Thursday, April 16, 2009

At a loss for Words

I’ve been thinking about the inadequacy of language a lot lately. Which I guess is a rather odd thing for a writer to do. But I’m thinking especially about the way people communicate how a wine tastes or how it smells and - for want of a better way to say it (see what I mean?)- how it makes them feel.

There are so many ways in which a wine’s character can be parsed. It can be summed up by a series of descriptors (berries, earth, spices and so on) or it can be delineated by its structural elements- tannin, acid etc. Or it can be described by some of the most maddening words in the English language.
What are they? I asked Joe Salamone and Tom Stephenson, the brain trust at Crush Wines in New York ( what they thought some of the most inadequate, most difficult-to-decipher words might be. Their answers were both funny and insightful. “Yucky taste,” Tom offered. “Customers will ask us for a wine ‘without that yucky taste' - as if we have two sections in the store, “Yucky Taste” and “Without Yucky Taste.” "Harsh," is another he offered. And "bitter" too.
According to Joe, people often ask for a wine “without bite” or a wine that's “dry." That’s a really hard wine to figure out, Joe says. Dry is a pretty wide spectrum of wine, after all. But the most perplexing word of all? The word that tells a retailer or anyone else for that matter, the very least? “Smooth.” They both answered - smoothly in unison.

What do YOU think are the most inadequate words in the language of wine ?


  1. I dont think the word minerality works.

  2. "Forest Floor" conjurs up things that do not have anything to do with drinking wine.

  3. I'm amazed that no one has offered up the proverbial "cat's pee"!!

  4. I dunno. I've had some homemade wines that smelled like cat's pee...