Language of Wine

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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Wine-talk is a problem: ‘When trying to talk about wine in depth, one rapidly comes up against the limitations of our means of expression … We need to be able to describe the indescribable. We tasters feel to some extent betrayed by language,’ comments Émile peynaud.

Wine-talk is triply disadvantaged: first, people taste and smell wine differently from each other; second, a partially obscure conventional vocabulary has arisen: the wine flavour described as gooseberry, for example, does not taste very much like gooseberries (quite apart from the difficulties caused by the fact that gooseberries are known only in a limited number of cultures); third, the need to impress customers in a cut-throat market has led to ear-catching and sometimes bizarre descriptions: ‘a fascinating old, old smell of unswept floorboards’, ‘old tarpaulin fringed with lace’, ‘Wham bam thankyou mam red, all rich, gooey, almost treacly fruit-dark plums and prunes awash with liquorice and chocolate and cream’.