A word about wine

I love words. Besides the fact that I now make my living with
them, they have always fascinated me.
The fact that humans from a particular geographic region can all
agree that a certain sound symbolizes a specific thing or action
is, to me, mind bogglin
I love words. Besides the fact that I now make my living with them, they have always fascinated me.

The fact that humans from a particular geographic region can all agree that a certain sound symbolizes a specific thing or action is, to me, mind boggling. I mean, get three people together, and they won’t agree on much of anything. But there it is: they will all agree, for instance, that the sound “wine” refers to the beverage that results from the fermentation of fruit juice. That same sound, spelled differently, also refers to something my first wife used to do all the time, but that’s another story.

People who enjoy wine have developed a language all their own. There are words for the aroma and flavor characteristics of wine, for its tactile properties, and for its appearance. Winemakers have developed an even more specific and esoteric lexicon to describe various processes, procedures and equipment used in their trade. And some of them are quite odd.

Take for instance “bottle sickness.” Also known as “bottle shock,” this term refers to a reaction that affects wine just after bottling as a result of its being infused with oxygen. It develops a flat or neutral taste and aroma. Happily, bottle sickness cures itself when the wine has a chance to repose in the bottle for a few weeks.

“Bung” is another word for the stopper that is used to close up wine barrels. A glass of fine Cabernet to the first person who can guess the name of the place where the bung is inserted.

The term “Noble Rot” was undoubtedly coined because it’s easier to pronounce (and spell!) than Botrytis Cinerea. And, I suppose, it sounds more professional and palatable than “mold,” which is what it is.

Botrytis is a beneficial mold, though, one that is considered a blessing among winemakers – but only if it occurs on ripe fruit. Because then, it causes the grapes to shrivel, and that concentrates and intensifies sugar and flavors. Kind of like growing premature raisins. Why is that good? Well, because with those grapes, winemakers can craft some very delicious dessert wines. Some are marketed as “late,” some as “late harvest” and still others as “select late harvest.”

In Europe, the terms for our friendly mold get even more unpronounceable. In France it’s called Pourriture Noble and in Germany it goes by Edelfaule. Even worse, the wine the Germans make from Edelfaule is called “Trockenbeerenauslese.” Say THAT three times fast.

At the time of his death, Baby Boomer comedic hero John Belushi was developing a film script called “Noble Rot” with actor/writer Don Novello (aka Father Guido Sarducci). The hard-partying pair spent time in Napa Valley researching the project. I think that in this case “research” is spelled “d-r-i-n-k-i-n-g.” To my knowledge, the script has not yet been made public, but – and this is just my opinion – it’s difficult to imagine how funny a movie about mold can be.

The language of winetasters is pretty eccentric, too. Flavors, aromas and visual qualities are elusive – indeed, each person experiences these things differently – and can be challenging to describe verbally. Here are some I particularly enjoy:

Petroleum: Also called petrol, this describes the faint odor of petroleum (natch!) that some wines exhibit. Believe it or not, this is considered a good thing, especially in some Rieslings. Me? I prefer my petrol in the tank, not the tankard.

Raisiny: Again, this is a good thing, and is usually used to describe the concentrated sweet flavors of the aforementioned late harvest wines made from wines affected with Noble Rot.

Fat: Well, well. The wine world is possibly the only one that uses the word “fat” in a positive sense. (I’m not counting hip-hop culture, because in that sense, the word is spelled “phat.”) A fat wine is one that is full and rich in flavor. You know, FAT.

If it’s not quite fat, it can be called “plump.” Further down the flavor scale it becomes “flabby.” Obviously, this is a word that should be used with caution, especially out loud as certain people might be offended.

These are just a few of the interesting terms in use to describe wine. I chose a smattering to illustrate the point. However, I feel that there is always room for improvement in anything, and to that end, I have invented some wine terms of my own. Here they are:

Velveeta: Smooth and creamy, inexpensive and consistent from one batch to another. A guilty pleasure, best enjoyed behind closed drapes.

Slutty: Enjoyed by many, respected by few. Not the kind of wine that you would bring to Mom’s house for Sunday dinner.

Harley: In-your-face, no-apologies wine, passionately loved by some, extremely irritating to everyone else. If it’s not annoying enough when initially purchased, there are many expensive aftermarket flavorings available to make it even more so. Preferred by overweight, middle-aged men with identity crises who wear Hulk Hogan moustaches and do-rags.

Hollister: Used to describe a friendly, open, affordable wine. Due to legal issues, there is a moratorium on its production at this time.

Deja: A wine you swear you’ve had before.

Mustang: A new wine dressed up to look like an old one.

Cher: an old wine dressed up to look like a new one.

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