Inappropriate Language: Wine Tasting Commentary
Chris Kern operates a wine shop in Riverside called, epononymously, Chris Kern’s Forgotten Grapes, whose main virtue is that it’s the only place within decent driving distance that offers new wine tastings each week.
Chris specializes in what he calls, well, “forgotten grapes,” in other words, grapes with weird and obscure names — largely from Paso Robles but with a worldwide dabbling — that are also wallet friendly. But are they taste friendly? I’m beginning to think not, and I’m going to switch back to Chilean and Argentinean red varietals, along with any California or French bargains I can find.
That being said by way of introduction, what I want to focus on here, under of the moniker of “Inappropriate Language,” is how wine mavens invariably have to uncover, through their palates, the taste profile (now there’s a construct for the high and mighty!) of a wine they’re tasting for the first time.
Generally, at a tasting they’ll breathe deeply into the glass after the wine is poured, then take a sip, swirl the liquid inside their mouths, swallow slowly, and finally appear to be ruminating deeply before they pronounce their judgment.
Here’s an example I just read from a wine description, and this is typical of what you’ll hear at a wine tasting: “Loaded with wild strawberries, cherry blossom, hints of herbs and a salty minerality that makes it hard to resist, this medium-bodied, elegant, yet rich rosé stays lively, pure and fresh on the finish.”
Now, for starters the only “Wild Strawberries” I’m familiar with is a movie by Ingmar Bergman. What the heck are wild strawberries, and where do you buy them? Does this guy mean “homegrown strawberries”? And what the hell is a “salty minerality”? Does the wine taste like salty dirt?
Anyway, if you’ve ever been to a wine tasting, no one can agree on a “taste profile.” Maybe one or two ingredients will overlap on competing personal evaluations, but profiling usually leads to a game of oneupmanship, such as depicted in this scenario:
We’re all sitting at a wine bar, and the person behind the bar pours Wine X into our glasses. We go through our routines, and everyone spouts off their conflicting/overlapping ingredients. Then one guy takes another sip and pronounces that he detects “a bit of smokiness.”
Not to be outdone, the person behind the counter takes another pass at the grape and clarifies: “More than smokiness, I sense two-day old charcoal ashes from a Weber Grill that just cooked two Wagyu steaks.” Touché!
That’s a bit exaggerated, but not really, if you know what I mean.
Anyway, all of this leads me back to Chris Kern. A few weeks back I went to a fund-raiser for a Riverside art gallery, where Chris was pouring some wines. After he poured the first, he pronounced that it was “redolent of” (not his term, but a common one) blah, blah, blah (lemon, raspberries, ash, road kill, etc.).
The few of us at his station then took our sips and stared blankly back at him, trying to recreate those taste sensations, when all of a sudden Chris said he’d better sample the wine himself and poured himself a glass. “Seventy-five percent of wine talk is all BS anyway,” he joked by way of explanation.
But it wasn’t a joke. It’s the absolute truth.
To me a good wine is, simply, “smooth, balanced, pleasant to drink and tasty.” If it’s a red wine, I want to taste some earthiness in it as well. If it’s a white wine, I went the fruitiness to be in check, even hidden, so there’s nary a taste of sweetness or, Dionysus forbid, any effervescence!
So, I’m a snob too, I guess, but I can live without the pretense of finding the taste of a Big Mac and baby kale in the wines I sample. Wild strawberries maybe, but kale never. And a Big Mac is better served hot.