Monday, April 27, 2009

Reading Wine

I love wine. I love to drink wine and try new wines and read wine labels and shop for wine and read wine reviews. I love going to wine tastings. I would not consider myself an expert, but I have learned a little about wine over the years. I don’t “cellar” wine. I don’t invest in wine. I cannot bear to pay over $20 for a bottle, except when dinning out and then $20 is a good price.

It is hard to tell someone what something taste like or smells like. You can say something is tart or sweet but most often you have to resort to comparing one taste to something else with which one is familiar in order to convey what something taste like.

I have experienced enough wine to know what to expect from some wine descriptions. If a white wine is described as having “apple” on the palate, I sort of know what to expect. I understand “oaky” or “citric” or “minerally.”

A red wine may be described as “blackberry” or “dark fruit” or “strawberry.” I sort of know what to expect from those different descriptions. The terms “tobacco,” “coffee,” or “leather,” I think describe the same aroma and I think I know what that means.

Some descriptions of wine leave me totally baffled. Sometimes I think the writer is not trying to describe the wine but is a frustrated poet writing flowery prose. Sometimes I think the wine writer is putting us on. Just like I sometimes wonder if an artist really thinks his box of dirt is a work of art, I wonder if the wine writer is really trying to describe a wine or just trying to see how far along he can sting the reader.

Frank Sutherland, a former editor of The Tennessean, writes a regular wine review column for The Tennessean. He and a panel of experts compare four to six wines of the same category and then Sutherland writes the review, describing the aroma, palate and the panel’s verdict of the wine. I always enjoy reading his column.

One time Frank described a white wine as tasting of “Texas pink grapefruit.” Now, I could understand “grapefruit” or even “pink grapefruit”, but “Texas” pink grapefruit? Honestly now, how many of you can tell a Texas pink grapefruit from a California or a Florida pink grapefruit.

He once described the aroma or the taste of a wine as “dusty tomato stems.” I don’t know what dusty tomato stems smell or taste like.

In a recent review of Pouilly Fuisse, he described the palate as “flavors of apples, pear skins, tangerine peel, apricots and wet stone.” Ok, I can’t detect all of those flavors, but I accept the apples, pear skin, tangerine peel and apricots, but I draw the line at “wet stone.” What does wet stone taste like?

He described the aroma of a 2007 Rodney Strong Russian River Pinot Noir as “bacon.” Ok, maybe so. He described the aroma of the 2007 Benot-Lane Pinot Noir as “yellow cake batter,” and “green banana skins,” and the palate as “cotton candy.” The aroma of the 2006 Spindrift Pinot Noir was “Luden’s Cherry Cough Drops.” Not just cherry cough drops mind you, but “Luden’s” cherry cough drops.” He wouldn’t want us to think that the wine had the aroma of Vicks Cherry Cough Drops or Smith Brothers Cherry Cough Drops; no it has the aroma of Luden’s Cherry Cough Drops. I myself am just not that much of a connoisseur of cough drops.

Maybe my tastes are just not that sophisticated and discerning or either Mr. Southerland is putting us on. I don’t know that I am learning that much about wine from reading his column, but I am being entertained. I will keep reading Frank’s Wine in Nashville column.

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