On any topic it is very easy to speak in general terms. It acts as a safety net for your ego, so if later on you are found to be “wrong”, at least you are never “very wrong”.
This has become quite evident in recent times when it comes to wine.
The following are excerpts of wine reviews from one news website…
1/ …the wine is pale coloured, but powerful, and well removed in style from mainstream red drinking. The aroma’s earthy and savoury, with fungal and bitter cherry notes. These come through too on an elegantly structured palate with delicious, sweet and sour cherry-like flavours. The fruit sweetness quickly gives way to strong, savoury drying tannins.
2/ …The wine displays delicate grapefruit varietal flavours, pleasantly supported by spicy oak and the textural richness derived from barrel fermentation and maturation.
3/ …this wine reveals juicy, ripe and spicy fruit flavours layered with soft, easy-on-the gums tannin.
4/ …It’s a bright and fruity style, quite full, round and peachy, but not fat; and still with fresh, bright acidity.
If I were handed the above tasting notes, I would not be able to tell you what the wines are.
There is simply not enough information.
What would a normal consumer think?
1/ Would a normal consumer really be satisfied with a wine that tasted only of sour, bitter cherries, with earth (dirt? mud?) and fungus (mold? mushrooms? athlete’s foot?)?
2/ Grapefruit sounds nice. Is that all? What kind of spice? Red chilli peppers? Interesting, but not everyone’s cup of tea. What kind of texture? Creamy? Chalky?
3/ Spicy fruit flavours… What is this I don’t even…
4/ I’m told it’s fruity, but all you give me is peachy…
And yet these reviews come from an arguably mainstream source – The Sydney Morning Herald
Not Wrong. Not Helpful.
Having tasted wines of a similar style, I can tell you that I actually agree with what they have written.
If I had been handed a list of the wines, varietals and vintages instead, I may have written a similarly general tasting note.
They are not wrong. But they are not helpful.
It’s not my intention to single them out for criticism. Rather, I view this as evidence of a systemic problem in wine literature.
And because this kind of wine literature is so abundant, it influences how consumers think about wine.
I am likely to be guilty of this in the past as well. Put any two of my wine reviews together and they could possibly read the same, making it impossible to truly know a wine without looking at the label.
But we have to start somewhere.
Generalisations can be used as a key to unlock specific descriptors.
One technique I’ve learned in class is to use brackets, forcing me to look deeply for specific characters that can fall under a general umbrella. For example:
Black fruits (blackberry, mulberry)
Red fruits (raspberry, strawberry, maraschino cherry)
The aim is incremental and increasing precision.
Expand Your Palate
There will be times where a particular flavour or aroma becomes stuck on the tip of your tongue.
You know what it is, but you can’t put a name to it.
Go to your local grower’s market or supermarket. Have a stroll. Be aware.
Being general is easy but unhelpful.
Read more: 5 Reasons To Have Wine On A Date