Jay McInerney enchanted us with his comparison of Chablis to Kate Moss and of Monterey County Chardonnay to Pamela Anderson.
When I swapped city life for rural Napa Valley six years ago, one of the first things I noticed was the preponderance of techno-wine-geek-speak. A mere step into a tasting room or twirl into a dinner party triggers more descriptors than a used car salesman slings when the boss presses him to close the deal: nose this, body that, fruit forward here, minerality there. At times, you'd think we were helping commandeer world peace with the detail and intensity of tasting notes.
This point solidified at this year’s Wine Writers Symposium at Meadowood. Our creative keynote speaker, Jay McInerney, wine columnist for Town and Country, talked about using literary tools, like metaphor and simile, when writing about wine. He enchanted us with examples, like his comparison of Chablis to Kate Moss and of Monterey County Chardonnay to Pamela Anderson. As ridiculous at it sounds, I understood exactly what he meant. While I applaud his panache for words and playful use of literary tactics (most of which I plan to exploit in my own writing), it also hints at a core problem with wine tasting notes. Like any good supermodel, they can be a little too full of themselves.
This conceit continued at the next day’s seminar, “Minerality: Tasting with the Masters,” where three esteemed panelists duked it out over whether or not minerality exists in wine. Each fell on different ends of the spectrum, though confirmed believers insist that, despite science to the contrary, you can indeed taste minerality in wine. Author and educator Doug Frost said the term was an imprecise label, feeding the linguistic gap, “There’s no demonstrated pathway for how minerality might manifest in a glass of wine.”
Asian Palate founder Jeannie Cho Lee, MW, finds the term useful in the U.S. market. “It adds a positive experience, and it says there’s something more in there than fruit and spice. It also means it’s not a wine that’s oak-dominated, and it tells more about what a wine isn’t.” Lisa Perotti-Brown, editor-in-chief at the Wine Advocate, cops to using the term as more of an “add-on” note to define complexity or to distinguish a more expensive wine. She feels minerality comes through on the finish versus the nose, and it can bring “steeliness” to the wine. Next she tossed around terms like, “wet stones” and “chalky” and ended with my favorite comment, “a slight tingle.” With that, we entered the territory of tasting notes I balk at.
As all the other attendees nod and smile in agreement, I start to feel I’m alone in my thinking—until industry keynote Hugh Johnson, raises his hand and speaks in that suave, unassuming way only a Brit can pull off: “What does wet stone mean? I don’t know that I’ve ever put wet stones in my mouth and tasted that.”
His question seemed to stump the panel; they paused before moving on to other points about minerality, never really answering his question. We sip a 2008 Mondavi Sauvigon Blanc, which Frost likens to summer rain, pebble and loam, closing with a nod to the wine as an expression of “organic earth.” Johnson seemed to be suppressing a smile, but maybe it’s just bad eyesight (and hope) on my part. The session ends with a final nugget from Perotti-Brown: “Minerality is used to over elevate a perception of the wine.” I’ll drink to—and agree with—that if nothing else.
At the closing night gala, the Acien 2007 Haynes Vineyard Old Block Pinot Noir stands out, mainly because I don’t hate it and it’s a Pinot. I hate most Pinots; they taste like cough syrup to me. But not this one. This wine is like Jared Leto—not exactly my taste, but I can appreciate the beauty of it. It’s thin but luscious, dripping with sex appeal and taste that lingers long after I’ve taken the last sip.
A week later, I taste the 2014 Divining Rod Chardonnay, another varietal not high on my list. But I continue to sip. This one drinks like a Sauvignon Blanc and makes a perfect mate to the spicy crab cake I suck down as I type. It’s like Ryan Gosling, more serious on the inside than it appears on the out. Or, for those who prefer more standard wine-geek-speek, I get citrus notes on the nose and pineapple blips in taste. And hell, a hint of minerality, too.
Tasting notes are a lot like people. Not every type will float your boat, but that shouldn’t stop anybody from sipping and making notes that speak to them (if nobody else).
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Located at 1410 Neotomas Ave. in Santa Rosa,NorthBay biz magazine is a monthly business-to-business publication covering Napa, Sonoma and Marin counties. This year, the magazine is celebrating 43 years of continuous operation. It originally hit the stands in 1975, when it was called Sonoma Business, and only covered Sonoma County. Norm and Joni Rosinski and John Dennis, acquired it in 2000 and changed its name to cover an expanded market. Today, the magazine is part of Amaturo Sonoma Media Group. More here..