How to Talk About Wine

wine talkThe question of what language we should be using to describe wine is important not only for wine appreciation but to enable wineries to sell their wine and expand their customer base. So I read Hannah Fuellenkemper’s recent post with some skepticism. Entitled “Why You Don’t Need to Learn to Talk About Wine”, she writes:

Lock me up for thoughtcrime, but winespeak often creates more distance then it connects. And like any glossary, it has its limitations. Take ‘varietal typicity’ – whether a wine shows it can only be answered yes/no. How far does that go? Or the sling all your things in that old duffel-bag descriptors of ‘black fruit’ and ‘herbaceous’. To hear it is like listening to opera through a stethoscope – a scientists’ tool not suited to translating art.

Well I agree with that. In fact, the only two things in the post I disagree with are the title and her implication that she doesn’t know how to talk about wine.

When I drink, I drink to savour, not for the right terminology or the specs. I drink for associations and memories, joy and energy, for colour, to contemplate but also to refresh. I drink for kaleidoscope glitter, shapes, unexpected turns and twists. Sometimes there’s mystery, other times it’s more about fluidity than a sense of individuality. Best of all is when I feel that pulse of liquid electricity.

Hannah, that is exactly how to talk about wine. There is a time and place for standard winespeak but no one ever captured the essence of a wine by listing fruit notes or reporting how much oak was used. Describing the individuality of a wine—if in fact it is distinctive, many wines aren’t—is something we are not very good at because people like Hannah have been browbeaten into thinking highly descriptive or metaphorical language is too subjective.

But there is no standardized language for describing uniqueness—if there were it would not be uniqueness you’re describing. This is why I find musical metaphors to be useful.

So, Hannah, please keep talking about wine; you do it better than most.

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