“Bold,” “thin,” and other wine words I can’t stand.

In Uncategorized on May 10, 2012 at 2:26 pm

When it comes to talking about wine, there is a lot of vocabulary out there. And I don’t even for a second expect the novice or casual wine drinker to spend the amount of time thinking about wine that I do, so I accept the fact that we’re not going to have the same vocabulary, and I spend a lot of time building a translation lexicon in my mind for words I don’t use, but which I know I will hear, and have to use as a basis for wine recommendations. All that being said, there are still a few words that make my fists clench involuntarily. High up on this list is the word ‘bold’. This is because it is a word with no specific meaning when it comes to wine. Generally, it means the wine has a lot of something, and it’s almost exclusively used to describe red wines, but beyond that it really means nothing. If we’re talking about Doritos, apparently “bold” means driving an El Camino monster truck over a school bus, but I don’t know how that translates to wine exactly. “Bold” tells me nothing about style, acid, tannin, weight, fruit, alcohol, or sweetness. Aglianico is full-bodied and extremely tannic, but not especially fruity or sweet. By contrast, Zinfandel is also full-bodied, but generally very fruit-forward, not as tannic or acidic, and often higher in sugar. So if you say ‘bold’ and you want Zinfandel, I don’t think you’re gonna be all too happy with Aglianico.

I also object to the attitude that sometimes accompanies the use of the word ‘bold,’ which implies that a wine must be in some way extremely overt, either fruity, sweet, high in alcohol, or in tannin in order to be a serious wine. It implies that subtlety is a liability in wine, which is a sentiment that I simply cannot abide. This sentiment goes hand-in-hand with another of my most hated wine words, “thin”.

Again, ‘thin’ implies that subtlety and elegance have no place in a wine, and that if a wine isn’t hitting you over the head with oak, tannin, sugar, or some other overt characteristic, then it’s not worth a damn. My language may already convey how I feel about that attitude.

I want my wine to work with my food, and generally speaking, wine that is massively overt will overpower more foods than it will harmonize with.

The last two words would be classified as “known accomplices” if they were criminals; “sweet” and “soft”. Sweet is on my list because it is misused and misunderstood. First, there is a deeply important difference between literal and perceptual sweetness. When a wine is described as having “character of sweet red berries,” it may have no actual residual sugar, but the fruit in the wine may seem sweet all the same. Soft, on the other hand, is a term that is too often used as a euphemism for actual residual sugar sweetness when marketing wines that do actually have sugar to people who don’t want to admit to themselves that they prefer sweet wines. Here’s the thing, I have no problem with anybody liking sweet wines. I like sweet wines. Not exclusively of course, but I had a sweet German Riesling on Sunday that seriously rocked my world. Some novice wine drinkers believe that anything sweet is for amateurs, so an important step for them in becoming “real wine drinkers” is to grow out of the fondness for sweeter wines. So now there are a slew of wines in the market now that are sweet wine wolves in dry wine clothing. Again, I think everybody should drink the wine they like, I would just really rather people be honest with themselves and accept that they like sweet wine if they do. There’s really nothing wrong with it, it’s perfectly natural. I make a big show about food and wine pairing, and if you tell me you’re going to drink a sweet California Zinfandel blend with a French name with your trout dinner, I’m definitely going to cringe inside, because that sounds awful to me. But if that makes you happy then do it! I just wish wine marketers would stop lying to you just to get your money.

I’m sure I’ll think of some other wines that belong on this list. I’ll re-visit this list as more of them occur to me.

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