Delirious description

Monday, 15 March, 2004
Natalie MacLean
It's hard to tell whether the critic is talking about wine or Brad Pitt
Describing wine often has a faint whiff of condescension over a robust layer of barnyard by-product. The adjectives seem to be the fruit of over-ripe imaginations: when I hear 'muscular,' 'tight' or 'rakish,' it's hard to tell whether the critic is talking about wine or Brad Pitt.

'Perfectly integrated' is how I'd describe my son's multi-racial nursery school; and 'legendary concentration' is what I need to figure out my income tax return. However, 'opulent' is indeed a legitimate wine descriptor — it usually refers to the price.

'It just smells like wine to me,' a friend said recently when pressed to describe the wine we were sharing.

She isn't alone: beyond a few basic adjectives, most people have difficulty describing how a wine smells and tastes. Indeed, the first time I listened to two wine-loving friends discuss a merlot, I thought they were speaking an ancient tribal language. They reminded me of James Thurber's 1937 cartoon showing one drinker commenting to others: 'It's a naïve domestic Burgundy without any breeding, but I think you'll be amused by its presumption.'

Wine writing continues to evolve into ever-more esoteric language that seems far removed from the actual experience of smelling and tasting wine (I've never smelled lantana, the evergreen shrub one writer insisted he found in an Australian shiraz). What could be prompting this proliferation of purple prose?

- Natalie MacLean

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Issued by: NatDecants