Describe someone you love. As you imagine that special someone, you may start thinking of all the things about that person that inspire your love.
Then you look for the words. You might describe your beloved with adjectives related to hair color, eye color, height, general build – and then you begin to falter. Words fail. How can this be? This person is so dear to you, so intimate, and yet you may find it difficult to define just what makes that person stand out in a crowd.
And so it is with wine tasting. Describing a highly personal sensory experience is just plain difficult. This is the primary reason for some of the high-blown adjectives you might have heard to describe wine: “smoky,” “aromatic,” “bold,” “intense,” and a host of others may cause a wine beginner to wonder if he or she stumbled into an episode of Frasier.
I do not think these ornate descriptors are intended to confuse or intimidate people, however; I believe these words are the best efforts of wine lovers to communicate that which is indescribable.
So if you just want to learn a little about what you taste in that glass, where do you start? Wine schools organized some of these wine descriptors into categories, and I think this is a great place to begin learning more about wine tasting. Fruit is one great descriptive category that offers a lot of options: citrus (grapefruit, lemon, lime), orchard or stone fruit (peach, nectarine, apricot), red fruit (cherry, raspberry, strawberry), and black fruit (blackberry, blackcurrant, black cherry) are all great sub-categories that will cover a lot of wine flavors.
Humble Pie Cabernet Sauvignon (California, $15.99) is a great red wine you can use to explore fruit descriptors in wine. This is a great little Cab from California’s Central Coast, and I appreciate the fact that it is made by a group of guys based in Nashville. This wine is rich with all sorts of fruit: when you pour the wine and smell it, you might detect aromas of dark berries, maybe blackberries or blackcurrants. You might also notice a beautiful waft of vanilla floating along in there, too.
When you taste this wine you get a rich mouthful of dark berries, followed by a hint of vanilla. If you sip again, you might pick up a touch of red berries like ripe strawberries, too. The whole delightful effect really did remind me of Granny’s berry pie.
Like love, wine tasting is ultimately in the eye – or the palate – of the beholder. It is a highly personal sensory experience, but when we make the effort to share it with others, somehow it becomes much more than it is when we are alone.
Jennifer Wolkonowski is a wine professional specializing in consumer education. A long-time Mt. Juliet resident, she is currently a private consultant and owner of Vin Fine Wine & Spirits. For more information, email Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org.