A minefield of wine adjectives

There’s no doubt that some people have a more acute sense of smell than others. PxHere

How many adjectives can be reasonably applied to the bouquet of a glass of wine?

As a reader, how many would you accept before you blew your stack?

One of my readers recently sent me this suggestion:

“I’d enjoy an article from you that is a critique of fatuous and pompous and ridiculous descriptions – in fact, you should award a prize for ‘Most Pretentious Wine Description of 2021’!”

Everyone’s sense of taste and smell is different… as different as our fingerprints.

It’s a good idea for a bit of fun—at other people’s expense—but I won’t be doing it. People in glass houses, etc.

The same week, this arrived in my Inbox:

“This is very good…full-bodied, sure, but pulpy and almost ethereal. The tannins make the wine, steering notes of rosehip, bergamot, kirsch, sassafras, orange zest, cranberry and lilac about the mouth. A spurt of maritime freshness, towing it along.”

I’m not naming the writer: the aim is not to mock or belittle. But I can reveal that the wine was a well-known McLaren Vale grenache. And we agree on one thing: it’s a very good grenache.

But in all seriousness, my response to people like the reader above, is that everyone’s sense of taste and smell is different… as different as our fingerprints.

So who is to say that Taster X wasn’t actually perceiving all of the fruits and flowers that he/she named? We aren’t them, so how can we really know?

There’s no doubt that some people have a more acute sense of smell than others. It’s not entirely physiological, either. Training, education and experience can all help to hone the senses. And some people are more attuned to their senses: they pay more attention than others to the smells and tastes encountered in everyday life.

On the other hand, maybe some wine tasters are just more imaginative than others.

Does that mean they imagine some of the aromas they claim to perceive? Maybe yes, maybe no.

It’s said that there are around 800 aromas in wine detectable to the human nose.

Sniffing a wine—or a perfume, or a flower—may simply evoke an odour once smelled, possibly in the distant past, like Marcel Proust’s famous madeleines. Maybe something in the bouquet arouses an idea of something stored away in the smell memory. Our brain makes the link and presto, it comes out through the fingers onto the keyboard.

The human nose can detect 1 trillion smells, according to this study reported in Science in 2014.

And it’s said that there are around 800 aromas in wine detectable to the human nose. So, after 39 years as a professional taster and writer on wine, I no longer judge the judges. If they smell dandelions and I smell hyena piss, I don’t argue.

Footnote: Here’s a good 2016 article by Lisa Perrotti-Brown on wine and sniffing.


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