A few years ago, I started a blog about wine; specifically, my favorite wine, Pinot Noir. It was a way for me to document the various wines I was tasting. I also provided ratings, which proved to be fortuitous in that while my readership wasn’t wide, the winemakers read my blog. As a result, I made a bit of a name for myself – albeit, a small one – among winemakers. It was cool writing that blog, but I kind of lost steam with it, and let it go. I still get contacted about writing and reviewing wines, but I do my best to graciously decline.
When I first started reviewing wines, I subscribed to a bunch of different publications and blogs to get a sense of how to approach writing reviews. What struck me at first was this sense of snobbery that seemed to pervade the discussions. It was so much like academia with people freely bandying their credentials about and using them as mental weapons. It was a little intimidating.
I was discussing this with a close friend who is in the wine business. She rolled her eyes and shared that she knew and had encountered many of those experts, and yes, many of them came off as snobs. But in actuality they weren’t – and I came to find that out myself when I met many of these people. The difference between them and “mere mortals” was that despite the certifications and training, what they had developed was a vocabulary.
Vocabulary, with respect to tasting, is not just developing a lexicon of catchy words and phrases. It is the ability to transcribe into words the images and scents that are observed when tasting a wine or spirit that goes beyond the basic sensory perceptions such as “sweet.”
How sweet is a wine or whiskey? Well, not many have access to a refractometer to measure sugar content, so the best that can be done by a taster is to compare that sweetness to something familiar. So with a wine, that “sweetness” could be described as ripe stone fruit followed by a hint of raw honey.
To the reader, that’s sweet but described in such a way that there’s a familiar reference. Frankly, there’s no magic to it. But to develop a vocabulary requires tasting a lot. It also requires a bit of study. I didn’t just jump into reviewing wine. I had been an amateur connoisseur for decades leading up to that. I had also read many wine reviews, so the way in which I described a wine wasn’t too far off-base from how reviews were presented.
And in the end, vocabulary just doesn’t matter because the end result is binary: You either like it or you don’t. Geeks love to share their vocabulary; 99% of them just use their vocabulary as a matter of course when discussing a beverage. I’ve found very, very few are actual snobs about it.
So please, as the title of this article has suggested, don’t get intimidated by wine or whiskey geeks who have developed a vocabulary. Just remember that their ultimate reaction to a drink is the same as yours: They either like it or they don’t.