Dispatches | October 29, 2006

If smell is the silent sense, then taste is the deaf and dumb one.  I find it as difficult to describe tastes as I do smell.  On both counts, I resort to clumsy comparisons.  That is why I admire wine writers, and know I will never be one.  My taste buds are too unsophisticated, too inexperienced.  Place a seven or a seventy dollar bottle before me and I couldn’t tell you which is which.  The same is true of distinguishing a Cote-du-Rone from a Pinot Noir. I would be even more hard pressed to describe the differences between a merlot grape grown in France in 1990 and the first of the Australian harvest in 2006.  Pull the plug; my tongue is brain dead.

Every morning before class, I read the Wall Street Journal in bed with my husband.  The newspaper is great at telling you the best of the best of everything from umbrellas and rain coats to goat cheese and morels.  And they simply love writing about wine.  “For the 2006 Vintage, the Time is Now” a headline announced last week.  Often, I feel compelled to read the tasters’ comments to my husband, which is hard to do with a straight face.  (Invariably, I find myself speaking in a prissy, upper-crust, “Pass the Grey Poupon” voice.)  I challenge you to read aloud the line “Great color and a big, rich nose of earth and blue flowers that even smells expensive,” “a little too soft, but nice, charming flavors and a long, lovely, earthy finish” or “a juicy nose full of cherries” without smirking.  Read enough of these descriptions and you’ll notice the phrase “sturdy structure” is to wine tasting what the phrase “nice silhouette” is to fashion.  Without it, a wine is doomed or rather “unsatisfying, and generally lacking in grace and vitality.”

I shouldn’t make fun.  Writing about wine demands an elevated vocabulary and a lofty approach.  Wine writers rely on sensuous, sentimental poetic language and do so unapologetically.  Literary authors have all sorts of negative words and phrases for such a style — purple prose, florid, baroque, overly ornamental — yet some readers accept this artifice and many might even enjoy it.