One of my favourite quotes is by Virginia Woolf: ‘Language is wine upon the lips’ she said to her husband Leonard one evening, over a bottle of Blue Nun. What a lovely sentiment. Profound, enigmatic, erotic. Note what she did not say. She did not say: ‘Language is Dr Pepper upon the lips.’ Woolf made the connection specifically between the grape and the gob, fine language and fine wine. You know what? I think she was onto something. It forms part of my Grand Theory of Wine. Let me explain.
Wine has numerous consumer benefits: it loosens the tongue, relaxes the mind, facilitates intelligent conversation. In vino veritas, in tropicanas sanitas, as I always say. I lived in Italy for a bit and while I was there, I embraced the grape, boy did I embrace the grape, sheesh. My partner and I sampled as many wines as we could, recording our impressions on photocopied tasting sheets. Our quest took commitment, a robust and determined liver, an endless supply of cheese, olives and Ibuprofen. For nearly three years we swirled, sniffed, swished and swallowed. My fella, a thoughtful man, would give measured, precise descriptions dutifully using the adjectives provided on the sheet. The bouquet was ‘pleasant’, viscosity: ‘normal’, fruit aroma: ‘positive’, general appeal: ‘attractive’, acidity: ‘refreshing’, taste: ‘herbaceous’, overall balance: ‘good’.
My tasting notes, on the other hand, consisted of things like this:
Smells like hay bales soaked in petrol.
Cloying and gluey and chewy … it’s like a blackcurrant Pritt Stick!
Sour apples rotting in a composter.
Rowntree’s strawberry-flavoured jelly cubes … a Marks and Spencer’s summer fruit pudding … it’s a fruity fiasco alright!
Wowzers, this baby has got some LEGS!
Colour reminds me of when I had that kidney infection … Sickly, like sucking a Pear Drop. I hate Pear Drops.
My point here is that describing wine is a combination of the pseudo-scientific and the subjective. It’s the subjective part that offers the most scope for fun. After all, when you describe a wine, you are attempting to convey a series of highly individualistic taste impressions. Wine is the only beverage that allows you to wax lyrical in this way; its colours, aromas and tastes can evoke vivid associations and memories. You just don’t get that with Dr Pepper. Of course, you could argue that much wine-talk is pompous guff. And you’d be right. But I want to celebrate, not denigrate the language of wine. It’s a fascinating semantic field, with vocabulary borrowed from anatomy, personality, food, textiles. Think about it: wine can have body, legs and a nose, backbone, guts. It can be lean, supple, robust, muscular, cheeky, aggressive, spineless, forward, honest, dumb, complex, clumsy, chalky, chewy, buttery, earthy, meaty, gamey, leathery, smooth, rich, elegant, refined, rough … Most startling of all, wine can be grapey.
Wine critics have a reputation for being obnoxious elitists, self-aggrandizing snobs, flaunting their mastery of the language of wine, but without allowing you in. There is one notable exception, Internet Phenomenon and King of Wine, Gary Vaynerchuk. If you haven’t heard of him, then watch this clip – you are in for a treat!
The man is amazing! He’s like the Quentin Tarantino of wine. Did you catch what he said, towards the end? No, not that line about nosing a dead deer, that was a bit weird … No, this bit:
One thing you will see … is that I love words and when I get stuck to them, I’m gonna be on them all day so I’m definitely going to be using the same words over and over.
Gary: thank you! You clearly support my Grand Theory of Wine, which is basically this: if you love wine, ipso facto you love words. Wine lovers are always word lovers. Oenophilia = logophilia. Seriously, think of all the hardcore wine drinkers you know. I bet they are a garrulous lot, always holding forth on some topic or another, full of opinions, puns only they find amusing, recounting Scrabble scores, doing crosswords … You just don’t get that calibre of person with Dr Pepper drinkers. Don’t you agree?Email this Post