Funky Wine Words
By David Brookes
Imagine a dinner party where you can entertain your friends and confound your enemies with an assault of glorious wine words. The ability to describe a wine with the effortless grace and street cred of Kendrick Lamar may only be a dream to some, but with a bit of groundwork, we’ll have you on the right track in no time at all. It’s time to spice up your wine vocab - take your vinous lexicon to the next level.
First trick: make sure you maintain eye contact with your audience when using these powerful wine words. It shows confidence and mastery of a subject some find mysterious and beyond comprehension. Continue to maintain eye contact until the other party looks away. I practise on my cat. I find this helps.
Okay, let’s do this. Just a couple of words at a time. We can’t overdo this thing, so here’s three to try out at your next dinner party.
This one is a beauty. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather”. It’s a smell that I’m sure you’ve experienced. Perhaps you just didn’t know there was such a sexy word to describe it. Perhaps you did. It doesn’t matter.
What does matter is it’s used to describe the distinct scent of rain in the air. Or, to be more precise, it’s the name of an oil that’s released from the earth into the air before and after rain begins to fall. For extra points, it’s a term coined in 1964 by our very own CSIRO in an article entitled ‘Nature of Argillaceous Odour’ which appeared in Nature Journal.
You’ll find this earthy “rainwater on warm rocks” smell in both red and white wines, but for me, it is more prevalent in the latter. I know this is little consolation when written in the depth of winter, but next time a summer rainstorm rolls through, get out there and smell the air for that wonderful ‘just rained’ smell. This scores a solid 9 out of 10 on the wordy wine geek scale, but use sparingly.
I might be guilty of using this particular word too often. I don’t care. I like it.
It’s essentially that briney, salty tang you get on the tongue, the one that gets the saliva glands working overtime and manifests itself as a savoury ‘ache’-like sensation in the mouth. You know, like when you’re killing time moping around the kitchen, and get a flake of sea salt and let it melt on the end of your tongue. You do that don’t you? Tell me you do that.
Again, I seem to see it most often in white wines… riesling, chardonnay, semillon, that sort of thing. I also associate it with wines that have seen some oxidative handling and have been exposed to oxygen during their ageing such as fino and amontillado sherries and Vin Jaune. That said, you’ll see it in red wines too, especially the kind of lighter weight, lower alcohol, detailed red wines that we’re seeing more of these days. It’s probably got something in common with that oft-used wine term, minerality… but we’ll get to that in a moment. This scores an impressive 8 out of 10 on the wordy wine geek scale, and also use sparingly.
This is kind of a tricky one, but when I use the term minerality, I’m using it to describe the attributes of a wine’s acidity and how that sits in relation to the other components on display in the glass. Despite all the talk of a vines relation to the soil it is grown in, there is a pretty good case that there is in fact, no conclusive evidence that grapes pick up any minerals from the soil. So until those scientific boffins present me with some concrete evidence, I’m sticking to my own definition.
It’s most likely a combination of factors - acidity, trace minerals, alcohol and various other compounds, but there’s no doubt that certain wine styles taste like rocks, or at least like I imagine what rocks taste like as I haven’t carried on like that since I got out of nappies and I’m not planning on picking up the habit again.
But German riesling does taste slatey, the famous red blends from Bordeaux do taste gravelly, there is a distinct chalkiness to the brisk white wines of Chablis, those ripping nerello mascalese wines from the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily from the volcanic soils taste… well, they taste volcanicy… I don’t think that’s a word but it seems perfectly cromulent. There might be something in it. Regardless, this one scores a very respectable 7 out of 10 on the wordy wine geek scale and can be used confidently, but not too liberally, in many circumstances.
Good luck, use these words wisely as they are very powerful and in the wrong hands they can lead to disaster. But you have a confident air. I think you’ll pull it off.