“I cook with wine; sometimes I even add it to the food.” — W. C. Fields
If you are new to wine, it can get very confusing when someone says a wine has a hint of banana and leather. What? Who on earth would put banana and leather in a drink?They didn’t. What is really happening is much more interesting.
During the fermentation process, molecules are produced that are identical to the ones that give other things their flavour or smell. For example, you will hear someone refer to a wine as being ‘tarry.’ What they mean is that it has flavours that remind them of tar. That sounds a bit odd and kind of gross, but it actually gives the wine a depth that is a bit similar to the way pipe smoke smells.
The list of possible flavours is nearly endless, but fruits, spices, and vegetables are very frequently referred to.
When you are describing a wine to someone else, you can use any flavour references that you understand. If you say something is ‘earthy’, it does not mean that the wine tastes like soil, but that it has that rich loamy smell that earth has in the deep woods or after turning it over.
How to talk about wine isn’t easy and can sound very pompous to start referring to a wine as having flavours of cola and leather, but, in actuality, there are chemical elements in the wine that are exactly the same as the items you are referring to. That’s why you taste them.
Again, when you taste these flavours, it’s not that someone added them, but that the amazing grape created these complex tastes during the fermentation process.Jeff Smith, the founder of Carte du Vin explains that it’s all about the language you use when describing a wine.
For example “Citrus” isn’t bad, but “lemony” is better. And “Meyer lemon” or “lemon zest” will really make it seem like you know what you’re talking about. Crunchy green apple, succulent nectarine, oolong tea—it’s this kind of specificity that gets bonus points for creativity.
He goes on to say that if you tie together your hyper-specific nouns with some broad adjectives, that again can make all the difference.
Here’s a shortlist: Elegant, balanced, bright, refreshing, smooth, vivid, tangy, zesty, round, juicy.
To finish off here are 5 pointers to help you not say the wrong thing:
1. Don’t say I’ll just drink anything – Make sure you know what you like because having an opinion shows that you have the confidence to voice what you like. If you fancy a Pinot Grigio or a Dry Riesling or even a cheeky Shiraz then say so.
2. Don’t be wineist – Discounting a wine just because of its colour is a big no no as this implies your snobby attitude will already hinder lively debate and discussion. I can’t tell you how annoying it can be when someone won’t drink a red wine because it’s red! There are so many flavours to discover, open your mind!
3. Know your bubbles – Remember it’s not all about Champagne so tread carefully to make sure you’re not drinking a Cava, Prosecco, Sekt or a Sparkling Wine. Prosecco for example has been outstripping Champagne in popularity and sales in the UK so make sure you get a glimpse of the bottle first or ask subtle question such as ‘What have we got here? Tastes great.
4. ’Bordeaux' is a region not a grape – This can make you stand out like a sore thumb. There are five noble grapes i.e. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Find what you like and make a mental note.
5. Discount new age wines – There is a habit amongst some winos of only truly sticking to French, Italian or Spanish Wine. They are also probably the same people that will discount a wine for having a screw top instead of a cork! Whilst a cork looks better, screw tops can be just as good. Which brings me to some great wines from around the world i.e. Australia, Argentina, Chile, Germany, New Zealand and South Africa to name a few. These countries make some amazing wines, with countries like Uruguay and Japan also making wines of note.
Plus don’t forget the British Wine industry is massively growing and producing some superb wines – Do your research and taste something closer to home.