on the palate. As with all Sauvignon Blanc wines, intervention in the cellar is minimal out of care and respect for the characters of the vineyard” Oh stop it, Its white wine !

How about some tasting notes from the makers or tasters.

Wine X is a dark medium garnet colour, elegant primary fruit characters, ripe plums, strawberry and cranberry as well as chocolate and spiced notes with balanced oak. A voluptuous wine with enticing aromas and alluring depth, it is full-bodied with structure, complexity and beautiful mouthfeel”. Charming in its youth” Really? is it really charming in its youth? Is it going to get all ribald and tactless in its old age? Beautiful mouthfeel? I imagine snogging Elle McPherson might have a beautiful mouthfeel, but this is just a bottle of moderately priced red wine. Please get over yourselves! You know who you are !

Here is another one “Aromas of blackberry, plum and thyme mingle with characters of cedar, sandalwood and tobacco. On the palate these complex characters are laced with layers of silky tannin providing structure and flavour persistence. The textural and aromatic elements are seamless, framed by balanced acidity”. Well I don’t know about you but I am unconvinced that a wine with characters of wood and tobacco is going to really get my taste buds going. Who on earth thought that was going to get people racing out to buy the wine? Well smokers might I guess?

OK one more from my rack.  “This wine has soft, smooth tannins”. Hands up those of you outside the actual wine industry who have any idea what a tannin tastes like? It sounds ghastly.  I have a mate who is into wine. Well he does sell it so you’d hope so. He is forever banging on about the tannins. “Taste the tannins in that” he will say. I am embarrassed, but not very, to say that I have no idea what a tannin is or where to find one in my wine.

I am convinced that when people enter the trade, they are taken aside by the elders and taught how to speak pretentious gibberish about wine. It’s like the freemasons. only those on the inside are in on the game. The game of coming up with ever more ridiculous descriptions of the many and varied styles of fermented grape juice. Of course I enjoy my wine. I enjoy it a lot. I drink vats of the stuff, so am not a total philistine. I just don’t need to hear about the magic tannins or the aroma of sandalwood. I don’t taste forest fruits in my wine. I taste wine. I read once on a bottle that the wine had hints of Lemon grass! Who knows what lemon grass hints of? How did it get in my bottle?

I mean look at this from a wine bar wine list. Complete bollocks!

Actually one bloke who seems to talk sense is a guy called Matt Skinner. He is something to do with Jamie Oliver. Straight talking makes sense.

A good chum, not the one going on about tannins all the time, is my favourite wine merchant. He knows his stuff and conveys great enthusiasm for the fruit of the vine in all its forms. He too speaks wine gibberish but he does it with such great joy and passion you don’t mind so much.

Jascots wine merchants

If I am buying kiwi wines when my wife lets me. (She is not a fan, grrrr) I get them from Kelvin & Jess at my favourite UK supplier of a fantastic range of NZ wines.

New Zealand House of Wine

Of course the wine folk will tell me, and you, that I am talking tosh and its all very scientific. You and I will just nod and think, in the immortal words of the Tui beer ad’s, “yeah right”.

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7 replies »

  1. Oi, muggins….I am a vintner with what has been described as a small flair for writing tasting notes and, when writing descriptions so, one can only relate to other similar smelling, tasting, colours and textures and draw comparisons to project the flavours of a wine to new comers.
    Admittedly, writers can be ‘bloody daft’ (that sounds Kiwi) like Gilly Goulden describing a wine that “smells of freshly fallen rainfall that has caught in the fork of a silver birch in Epping Forest”. Now that is howling bullshit, but, get yourself a bottle of my 2007 Gigondas by Bertie Stehelin and you’ll find deep red berry fruits intermingled with spice from the oak and hints of tobacco.
    Before you rant on, you bloody muppet, you need to walk around a few foods halls and markets with your eyes, nose and mouth open and smell foods, open up your senses and your mind and you will start to get the drift of the wine writer.
    One other thing….you’re in insurance aren’t you? Well, if your industry adopted the honesty and openness of the wine trade and didn’t write pages and pages of small print that gets them out of ever paying out for a claim, then, to some extent, you may have a point, but, they do and you don’t.
    Now buy some grog off Jascots and I’ll send you some tasting notes and try and educate you up to be like a sophisticated European like your lovely wife and not some antipodean hick who mistakes shit with shinola.
    Good weekend, Cocker

    • Touche Jacko! I’d buy your wine more but my wife says you don’t need the money ! haha
      I work in the insurance industry but I dont write the small print. Its a contract like any other. Terms of business if you will. If you want us to write you a cheque for several million quid when you set fire to West London we expect you to have taken some steps to mitigate the chance of us writing those cheques all the time. Otherwise your insurance would be an awful lot more expensive. Look at it this way. We are betting you a stake of a few million quid that your house wont burn down. You are betting us maybe a grand a year that it will. Each year we look at the odds and you pay the appropriate stake. One day if you arrive home and your home or business is a smoldering ruin you arent going to care how much the stake was. You are going to want to claim your winnings of a million quid or so. On the fine print. There is no point getting excited about it as there is nothing you can do about it. It applies to everyone and the rules are the same for all. What you need to look at are the clauses and conditions unique to you or your industry. That is the stuff you need to pay attention to.
      As for the wine. I understand of course that one has to try and articulate the smells and tastes in the bottle in the most floral fashion as there are many thousands of them all competing for your and my attention. I love your enthusiasm, style and knowledge and the way you convey such excitement for the wines you carry and wine in general. I tell everyone they should come to you. But I am just sounding off for the general public. I concede in numerous places that my rants are just my ill-informed opinion and bear little close scrutiny. Anyway. NO one reads this stuff, so its just what I do for fun in my spare time. Thanks for reading and I will have a look at your tasting notes and watch out for tobacco flavoured wine with some tannin stuff in it. Cheers Jacko !

  2. Good piece this, very good year, not too pretentious. I’m getting burning rubber, I’m getting snail-shell, I’m getting….very pissed.
    Keep it up Kiwi, in my restaurant the Mateus is very popular. That and melon starters followed by incinerated steak and then rounded off with a mountain of profiteroles a la Black Forest Gateau.

  3. Ta mate, We drank Mateus on our holiday in Portugal. It was 9 euro’s a bottle, how bad could it be? Actually it was quite nice, maybe things just taste better when you are looking out to sea on your holidays.

  4. Got me howlin’ , mate.
    Was reading gargantuanwine or something written by a lad ate dirt a bit too late in life and just learnin terroirist has to do with roots lovin’ rock. And began to wonder about The Gibberish, ya know. Well, lucky for me Laddie, you straightened me out.
    Great tragedy in me life matey, can’ne even drink low alcohol beer.
    I used to like to say, “only drink wine when I’m at the Eiffel Tower” and t’was true due to the headache, ya know. One time we New Yorkers (born and bred) was out with a wealthy Frenchman at One Fifth Ave back in ’82 and he ordered us up a half bottle. And that was when I learned what it (real wine) tasted like. Soon hit the harder stuff, actually much later. (Single malts). Wish I could drink. They sure sound lime they have a good time. Buzzzzz.
    But seriously, thanks for spillin’ the beans: It is All Bullshit. Faint notes of battery acid.


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