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BERGER: Real meaning of descriptors

When reading anything about wine, whether on wine lists, in wine columns, magazine ads or on those little shelf talkers in the wine shop, you have to know that hyperbole is the insincerest form of flattery.

This also refers to some of the descriptors used by wine collectors for the wines they buy and serve. In most cases, the phrases used about wine are sheer gobbledygook.

We all know the justifiable lie, and the two that define the genre: "The check is in the mail," and "The chef is in the kitchen this evening." The euphemistic language used by some of today's wine ad copywriters is equally fictitious.

Such language helps wine collectors discuss their purchases using many of the same phrases. The problem comes when unskilled newcomers to wine wield them. Then the terms sound silly. Here are a few of the euphemisms/lies and what they really mean:

"This wine has a hint of smoke." It's so oaky that Greenpeace has demanded the winemaker sign a reforestation pledge.

"It's a big, bold wine." It has 16.5% alcohol and ought to carry a warning label that says "Flammable."

"It's a delicate wine." It has no flavor at all.

"This wine needs aeration." This is an excuse for something in the wine that's "off." It may be used to refer to a wine whose tannins are so high that one sip makes the inside of your mouth feel like Cossacks have bivouacked there for a week and left their boots behind.

"I love the varietal character." It smells like a sawmill at closing time.

"This is a blockbuster, with gobs of hedonistic fruit." It's hard, tannic, un-balanced, high in alcohol, and chances are would dissolve titanium.


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