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Do Wine Descriptors Help or Hurt?

When you're drinking with company, talking about the wine can sometimes be as important as the experience of drinking the wine itself. Yes, you're enjoying it, but what do you enjoy about it? What flavors are you tasting? What is your overall impression? Inquiring minds want to know.

It's interesting, because no one asks you to describe that glass of milk you're chugging (velvety mouthfeel; a little thin on the finish) or that orange juice you're drinking (tastes like the groves of Florida, not California). So does the conversation that wine inspires means you're enjoying it more? Or are you actually enjoying it less because you're not left alone to simply taste it, the way you would your glass of milk or OJ?

It's an interesting question that came to mind when I read Matt Kramer's column the other day. Kramer, while pontificating about overused and underused wine words, says: "Words, however accurately applied, [can be] a bit of a trap." It's totally true – words do us a disservice in a couple of ways. Sometimes you're so busy trying to come up with the words to describe what's happening, you're not paying attention to the experience itself. And sometimes the words that others use influence your opinion, robbing you of a truly personal experience.

When you read on a label or hear someone describe a wine as "subtle," does it turn you on or off? Does it inform how you ultimately feel about the wine? And does having this preconceived notion accentuate your experience or detract from it? Sometimes I feel like wine descriptors are like a movie review that gives away too much of the plot. I just want to go into a wine with a fresh, open mind, so I can decide for myself if I like it or not.

Then again, after I've tasted a wine, I like to tell people what I think about it. So I guess that makes me a selfish taster.


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