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Finely layered, well-focused absurdity.

As part of Lot18’s member-facing contingent, it is hard for me to escape tasting notes. These magical few paragraphs transform a humble glass of grape juice into an alluring experience; the prose, once waxed lyrically enough, can convince the hardiest Napa Cab slurper to venture into a nuanced Russian River Valley Pinot. The problem is that there are a fair number of these terms that are taken for granted despite their absurdity.

Now I’m not talking about “plum”, or “apple”, or even “minerality”. Those terms may sound like Greek to the average Joe, but at least they feel honest; they’re flavors we’ve all tasted. No, what I’m talking about is stuff that isn’t particularly descriptive even to professional imbibers like me.

Take, for example, a class of notes that are both ubiquitous and utterly esoteric: exotic fruits like black currant and lychee. The former is a mainstay of just about every Cab your blogger friends have ever recommended, the latter present on the back labels of countless not-from-Alsace-Alsatian wines. But the accuracy with which these fruits describe a wine’s flavor is completely nullified by the fact that the vast majority of the wine-sniffing public isn’t terribly familiar with them. They simply nod their heads knowingly (all the while not smiling – never smile while wine tasting) while having absolutely no idea what either of these things actually taste like outside of a wine glass. I can count on one hand the number of times I have had either of these mysterious fruits. Maybe that makes me a bad wine person. Maybe Stephen Tanzer will fly through my window right now and confiscate my Official Cork-Dork License. Oh, you didn’t know about the OCDL? Wow. This is awkward. Know what? Forget it.

Another fun one is “barnyard”. Now, I know what a “barnyard” note is, and I’d recognize it in a glass from a mile away. What we really mean to say is that this wine has been affected by a trace of brettanomyces, a type of yeast and something as near to the smell of a real barnyard as my degree in acting is to an MBA – there’s definitely something animalic about it, but for me it’s more evocative of (weirdly enjoyable) wet dog and band-aid. Like cassis, it becomes a backwards comparison. We begin to associate the concept with the smell and not the smell with the concept.

But where we get into the real madness fun is in the ancillary, non-fruit descriptors. Words that, like Bill Cosby in a Jell-O commercial, feel inserted by marketing weasels:

Layered. Ah yes. I am forever indebted to you, sir, for I had never thought to check for more than one flavor!

Well-defined acidity. As opposed to nebulous acidity? Or soft-focus acidity filmed like an episode of “The View”?

Nicely Balanced. Because if the balance were total shit, I’m sure the tasting note would say “Meh. Take it or leave it.”

Look, I get that it’s subjective, and that the copywriting intern with a degree in hospitality management isn’t necessarily qualified to guess what your Merlot is going to taste like in two years when it’s finally released. But what you write on the back of your bottle informs the wine drinking public as a whole.

But do I have a solution? Is there a better way? Will I still have a job after this post goes live? Will Stephen Tanzer stop staring through my window while I’m sleeping?

Your guess is as good as mine.  Let me know in the comments!

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