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Wine Descriptors Cat’s Pee in a Barnyard: Are Wine Descriptors Over the Top?


How many times have you actually found the information you wanted on the back label of a wine bottle or in the pages of a supermarket mailer?

Chances are, you’re rushing through the supermarket after work, just looking for something that won’t be dreadful with your go-to dinner—let’s say it’s lasagna. You select a bottle, hoping to find something useful like “off-dry red that goes well with lasagna”.

Instead, you find a detailed biography of the winemaker’s ex-husband’s dog and descriptors such as eloquent, unctuous, and seductive, followed by a selection of spices from Jamie Oliver’s latest pumpkin pie recipe and a list of fruit you’ve never tasted…

So what’s your reaction when you come across a label that reads like slam poetry from a disgruntled chef-turned-stockist? You probably think something along the lines of “what punter finds ‘chewy’ on a wine label and says ‘that’s the one!’?”

The answer, simply, is a tiny portion of the wine market that scholars call connoisseurs, wine enthusiasts, or high involvement …and the rest of us call wine snobs, among other terms.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s imagine there are just two kinds of people who buy wine: drinkers and tasters (we can call it a continuum, for those relativists among us).

On one hand, we have tasters who are likely to have a wine cellar and can hold their own against a sommelier, or at least know what to do when presented a cork at a fancy restaurant.

Then we have drinkers, which is basically everyone else. Scholars have further divided us into a variety of neat little boxes, like enjoyment-based quaffers, risk-averse cheapskates, and image-conscious showoffs.

That’s great and it all makes sense now, except for one thing: if fewer than 1 in 5 people who buy wine are certifiable wine snobs, why don’t more labels and wine writers take a drinker-friendly approach to describing wine‽

Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer.  Perhaps part of the equation is that many wineries want to portray an image of sophistication to avoid being associated with the many negative alcohol-related stereotypes and health concerns demonstrated so vividly in popular culture—especially during the ‘silly season’!

But, hey, if craft beer can manage to be cool and approachable, then why can’t wine? After all, wine is about having a great time and enjoying life – not making others feel excluded or uneducated.