The revolution in wine terms

wine termsWho knew wine terms had become more than they were? Certainly not the Wine Curmudgeon, who has been using words like sweet and dry and fruity for more than 20 years. But, apparently, I am not au courant, as a post at VinePair, describing “20 wine words most drinkers don’t know” reminded me.

My first question? Why, if these terms are so important and wine drinkers need to know them, how is it that most don’t? That would be like most food eaters not knowing what hot and cold means. “Hmmm, this soup is hurting my mouth. Is there a term to describe that?”

Second, one of the terms was hedonistic: “Robert Parker ?s favorite word. Wines that just blow you away. Parker likes hedonistic, but you can just say the wine is damn amazing.” Note to Adam Teeter at VinePair, who wrote the post and, save for an occasional lapse into cuteness, seems to know his business. Most wine drinkers don’t know who Robert Parker is and don’t care, so why do they need to know his favorite wine term? Plus, in 30-some years as a professional writer, wine and otherwise, I have never used hedonistic to describe anything. And I have had a fairly successful career.

Third, wine terms should be objective, like sweet and dry and fruity, and hedonistic (as well as ponderous, also on the list) isn’t. Parker may think those wines are damn amazing, but many of us don’t. We find them overblown and unenjoyable. What’s the point of using a term that tells someone they’re supposed to like something that they may not like?

Again, this is not to criticize Teeter, who is probably trying to help, but to point out yet again how most post-modern wine writing has little to do with the average consumer. It’s as if they’re writing a movie review that discusses camera angles and editing techniques instead of the plot, and then getting angry when someone asks them what the movie is about.

And what’s worse is that they call those of us — who want to write intelligently and clearly, who want to educate wine drinkers and not preach to them — a variety of not very nice names. I’m not going to link to them, because it’s not worth the aggravation and the Internet sniping that will ensue. But two prominent California wine writers have recently questioned whether people like me are competent to write about wine. Our sin? That we try to make it less intimidating and confusing, when real wine writers know wine is supposed to be intimidating and confusing. Otherwise, one of them wrote, what’s the point of learning about it?

How wonderfully self-absorbed and insensitive to the world around them they must be. Does this mean that we can’t enjoy wine unless we enjoy it exactly as they want us to? Nuts to that, and pass me some of that $10 Gascon white I like so much — the one that’s fruity.

Image courtesy of, using a Creative Commons license

9 thoughts on “The revolution in wine terms

  • By Burnsey - Reply

    My favorite word is “gulpability”

    Does this wine have a high gulpability factor? Can it be enjoyed easily on the back porch, without any special conditions? Can I just drink it and not analyze it?

    Those are my favorite wines, of which many you mention, and have no pretentiousness about them. Most are in the ten dollar range.

  • By Dyann Espinosa - Reply

    How sad that you have never had an experience that you could characterize as hedonistic
    Hedonism requires time, time to languidly discover and uncover what brings you pleasure.
    I can think back to one or two wines that were truly hedonistic-in and of themselves. But i believe context is an importent component of how you appreciate the experience too.

    • By Wine Curmudgeon - Reply

      The question is not whether hedonistic experiences exist, but whether it’s an accurate wine term. I have no doubt that a weekend at the Playboy Mansion, with a couple of masseuses at my beck and call, would be hedonistic (as well as sybaritic).

      But do we make wine easier to understand by using hedonistic to describe wine? Or, as what happens too often when an elite takes control of language, do we impose barriers to understanding?

      My favorite example is education, which has been jargoned to death over the past 40 years. It’s almost impossible for someone who isn’t in education to understand what the education elites mean when they talk. Which is what they want, because they can’t be criticized for what they do if no one is sure about what they do.

      • By Dyann Espinosa - Reply

        Thank you for taking time to reply and explain your thoughts. I’m the last one to advocate using overblown, unhelpful terms in describing wine. But to me hedonistic is a positive, voluptuous, graceful word-not one that could be compared to the one-dimensional, sybaritic scene you envision with Hef and his gals.
        I would use it in trying to put an exqusitely pleasurable experience into words. Imagine your first sip of a beautiful, fully mature Cabernet that was at its absolute peak of taste. All your senses are involved (not just what is between your or Hef’s legs:-) in savoring each luscious drop, fixing the moment in your memory and languidly–wordlessly–letting yourself be totally enraptured with this amazing creation. Hedonism needs time–like the concept of “Slow Food.”
        Most descriptions of wine turn me off and don’t entice me to try a something: earthy, with a well-worn leather chair scent, replete with tobacco aromas and a mouth-feel that hints at ringside at the Golden Gloves with the long finish of a victorious kick of the pigskin through the goalposts.
        OK. I took some liberties, but you see what I mean about hedonistic now? Cheers!

  • By Tom - Reply

    In a fit of inspiration, I recently referred to a Napa fruit bomb s “slutty”. My wife got way more of a kick out of that than I’m comfortable with.

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