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!

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Newspapers Still Fading, But Not This Much

International-New-York-Times-censored-in-Pakistan
The complete International New York Times weekend edition, left, and as it appeared in Pakistan, right. Note the article that was deleted.

It appears that the partner of the New York Times in Pakistan that publishes its international edition didn’t cotton to a story this weekend about Osama bin Laden and his relationship to the government.

The Pakistani printer simply deleted the story and photo and distributed the weekend edition with a gaping hole on the front page.

Ode to Bill O’Reilly: The Namby-Pamby Factor

Now, mind you, I can’t stand Bill O’Reilly or his arrogance-laden show, “The O’Reilly Factor,” but I’m so into gone-missing Malaysian Air Flight 370 that I’m forced to watch Fox News, which seems to be obsessing over the incident. The channel is almost a 24/7 source of breaking information about the ill-fated Boeing 777.

Anyway, the transparently arrogant O’Reilly ended his show by challenging his viewers’ knowledge of the word namby pamby. Cuz, he said, he didn’t want any namby-pamby emails or letters sent to him (he’s too good to deal with gentle folk, evidently).

So I went to dictionary dot com and looked up namby pamby, and lo and behold, it means exactly what I thought it meant, which is “weak and indecisive.” That O’Reilly isn’t, but if he had to go “weak and indecisive” to learn some humility, I’d be all for it.

But I bloviate, I guess — another O’Reilly arrogant-ism. You can look that one up and determine if it “takes one to know one.”

Lost in Transition

I‘ve changed hosting companies and WordPress themes so many times that I’ve lost track, but in the process, I never thought that transitioning my site would result in textual errors.

While going through my articles section, I saw that a weird typographical symbol had inserted itself wherever there was more than one space between sentences or words.

Lesson number one: In the electronic media era, using two spaces between sentences is out because of font issues. It still works on typewriters, but who besides morticians use typewriters these days?

Anyway, I’ve cleaned up the articles (let me know if I missed anything), and soon I hope to get back to creating some new — and perhaps more useful — articles on English writing, grammar and usage.

If you have topics, just use Contact Me and share them with me.

Does One ‘Debut’ or ‘Make a Debut’?

I found a headline today on AOL a bit wordy and awkward. It said, “NYC Mayor Makes Debut on ‘The Daily Show’.”

So that had me scrambling to the dictionary to see if I have been erroneously using debut as a verb all these years.

Turns out, debut is both noun and verb, but I still prefer the verb version over “makes debut,” even though there’s nothing wrong with that usage.

As Kornheiser and Wilbon would say, “Big deal, small deal or no deal?”

Lunar Festival: Halloween in January?

Lunar-Festival-Riverside-2014
Fireworks above the Chinese Pavilion in Riverside during the 2014 Lunar Festival.

On Saturday, I stumbled on the Lunar Festival in downtown Riverside.

Probably what most of us traditionally equate with a lunar festival is Chinese New Year’s, but every Asian country has its own celebration. Really, it’s an expression of joy that spring — along with bountiful new food crops — is just around the corner.

So as I peered into the crowd, I kept wondering why the teens and 20somethings came as if it were Halloween. Here was Batman wondering out loud, “Where is the Green Arrow?” who then dutifully showed up with a bow and arrow with a green lighted tip. Batwoman wasn’t far behind, but Robin seemed mysteriously missing, given the context.

As I continued peering, I noticed countless Cinderellas, Alices in Wonderland, cats, indescribable comic book characters and one lone samurai.

At least the samurai would have some connection with the lunar festival in Japan, during which he might get drunk or enjoy some blood sport like toppling a shogun and his minions.

Anyway, the fireworks at night were nice, but I think the local populace somehow confused the coming of spring with the coming of goblins and heroes.

Okay, I know, this column has nothing to do with English grammar or composition, but it says spades about what American culture — the prime user and progenitor of the English culture — has morphed into, which is, well, a comic book.

So sad.

Edward Snowden Redux

I think I miffed a lot of people and probably lost a lot of readers when last year I praised NSA secrets-leaker Edward Snowden as a “patriot” (not sure if I actually used that word, but “hero” works too).

Now I’ve finally found an ally with the same take on what he did and on its value to all of us. Through a strange twist of “politics makes for strange bedfellows,” none other than that liberal bastion The New York Times has called for Snowden’s pardon.

As the paper’s editorial summarizes, Snowden “has done his country a great service.” This too has been my essential point. Who cares if the guy is a scumbag who broke the law? What he’s done to move America forward is almost inestimable.

Read “Edward Snowden, Whistle-Blower.”