Wining for the Rest of Us – Wine Geeks

Julie and I have become BBCAmericaddicts, I think. I have to admit that one of my favorite shows is Top Gear – it’s how I get my sports car fix and still be OK driving my Altima (Simon) every day. Hey, 30mpg is frigging great.

Recently BBCAmerica began a series with James May, one of the Top Gear regulars and Oz Clarke, a genuine British wine snob. Being wine enthusiasts, we were eager to see what we could learn from the show.

The particular episode that I watched with Julie showed Oz and James driving around the countryside smelling things: cut grass, cow patties, bottoms of shoes after walking though mud, berries, leaves, etc., and Julie made the observation that doing something like this would help us a lot to more accurately and fully describe the wines we sample. Generally speaking, that’s a good idea….. but….

This makes perfect sense. When you taste wine and want to describe the nose, flavor, mouth, finish, etc. to others, it’s good to have a standard set of “attributes” that are generally accepted and reasonably immutable. For example, I was reviewing my notes on a Tempranillo I tasted recently and saw that I had described part of the nose as being “sweet barbecue sauce”. OK, that makes sense to me, but what if your concept of “sweet barbecue sauce” is very different than mine? You might avoid a wine that you would love because I described it poorly.

Of course, I don’t usually tell people my amateur descriptions when I’m excited about a wine; I just tell them, “You have got to try this!” and it usually works. I’m actually good at winery tastings: When I’ve pretty much tasted all the wines and a new “customer” comes in, I can ask them a couple of questions and tell them exactly what they will enjoy. It’s a strange knack of mine. I have sold a lot of people on Duchman ’08 and ’09 Dolcetto even before they taste it. And the Haak Malbec.

Back to my point: Having a broad, standard set of “descriptors” for a wine’s nose, flavor, mouth, and finish (smell, taste, feel, and aftertaste for the rest of us) is a good thing. If you know the “descriptors“. That’s what separates the wine snob from the average wine lover. I think the main problem is that some of the descriptors the wine “elite” use are ones that the rest of us can’t relate to. And descriptors we might use are foreign to the European wine elite.

Julie and I are still amateurs. We’re enthusiasts, but haven’t made the transition to being snobs. In fact, we fully intend to never become wine snobs; instead, we want to be wine geeks. Yeah, GEEKS. Geeks are cool. We’re passionate about wine, good wine, but we’re still approachable and friendly. In fact, we’re passionate about sharing our wonderful wine finds with our friends, just like tech geeks love sharing tech with everyone.

Yep, we’re wine geeks. And being geeks, we get to establish a new, approachable set of wine descriptors. We’ll use the established descriptors that make sense, but we’ll add some that only make sense to us. freshly unpackaged iPhone, burning insulation, grass fire, field of bluebonnets, magnolia, crepe myrtle, jalapeno, prunes. Yes, PRUNES. I’m sorry, snobs, but that smell you call plum is a prune. Prunes are good – don’t be afraid of it. I promise it won’t make you too regular.

And we’re going to standardize the aroma of sweet barbecue sauce, too.


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