Luxuriant or skinny? Wine Professionals Explain What Their Favorite Tasting Terms Really Mean
Fully masked and a few meters from the guest tables, Gabriela Davogustto has never been so focused on communicating the character of a wine quickly and clearly.
“I’m six feet away screaming, ‘Fresh berries’ and they’re like,’ What? ”Says Davogustto, wine director and co-owner of Clay in New York. “I try not to go into too much detail. You really have to know what people want to know.
There has long been a linguistic dance between guests and wine professionals, each doing their best to understand exactly what the other is really saying. A big part of a sommelier’s job is asking the right questions, interpreting a guest’s wine knowledge, and adapting the language accordingly. Most of the time, that means ignoring the official Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Tasting Grid vocabulary in favor of more evocative phrasing.
“Everyone’s language of wine is different,” says Tonya Pitts, wine manager at One Market restaurant in San Francisco. “When you come to the table, you have to listen first.”
But that exchange got a bit more rushed and even “bizarre,” according to Arthur Han, beverage manager at Momofuku Ko. Measures to reduce potential exposure to Covid-19 led Han’s team to limit time. spent at the table.
Even before the pandemic, Han preferred to avoid “unnecessary” subjective tasting notes. “My lemon could be your orange,” he says.
Like Davogustto, he prefers not to give guests too much information, lest some words distract them from a wine they might like.
Wine drinkers come with luggage, convinced that they don’t like certain grape varieties, regions, styles or producers. Many are too embarrassed to ask questions. Instead, they just nod their heads and pretend they understand what terms like ‘gripping’, ‘nervous’, or ‘tension’ mean.
“I have the impression that wine is a misunderstood friend of mine that everyone knows,” says Mara Rudzinski, partner of Contento, which will soon open in New York. “But everyone is still skeptical of who is around them.”
To improve communication, 15 wine professionals discuss their favorite words and what they really mean.
Balanced: Balanced wines are “like a hug,” says Davogustto. The fruit, acidity and tannins are harmonious and no characteristic “jumps first”. This is opposed to linear or angular wines which attack the palate before all their character is revealed.
Shiny: Bright generally means “lively and more acidic,” says Rudzinski, which often translates into easy consumption. Pitts thinks of shiny wines like laser beams. “[They’re] pure and focused, ”she says. “You can taste and visualize the wine. You know exactly what’s going on in your palace.
Pitts cites Dr Konstantin Frank’s Finger Lakes Grüner Veltliner as a good example of brilliant wine.
Bold: Bold wines are “fruity with structure and bones,” says Brian Grandison, sommelier at Miami Surf Club.
When Han thinks of bold wines, he thinks of Barolo and Brunello, with their pronounced tannins and darker fruit. Han says “bold” can translate to higher alcohol content, but that doesn’t necessarily mean heavy, a term he has stopped using.
Rather than daring, Wanda Mann, founder of Wine With Wanda, prefers to call these wines “va va voom”.
Confident: RdV Vineyards winemaker Joshua Grainer says a confident wine is a wine “that shows great poise and poise, avoiding extremes of maturity or handling and being true to its origin and / or variety”. For that, it is a question of increasing the age of the vines, a better knowledge of microclimates and a precision in cellar.
In addition to RdV’s 2016 Lost Mountain blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, Grainer also cites Opus One, especially the 2014 bottling, as an example of a confident wine.
Creamy: Creamy wines are all about mouthfeel, says Han. They often have less acidity, a certain age and have spent time in wooden barrels and / or on lees. He thinks of woody wines from the southern Rhône, or aged champagnes with a sip of sweet bubbles.
Oakland-based wine writer Nikki Goddard uses dairy and creamy qualities to help wine lovers understand the body. “Light wines look like water in the mouth, medium-bodied wines look like skimmed milk, full-bodied wines are like whole milk, or even cream, in the case of some dessert wines”, she says.
Elegant: When Pitts says a wine is elegant, she means the fruit tastes neat, and she can say a lot of thought has gone into its production. She finds that some aged and aged wines have an elegant taste.
Davogustto imagines “Grace Kelly in a glass”. It emphasizes the moderately light body, lively acidity and soft tannins found in Altaroses Garnacha 2017 by Joan D’Anguera de Montsant.
Frantic: Jeff Segal, owner of the Domestic wine store in Washington, DC, likes to talk about the energy of a wine. He describes some of his favorite natural wines as frantic.
“They’re unpredictable, out of control, dynamic and exciting,” Segal says. “When a wine is frantic, it is not a wine that can be pinpointed with a simple tasting note. It is always changing and forcing you to reconsider.
Amusing: If Davogustto senses that a guest is up for an adventure, she will sell him a “fun” wine. It could mean something from the Canary Islands, a rosé from Virginia, or some other variety or region that guests are less likely to have encountered elsewhere.
These wines seem funny to him because “you don’t know what you’re going to get. They are easy to drink, but they also surprise.
Member: When a wine’s tannins are “a little deep and almost too much,” maybe like a young Bordeaux, it’s eye-catching, says Jeff Harding, wine director at the Waverly Inn in New York. “But just when you think it’s too much and too much distraction, you’re like, ‘No, that’s right. “”
Heady: Pitts uses heady instead of “aggressive” or “strong” to describe wines with a high alcohol content. She also deploys the term figuratively to speak of cerebral wines in their tasting sweet spot, such as a Château Margaux 2000.
Juicy: For Rudzinski, juicy wines, embodied by Beaujolais and its main grape variety Gamay, are “full of fruit”. This often means berries and red stone fruits that are “ripe in summer, freshly picked with juice running down your chin.”
Thin: Just talking about lean wines, Rebekha Pineda, saleswoman at Domestique, stands a little straighter. “It’s a word that communicates an idea and a feeling beyond literal translation,” she says. “Skinny whites are steel, like marathon runners, or they’re slightly nervous, like a broke college student trying to escape dinner with barely spending anything.”
While a full-bodied wine tastes rich and lush, the lean connotes tightness and focus.
“As a minimalist, the lean is the biggest compliment reserved for Riesling from old vines, gray slate or affordable Pépière Clos de Briords [Muscadet], says Pineda.
Lush: Lush wines have the body and concentrated flavor of a bold wine, but they are “velvety and silky with less tannins,” says Grandison.
Nervous: Harding says nervous bottles have what bordered on excess acid, but they are “fair and continue to get your attention.” Goddard prefers to call these very acidic wines, like dry German Riesling, Muscadet, Chenin Blanc and Chablis from the Loire Valley, “on the palate” instead.
Porch pestle: Porch pots are “easy, straightforward wines that you should chill and drink quickly,” says Alexi Cashen, CEO of Elenteny Imports. Pitts calls these bottles “patio wine” or wine to drink around the pool. “They remind me of the sun,” she said. Many rosés do the trick, just like the Pinot Grigio coulées.
Purity: Tim Elenty, owner of Elenty Imports, considers purity to be a measure of the style in which a wine is made. If a wine is concentrated and faithful to the variety or to the regional style, it is pure expression.
Dynamic: Big, young reds that “hit you on the sides” with tannins are what Jillian Stern, Estate Ambassador at Napa’s White Rock Vineyards, calls punchy wines. Examples could include young Malbecs, Cabernets or Tannats.
Rustic: Pitts says rustic wines are everyday reds, best paired with a meal. The wines of the Irancy appellation in Burgundy, as well as certain Barberas, Syrahs and Grenaches from the Côtes du Rhône are examples. Harding says rustic wines often have a lingering finish, pleasant but not crisp acidity, and, at times, backyard aromas.
catchy: Han sells a lot of fresh, crisp white wines, which means bottles like Chablis, Dry Riesling, and Albariño. Elenty also likes to use Snappy for “crisp, clean and dry white wines”.
Smooth: Stern gently dropped his wine vocabulary. “He’s my pet peeve,” she said. “All wines must be smooth. This descriptor belongs to strong alcohol, not wine.
Still, the sweetness resonates with customers looking for a “light to medium-bodied red with velvety tannins,” says Iris Fabre, deputy director of London’s Real Drinks and founder of Wine Minute. Rudzinski points to a French idiom that was taught to him by the late Jean-Luc Le Dû to describe a good smooth wine: “little Jesus in velvet panties“(Or” baby Jesus in velvet underpants “).
Voltage: For Grainer, strained wines display an elegant structure suitable for aging, “obtained when craftsmanship blends perfectly with the pedigree of the terroir, or the unique sense of place of the wine”.
For Harding, the tension lies at the intersection of grip and nervousness, exemplified by wines such as Fleur de Pinot Marsannay Rosé de Bourgogne from Sylvain Pataille.
“It vibrates with energy, whether it’s acid, texture, or fruitiness and weight, and it’s a constant dance of perfectly chained components, all vying for your attention,” he says. “It’s like when a dancer jumps incredibly high and you think he’s going to fall, but he lands and continues on his way. You just can’t take your eyes off.