Since I’ve been banging on this topic a whole lot recently, why stop now? Especially when what I’ve been arguing is supported by a luminary such as the great wine importer Kermit Lynch who is probably more responsible than anyone else for introducing Americans to wines from small, high quality, European producers.
The issue is the modern tendency to describe a wine as if it’s a basket of fruit instead of trying to articulate the personality and emotion of wine. Reminiscing about his early years in an interview for Food and Wine magazine, Lynch says:
Now you see French winemakers, Italian wine makers, saying that this wine smells like a cherry or a berry or something—no, no, back then the wines were human beings.
You know, all that berry and cherry stuff, it’s not even a practical way to talk about wine, because even if you tasted a lot of wine, if you go in and taste the new vintage when it’s three months old, it might smell like cherry. You go back a month later and it might smell like boysenberry. You go back later and think “My God! Where did that coffee aroma come from?” So by the time your review gets in the magazine, the wine no longer smells like what it did when you smelled it. That’s always bugged me, the new way of writing about wine as if it were fruit juice. When wine was described in human terms, as a man or woman for starters, then you really got down into some interesting conversations.
He’s right about this. Wines change. They’re always in motion, in the mouth, in the glass, in the bottle, and in the barrel, always interacting with their environment and showing different aspects over time. Because wine continually changes its form, even as we taste it, we have to relate it to other things that continually change such as a person’s mental and emotional state, the features of our natural environment, or the tensions and releases of music.
Wine lends itself to metaphors associated with persons because each wine is an individual and has a unique way of unfolding just as each person or song is an individual with a distinctive character.
The fruit basket approach to tasting notes does capture a part of what we taste but leaves the most important part, the wine’s process, out of the description.
Alas, I see no prospects for a change in our approach to writing about wine—we seem to like our fruit basket if only because it’s comfortable and familiar.