The way my wine vocabulary has evolved hasn’t been a straight shot by any means.
Coming from Australia, I’ve had my share of big bang Shiraz and more vintages of Yellow Tail than I care to admit. As a result, I came to Le Du’s with a somewhat laissez-fair wine vocabulary. Now, I’m not ashamed of this. When I taste a big California Chardonnay and immediately think of vanilla peach yogurt, a South African Chenin reminds me of Lamingtons (Australian yellowcake dusted in coconut) and Oregon Semillon reminds me of creamy Banoffee Pie. I’m connecting the smell and taste of the wine with my own personal experience.
In fact, I’ve noticed wine people ten to talk in more abstract terms when a wine is young but it gets more specific as the wine gets older. For example, James Suckling described a Chateau Haut Brion from the highly acclaimed 1989 vintage, in 2001, as “big and meaty, with lots of fruit and full tannins, but featuring a sweetness and silkiness on the finish” whereas the review of the same wine more recently was “perfumed aromas of subtle milk chocolate, cedar, and sweet tobacco”.
It’s interesting to me, the notes get more specific as the wine evolves but I also think wine SHOULD prompt a personal, emotional reaction. I feel as though, as a culture, we’re tending to think about wine as farmers markets in a bottle, moving towards a gastronomic direction which is about an individual experience rather than what the wine tastes like more concretely as if that was even something which would be the same from person to person.
So what should a wine description look like if you don’t actually describe what it tastes like? Personally, I find it most useful when a descriptor tells you how the harvesting season was, interesting facts on the extraction process while talking in a more broader, abstract vocabulary, moving away from sometimes condescending and obscure flavour profiles. I have a small hunch that the avergae person doesn’t know what Iris or Cassis smell like. So why are we using descriptors like this?
Now, for anyone who isn’t well versed in Australian/English culture, I’m sure you’re having a similar reaction to most of the staff here at Le Du’s. What is banoffee pie and why is this reminding him of Semillon from Oregon?! It’s the honey and creamy beeswax on the palate, it’s the blunt fig and quince, butter pushed through this wonderful jamminess which is Banoffee. Essentially a banana and toffee dessert, it’s a thick, buttery biscuit base topped with bananas and a toffee cream filling. Disgustingly good, and shockingly similar on the palate to a house favourite - Golden Cluster Semillon. Matching each aspect of the Banoffee to what I’m tasting in the wine, I can single out what part of the experience affirms the more professional vocabulary.
Experiencing wine in this approach to a more personal, common language has made my interaction with wine more honest and a much more pleasurable experience. I find such value in pinpointing each individual tasting note derived from the broader, experienced-based note and working out why, and what these flavours mean. Tasting this way not only helps me remember the very specific wine down to a tee, but it’s also something I like to encourage some of my regulars to lean into, not only so I can learn their palate on their level, but to also learn about them as people.