Tuesday, July 28, 2009

remembering the face of my father

It's natural, I guess, for a fledgling wine reviewer like myself to fall into the game of adjectives that is the wine reviewing world. It's a seductive trap for writers -- trying to "describe a sunset to the blind" by getting super specific in my writeups; trying to reduce flavors and sensations to minute components rather than simply writing about how the damned stuff tastes and whether I've enjoyed it. (After all, that's why most of you are here, right?)

About six months after I started the Naked Vine, the Sweet Editor-in-Crime read one of my columns and said, after reading one particularly clunky entry, "Who's your audience again? I don't think you're writing for them, or for me for that matter. You lost me about halfway through." She was right, of course. (Stop gloating over that admission, m'dear...) I was trying to prove that I was a "real" wine writer by churning out 400 words about a $6 sauvignon blanc. As the old cliché goes, you gotta play to your strengths. Being a junior Parker isn't mine.

After I write up my tasting notes, I admit I sometimes check my work against those of other writers to see if I've at least landed in the ballpark. I don't expect to have the same descriptions, but there should be commonalities among different tastings of the same bottle. I was doing just that for a cabernet sauvignon I'll be featuring in an upcoming column. I came across a review so glorious in its ostentatiousness that I did a literal spit-take. Check it out:

"The bouquet offers an immediate burst of slate, lead pencil, cedar and tobacco leaf, smoky and toasty oak and hints of intense and concentrated black currants and black raspberries; given a few moments, the nose draws up touches of leafy, dried herbs, brambles and underbrush. All of these elements testify to the wine’s structural integrity and tannic power. In the mouth, though, [this wine] feels sleek and elegant; it’s packed with spice and black fruit flavors but it’s neither fleshy nor over-ripe. The wine gains depth and dimension in the glass, darkening, as it were, as more mineral, tannin and oaken qualities make themselves known. The finish concludes with another burst of spice and a wild high-note of foxy plums."

Egads. Lead pencil? Brambles and underbrush? Foxy plums?

I realize that I shouldn't be too critical. This writer clearly has a particular voice and niche and writes to it. Even so, I hope this isn't like any review you'll ever see from me. If any of you ever notice me veering too far in that direction, feel free to metaphorically kick my ass.

By the way, I did look up what "brambles" refers to. It's a fancy way of saying "blackberries." I'm still stumped on "foxy plums." For the sake of full disclosure, this particular writer won the 2009 American Wine Blog Award for "Best Wine Reviews," so what the heck do I know?

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