I went to a wine tasting last night. I stood around with other fashionably dressed grown-ups sipping Spanish wines and noshing on stuff with lots of olive oil in it.
Now, I love Spanish wines. I have a basement filled with Riojas and fruity Penedes and Rueda whites. I'm developing a financially debilitating obsession with an Alicante Monastrell -- debilitating because I'm convinced that my life will not be complete until I have a ten year vertical of it and I'm impatient so I'm working backwards, which is expensive. More expensive still because my collection strategy -- don't you have a wine collection strategy? -- is that I want to use my collection to create replicable experiences, which means I need more than one of everything.
I tell you all that not so you will be impressed, but so you will be appalled. Last night, amid the people sniffing and sipping and saying things like "green apples" and "new leather" and "lichees" and "flint" and "baked blackfruit with just a little vanilla," I leaned over to a friend of mine and said:
All I taste is wine.
It was the bravest thing I've said since I asked my wife if she'd marry me. I was baring my soul and my friend, thankfully, chuckled understandingly and went back to gargling his drink. Which was also, come to think of it, my wife's reaction when I popped the question.
As my regular reader knows, I like to think of myself as a civilized human being. I eschew artificial fibers and use words like "eschew" to show people how smart I am. I mock mall culture and chain restaurants. And, as a kind of totem against middle class vulgarity, I have a basement full of wine.
I can tell the difference between wines. I can tell complexity from simplicity. I can tell dry from sweet and balanced from unbalanced and tempranillo from cabernet. As the saying goes, I know what I like. Occasionally I get a whiff of melon or lemon or peach from a white, occasionally cherry from a red. But no matter how hard I try I can not conclude that the wine I am drinking tastes of sugar snap peas, ripe cassis, or pippin apple. I have never sensed coconut in wine. I have struggled to find ginger and herbs, and once even did a side-by-side tasting of a French white and skin moisturizer to see if the wine really did have a lanolin mouthfeel.
I have failed, utterly, to come up with much more than a combination of these six descriptors: good, bad, ugh, cheap, expensive, free. The holy grail in my wine universe is wine that is good and free.
I am an utter failure as a connoisseur.
Perhaps as a self-protective device, I find myself wondering about the whole culture of description. I read about wines and I wonder: Are there people out there who can read a description of wine and know what it tastes like? For example, this from the Nov. 30 Wine Spectator:
Lush, suave red, with lush blackberry and cassis flavors, with delicious mineral and tobacco notes. Firmly structured, with a lingering finish of French roast and dark chocolate.
Granted, the phrase "lush, suave red" is a pretty good description of Warren Beatty, but the rest of it sounds like something you could reconstruct in a blender, except I don't think either you or Warren would like the results.
My larger point is: Are there people who can read that and know what the wine tastes like? Or is wine writing an entirely impressionistic form, where words that sound literal are used to described an experience that is, essentially, indescribable. Do all those words exist to pad out the publication so that people can look at the wine's score (in the case of the lush, suave red above, 92 on a 100 point scale, which is about what I'd give Warren Beatty) and decide what to buy?
There is, on the other hand, the possibility that I'm just an undiscerning boob. Which, while it clashes with my carefully groomed self-image, would be my guess.