Screw It: How to Describe a Wine
Being asked to describe a wine can be a daunting task, but it doesn't need to be. Keeping a few ideas in your back pocket can help you out of any jam.
Download the Podcast
You're watching Screw It on SuppleWine. I'm your host, Mike Supple.
Drinking wine with a large group of people can be a lot of fun, but it can quickly turn daunting when somebody comes up to you and asks, "How would you describe this wine?"
If you're among friends, this can be a great learning experience. You may not have talked about what it is you taste and smell in a wine, but some of your friends might. This presents a good opportunity for you to reflect and focus on that wine to get more out of it.
It doesn't have to be a difficult process. Smell is tied very strongly to memory. This means that when you smell a wine it may evoke certain thoughts, fruits or experiences from your life that other people will not have had. So think about it when you're smelling and tasting a wine - think about what the wine smells and tastes like to you.
There are some smells and flavors that are fairly common among many wines that can make describing wine an easier process for you. For example, when you're drinking a red wine think of berry fruits: red and black cherries, raspberries, blackberries or currants. These are very common in many types of red wine and are a good starting point as descriptors. When you're drinking white wine, common attributes are citrus fruits, different types of pears, apples and peaches. So keep a couple of these buzz words in your back pocket when you're drinking wine. If you throw a few of them out and say them with authority, nobody is really going to argue with you. They are good general terms that apply to a lot of wines. If you say them out loud then other people will start to think about it and agree with you.
Of course if you get stuck in a situation where people are just trying to one-up each other and look really important then you've put yourself into what Neil Patrick Harris calls a "douchepocalypse." That's the sort of situation where you want to just drink the wine that tastes best to you, get some free hors d'oeuvres or appetizers and get the hell out of there as fast as you can to stop talking to those people.
How does a wine description help you? You can start to learn things that you like and don't like in a wine - flavors to look for or to avoid. This can be helpful when buying wine. A lot of back labels have descriptions to help you learn what a wine is like before you buy it. This bottle goes with a fairly generic description: "This Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon showcases fresh, ripe flavors of black cherry, currant and spice." And while that is fairly generic, it does give you a good idea of what it tastes like. It has some dark fruit, is going to be juicy and spicy. If those are things you like then you're all set.
Not all bottles are helpful though. For example Tarima is a Spanish wine. And while I think the wine is quite tasty, they describe the wine on the back label as having aromas of Tarima blossoms. Ok, I get it. Some local flower grows in and around your vineyards and you decided to name your wine after it. That's really cute. But it's not helpful. Anyone out there know what a Tarima blossom smells like? No. I drank the wine and it was delicious, but I still have no idea what a Tarima blossom smells like, so that's useless information.
When you're describing wines to other people, unless you want to look pompous, stick with terms that you know and everybody else knows. Talk about it with a bunch of friends and they may each pick out a different flavor or aroma. Pay attention and you may start to be able to pick out more things in a wine that you smelled but couldn't quite put your finger on. Once somebody else points it out then you're ready to enjoy it, have a lot more fun and actually get a lot more out of that bottle. This means you're getting more bang for your buck by enjoying that wine just a little bit more.
So get out there and enjoy, and talk about it with some friends. But remember, avoid the douchepocalypse.