Speaking the language of wine

BY Guy Chatfield   /  9 November 2019

One of the most attractive aspects of wine is that it has developed into a drink that can be enjoyed on a multitude of occasions. For many wine-lovers it means a shared bottle of Sauvignon Blanc with their Friday night family supper. Or a casual glass of Chilean Merlot in the pub or bar with friends. For others it is a cerebral exercise, the fun being in the analysis of how this particular wine stands up to their own exacting criteria.

Throughout the couple of decades that I have been involved in this wonderful part of the drinks trade my enduring message has been that wine should be convivial. It is there to be enjoyed with friends, ideally with food, but always with people you want to share your precious down-time with. If it takes your fancy to discuss it, then bash on and do it. If it floats your boat to analyse the flavours that are making you salivate, go nuts. My reservation is that I’m not a huge fan of the navel gazing and the verbosity that sometimes slips into the conversation about wine. In short, I have a real issue with much of the language that is used, particularly in the trade, for describing the flavour properties of this wonderful drink. 

Now, I am under no illusions: the creation of wine is just that, a creative process; wine is a wonderful union of the environment the grapes are grown in and the palatable skills of the winemaker. I suppose that in every facet of the creative world there will be colourful ways of describing the end product, it is just that in my time I have definitely heard some pretentious horrors.

It is obviously essential to differentiate the wine in the bottle from those in its peer group and although we are blessed with an incredibly rich lexicon of language, the general state of affairs when it comes to wine descriptions is pretty poor. On ninety percent of the high street wine lists across Europe you will encounter the most prosaic repetition while in many white-tablecloth restaurants, you can find descriptions that are flowery nonsense.  

For many years I have trained front of house staff to provide descriptions of wine under pressure. One of my key messages is that an over the top style of presentation will get you nowhere. The customer will think those who attempt this are from a different planet and switch off immediately. 


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