Running around wine country for a week or so is bound to include interesting conversation, especially about wine, and especially about wine language. For instance, in one tasting room I overheard the expression queue de paon, something I hadn’t heard in years. It translates as peacock’s tail and refers to an exceptional finish or “length” on the palate.
But even more common English terms raise questions. What, for example, is an “elegant” wine. “Elegant” is not pejorative, but it is a tactful way of admitting that the wine is delicious, probably delicate, but not “big” or “aggressive.” So just what is “big”? High in alcohol, for one thing, and a very flavorful body but often lacking in balance. “Balance”? Harmony of acids, esters, tannins, fruit, alcohol, sugars.
One wine producer cautioned against taking the word “Reserved” too seriously. “Usually it means nothing,” she said, “it’s more of a marketing term. The word has more significance in Europe where the term has something of a legal definition.”
“Aroma” and “Bouquet” are often confused, not unsurprisingly, because they really are pretty much the same thing. Generally, aroma is used to define the scent immediately present in a freshly-opened bottle, especially of a young wine. Bouquet is the aroma more developed, commonly associated with the fragrance of older wines.
Along the way we experienced sparkling wines described as “Brut,” French for “raw.” Maybe “brute”? This means the wine has been left to its natural state of sweetness or dryness — no sweetening added. (By the way, sparkling wines labeled as “sec,” which is French for “dry,” are really somewhat sweet. I have never learned why.)
We sampled a number of “robust” wines, wines sturdy and mouth-filling, and a few that were “precocious,” early maturing.
This tiny course in Wine Talk is only to prepare you for wines labeled “oeil de perdrix” or “pelure d’oignon,” the eye of the partridge or the onionskin. You just never know where wine will take you into the study of language.