Speaking of Aged Wines

aged wineMaster Sommelier Tim Gaiser has a wonderfully informative post about what happens when a wine ages, how to appreciate aged wines, and how to communicate to “customers, clients, and guests” the changes a wine undergoes as it ages.

But buried deep in his post he reinforces two head-smacking canards that we really ought to dispense with. He writes:

Describing wine is never easy. There’s no inherent vocabulary for it and we in the industry have long been guilty of shamelessly pilfering terms from other unrelated fields.

Well if there is no inherent vocabulary (there isn’t) there is no alternative to “pilfering terms from other unrelated fields.” Would neologisms (made up words) be more intelligible? And why is such pilfering shameless? It’s called using metaphor which, on some accounts, is the foundation for much our capacity to think. In any case, without metaphor there would be little to talk about when discussing wine.

The second canard is just straightforwardly dishonest:

Here are some suggested dos and don’ts for speaking the language of an older wine, as well as a couple terms that usually need explaining.
Descriptors to use: dried, jammy, candied, preserved, and savory. Also–and these may require explanation–integrated, married, and melded.
Descriptors to avoid: oxidized, faded, musty, dank, dying, and generally anything that can easily be associated with “old.”

So if a wine is oxidized we should call it “preserved”? If it’s musty or dank it’s “savory”. Since when is lying to your “customers, clients, or guests” a recommended path to winning their allegiance? One would think credibility ought to mean more to a sommelier. We really need to get over this fear of negative evaluations of wine. If a wine is crap, call it so.


  1. To be fair…

    In his post Tim is talking about a sommelier presenting an older wine to a less experienced consumer–at least, that’s the lead in to his post, and is consistent with his other posts and audience.

    And a disclaimed–he is a dear friend. And we argue about the language of wine with great enthusiasm. At least i do.

    1. Hi Paul,
      Right I get that. But I had trouble figuring out in exactly what context someone would present a wine as musty, dank, or dying where she would have to be admonished to use better language unless the wine were indeed way over the hill and she was trying to avoid pointing that out.

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