When dining out, Mrs. Curmudgeon and I will occasionally order a glass of wine each with dinner. And while I do enjoy the wine, I have never understood the maniacal obsession some wine drinkers have with categorizing, evaluating, and describing what they’re drinking with such microscopic specificity as to deserve whatever ridicule they receive. It’s goofy and obnoxious.
Wine lists at some of your more pretentious restaurants sometimes accommodate these extremists with outrageous, unrealistically detailed breakdowns of not only the alleged flavors within the wine, but the sequence in which they will allegedly arrive upon the palate. Here are a few I found on a recent Google search:
“intense tropical fruit centered around a rich, buttery center”
(I’m not at all sure I can distinguish the center of the flavor from that which surrounds it. Maybe it’s just me.)
“zesty flavors of Meyer lemon and peach with a crisp, lingering finish”
(Now, are we sure it’s Meyer lemon? Because I cannot abide a wine with even the remotest suggestion of Ponderosa lemon, especially if the finish is going to linger.)
“dark plum, raspberry, smoke, and silky dark chocolate”
(I believe these particular grapes are grown in the vineyard’s designated smoking area.)
“smooth and fresh with bright red cherries”
(With this one, you can taste the color.)
“crushed lime and freshly cut grass”
(Yes, but how freshly cut?)
“well-balanced floral, lime blossom, with a hint of French brioche”
(Lime blossom, you understand, as opposed to lime. And not just brioche, French brioche.)
“perfumed bouquet evokes wild strawberry and dried tea leaves with nuances of vanilla and violets”
(Really, I’d be so grateful if they’d just stop this nonsense now.)
“notes of deep black fruit, a punch of spice, and crushed black pepper on the nose”
(Doesn’t crushed black pepper on the nose make you sneeze?)
Among the wine-description obsessed—as it is with any cult—I believe there is a tendency toward what’s known as “collective hallucination,” in which power of suggestion causes devotees to believe they’re all experiencing the same sensations. In such settings, those who don’t experience those sensations are dismissed as unenlightened and sometimes even subjected to scoffing. Hence, in writing this exposé, I’m sure it will be the Curmudgeon who is exposed as lacking the perception to distinguish flavors that would be so very obvious to more sophisticated palates.
The descriptions can get absurdly lavish. For the past few years, John Tilson of The Underground Wine Letter and The Daily Meal has published a list of Stupid Wine Description Award winners. I recommend clicking on the links. As you’ll see, some of these take longer to read than the time it takes to drink a glass of wine (unless you’re spending all day swirling it around, holding it up to the light, and sticking your nose in the glass like an idiot).
Regardless, if the wine is described as “brutally honest, with a tang of the fourth day of summer and hints of gooseberry and leather, followed by a rusty rail spike finish,” people will sit around the table saying things like “My! That is a brutally honest wine.” “At first I thought it tasted more like the seventeenth day of summer, but I get it now. Definitely the fourth.” “Wait . . . here comes the leather . . . Yes, there it is.” and “Aha! I just got the rusty rail spike.”
Try this fun experiment: Buy any eight wines. Print up the following descriptions and assign them at random to your purchases, attributing them to the entirely fictional American Vintner Magazine:
Piquant, with a surprisingly aggressive approach. Hints of margarine, apple, and sheep’s wool tucked inside an aroma of cinnamon and suede.
Notes of fruit cocktail, pizza, library dust, and macerated watermelon rind. Briefly lingering finish. Spongy nose.
A dominant bouquet of dragon fruit, peach cobbler, saffron, and bacon, behind a permeated wall of laundry soap and cement.
An earthy mélange of aged prime rib and freshly turned farm dirt with a furry, irresponsible nose and a last-minute burst of Belgian motor oil.
Buckwheat, sea salt, and imported ketchup parade past a field of unkempt pussy willows with a crisp finish of cornstarch and fresh Tupperware.
Distinguished notes of green and yellow plaid are preceded by announcements of cedar, chipotle, butterscotch pudding, and gunmetal, all under an aromatic canopy of cotton batting.
The instantly discernable texture of low-pile carpet is enveloped in a swirl of honeysuckle, campfire, marinated venison, and crepe paper with a faint whiff of Bermuda onion and shoelace.
A shyer entrance belies the ultimately confident finish marked by freshwater eel, banana peppers, wood ear mushrooms, Dove soap, and conch, with a faint layer of organza.
Then, host a wine tasting party* for your favorite amateur aficionados and watch them claim to detect each of the flavors. Next, reveal your caper, unmask them as phonies, and kick them out of your home. Then drink the damned wine, smugly enjoying the nonanalytical experience.
*This plan will have to wait until the spring of 2023, when the quarantine is finally lifted by our new president, Vladimir Putin.