Instructions on how to Become a Wine Connoisseur in 25 Minutes.
By A. S. Trindberg
Everybody is free to buy wine and to have whatever opinion about it that he wants. No doubt about that. It must be recognized however that some opinions are more popular than others. At dinner parties in restaurants or private homes, on festive occasions or simply at wine tastings (where this pamphlet really justifies its existence), everybody can gorge himself with outstanding wines, if he has the financial means, but for quite a large part of the population, this is far from enough. What's important is not only to enjoy the wine, but to talk about the wine. Without a specifically coded satisfactory analysis and description of the wine, it cannot be considered as properly consumed. This analysis and description can only be made by a true wine connoisseur. To become one takes years of hard work and a considerable amount of self-glorification. Fortunately it is not difficult to pick up the trick, and with this pamphlet in his hand, every reasonably sensible human being should be able to bluff his way through as a connoisseur after approximately 25 minutes of studying.
Here I betray the ideal for the true wine connoisseur, who will claim that the ability to stand out as a connoisseur can only be achieved through a laborious and long-standing preoccupation. The truth is that nothing is easier than being a wine connoisseur. Where the uninitiated everyday wine drinker (and ugh, if there's anything a connoisseur despites, it's people that simply drink wine) e.g. would say that a given wine 'is really tasty', a connoisseur would never descend to that level. Having sniffed, gargled, in- and exhaled a couple of times, he'll frown and mumble a thoughtful 'hem hmmm'. If he really likes the wine, it'll soon be followed by a rather bland 'interesting'. Where the winedrinker only expressed a feeling: that he found the wine tasty, the connoisseur will never condescend to mere feelings; his judgement is less shallow, his analysis is professionally based and his knowledge and wisdom is clearly infinite. What matters for the connoisseur is not simply aesthetic pleasure, but his own judgement and consequently other people's lack of judgement and mental faculties. The art of being a wine connoisseur rests on a basic knowledge of professional terms, a considerable amount of self-overestimation and a certain degree of flexibility. The true connoisseur is never wrong, and for that reason he must always be careful not to be in a position where his judgement can be questioned. In front of laymen the wine connoisseur will put on a technical and professional attitude to show his superiority and outdo them with his knowledge, but in front of professionals he will side with the ordinary wine drinker and impose his hobby horses based on a merely aestethic attitude. Thus the connoisseur is always on safe ground and almighty in his own perfection.
A wine connoisseur should never be categorical in his opinions; this can be taken as less serious, and furthermore it represents a considerable risk. A wine connoisseur can sniff his glass for hours. This gives the impression of immersion and postpones the moment where others might force a proper opinion from him.
If the connoisser feels obliged to put forward a proper value judgment – which should generally be avoided - he must of course stress the fact that it's only a provisional observation, and then express himself in words that only with difficulty – if at all – can be connected to reality. An example: For a wine at this level, it expresses some reflection, if not actual nobleness, then at least a quest for a certain verticality. Or: The viscosity and the fruit of the wine may not be in balance, but perhaps it is only the stage at which we have seized the wine? Wast thou much enligtened by this? No, but such speaking leaves anyone out. The ignorant are impressed, the experts can't find the energy to contradict or to ask questions. The result is that he who comes up with such things stands unchallenged and as a genuine Connaisseur!
A piece of good advice for the starting wine connoisseur is to find a specific style, a technical expression or a specific angle to apply to all wines. For instance you may remember always to ask if the wine has been through bâtonnage, pichage or whatever. Whether it's possible or not to give a reasonable answer to the question, the connoisseur can put up a pensive and know-all attitude and just say, 'hemmm' or 'ahh'. You only have to find your own detail to ask about. Possible counter questions and follow-ups can always be averted just by sticking your nose deep in the glass, looking very concentrated. (In fact, this goes for all precarious situations). As you meet the same people more than once with the same question, they'll start to believe that you have understood something that no one else can grasp; that you have a special insight into wine linked to bâtonnage for example. Most technical terms will work here.
If you are out of your depth in the discussion of a given wine, or of wine in general, you can always play the 'Now, don't let us get too academic'-card. By this you signal that you know better, but that none of those present would be capable of fully understanding even if if you tried to explain.
In a way the pinnacle of a wine connoisseur's style. Should not be used too much in discussions of wine. Examples: 'The wine has a spontaneous fruit, which is in sharp contrast to its complicated structure.' Or: 'The structure of the wine signifies an almost innate contradiction.' Or: 'The fruitiness is almost overwhelming, but at the same time not particularly prevailing.' (!)
A concept to be used with a certain prudence, as it has a real meaning - generally in connection with champagne. Yet practically no one understands the real meaning, which makes the concept quite usable in most situations! Should you be asked directly about the meaning, you can just sigh and tell the questioner that it is a rather complicated process that takes place in the enzymes of the wine. (And since less than one quarter of one percent of the world population know what enzymes actually are, this is normally rather safe ground).
Refers to the balance between the various elements of the wines: acidity, sweetness, tannin, etc. Every wine connoisseur's most important tool. In most circles it's perfectly legitimate to say things like: 'To me the most important thing in a wine is balance'. With that you suggest that you taste wine at a different level than others, and at the same time it is impossible to contradict (who would claim that they prefer an unbalanced wine?)
A perfect word to show disrespect for a wine without actually saying anything concrete. Works whether it's a grand cru or an item on sale from the supermarket.
Short for brettomycanes. A specific type of wild yeast that gives a somewhat rustic barn-like smell. The smell is quite common in very traditional wines, contrary to the term, which is unknown to most people. It has a concrete meaning and should therefore be used cautiously.
Definitely too characteristic. Should only be used if you are on really safe ground.
'The energy of the wine has an almost centripetal character'. Plain nonsense; a charateristic that should be used cautiously.
Good expression when on the one hand you think that the wine is not totally ordinary, but on the other not being really sure whether you like it or not.
Suggests that a wine tastes or smells good, but really isn't worth anything.
It is always nice to connect the character of the wine with a categorization of humans which only very few people are familiar with. See also: Elegiac, Phlegmatic and Sanguine.
Cold climate wine
A rather incoherent term for wines made in a relatively cold climate. Probably an attempt to bring wines from e.g. Canada and New Zealand into the fine company of e.g. Burgundy and Champagne.
The colour of the wine is usually a part of the judgement criteria, but one can easily avoid disputable expressions, for instance by pointing to the 'hard' or 'crystaline' colour of the wine.
An exemplary expression that can be used about the greatest wines as well as some nasty mistakes. Complex. What does it mean? Well, that requires a complex answer.
Means that the wine doesn't have any faults, but that the wine connoisseur finds it most boring.
Should be used seldom and with caution, but is completely incomprehensible and can often make a hit in sentences as: 'On the face of it, the wine is quite straightforward, but it has something demonic to it'.
It is always nice to connect the character of the wine with a categorization of humans which only very few people are familiar with. See also: Choleric, Phlegmatic and Sanguine.
When there's something really wrong with the wine (not just that you don't like it). Should be used with caution whenever there's anyone present with a technical knowledge of wine; in other situations) you can easily give it away.
When there's something wrong with the wine that is not bad enough to be a fault (see above).
The adjective 'great' is reserved simply for the best wines, and you should use the expression with caution. Luckily it can be modified in many ways so that you can differentiate between 'great' and 'good'. In this way a wine can be great even if you don't really like it. The word can be used if you have judged a very expensive wine as rather poor. 'Sure, it's a great wine, but I don't find it quite balanced at this stage'.
Should never be be used as an answer to questions, where it can be perceived as uncertain and hesitant, but much rather in combination with an inward-looking attitude and thoughtful expression, where it will indicate profundity and a deeper and more complex understanding of the wine than other people possess.
Excellent expression that can be used in most difficult situations, should you be forced to make a proper judgement of a wine, or if you are so unlucky that it is your father-in-law, or perhaps the winegrower himself, who has served something tasting like ancient bark or a boiled pencil case. ('What do I think? Well, yes, interesting - really interesting!')
A concrete term for tastes in wine, but sufficiently difficult to define, so that most people just let it pass, no matter how the wine tastes.
An umbrella term for three renowned wines from Côte-Rôtie in the othern Rhône Valley. A way, so to speak, to be on familiar terms with wines that cost several hundreds of Euros a bottle. Whether you have tasted these three La's or not, it will compel most people's respect, if you claim that a given Rhône wine is not on a level with the Lalala's from the old days. (For a Connoisseur with a certain routine, every famous wine was much better 'in the old days'.)
An essential part of the process of making red wines. Very important for the expression of the wine, but only a few know much about how it affects the finished wine. It is obvious to refer to difficulties during the maceration or the like, if you want to express a slightly hidden disapproval.
Technique to create particularly light and fruity red wines. For many years, it was used as 'a regular question' by a whole bunch of Connoisseurs, who generally cannot be considered as highly esteemed. A very hackneyed expression; should be used with caution.
Among Connoisseurs just known as malo. Describes a transformation of malic acid into lactic acid. A concrete and specific term, which is normally inapplicable for a true Connoisseur, but one can, however, claim that 'the malolactic fermentation has not gone off entirely appropiately'. No one will really be aware of the consequence of this.
An excellent exclamation that shows a Francophile background and suggests a classic wine culture, without having any concrete significance, neither positive nor negative.
Signifies silent approval of the judgement by a famous or generally respected Connoisseur. Should be accompanied by a light bending of the neck.
Wonderful expression, which can be positive, negative, condescending or heartening at will. When using it as a description you may, if necessary, guard yourself (against those who might find the wine old-fashioned) by claiming that 'the intention is modern'.
A value judgement. Should be avoided. Can be used at a pinch in muddled contexts such as: 'Nice that some people have the courage to go against the current and be mainstream.'
A description of a concrete wine, which per definition is categoric and ultimative. A very important tool for a true Connoisseur: a note on a wine is authoritative and expresses the Truth about the wine. Should there be a discrepancy between one's own and other people's notes, it is not a sign of different perceptions of the wine, but shows the others' lack of professional, spiritual and moral competence.
You should always refrain from claiming that a wine tastes like this or that; a true Connoisseur points out that the wine has notes of this or that.
Wonderful expression, which can be positive, negative, condescending or heartening at will. When using it as a description you may, if necessary, guard yourself (against those who might find the wine modern) by claiming that 'the intention is old-fashioned'.
A term that describes the development and age of the wine and a lot of other things. Can be used as an expression of faults, flaws, maturation or production method. Very usable term in non-categoric statements. All wines are oxidated to some degree.
Quite airy technical term. The opposite of reductive. Very few will feel sure enough to deny that a wine may be oxidative.
A professional term which to ordinary people verges on pure nonsense. Should only be used by the routined Connoisseur.
It is always nice to connect the character of the wine with a categorization of humans which only very few people are familiar with. See also:Choleric, Elegiac and Sanguine.
A way to bash an expensive wine, if you don't like it, or if you have judged it as insignificant. 'Sure it's a great and expensive wine, and it does in fact taste good, but I believe it has something rather pretentious to it.'
It is always nice to connect the character of the wine with a categorization of humans which only very few people are familiar with.See also: Choleric, Elegiac and Phlegmatic.
A word which, depending on the context, can express concern, displeasure, happiness or almost anything. Should - just in case - be accompanied by a light frown and an intense sniffing at the wine. (In that way it may signify, if nothing else, that it's strange that this wine tastes so good despite the producer, the vintage, the stage, the taste components or whatever).
A keystone in any wine. Usually relates to the acidity and tannin content of the wines, but there are no clearly delimited definitions. Can be used both positively and negatively and will always make an impression.
A splendid expression to explain away the fact that you have praised a much too cheap wine (and Connoisseurs just don't do that!) 'Sure it's a small and simple wine, and it doesn't taste of anything special, but I just think it has something delightfully unpretentious about it'.
A way to express that a wine is particularly wine-ish. Positive; but can hardly be considered as overclear speech.
Can be incredibly crucial to the quality of a wine, and Connoisseurs traditionally spend a great deal of energy discussing it. A true Connoisseur should never be really happy about wines from less acknowledged vintages. As a precaution the Connoisseur's favourite vintages should be so old that no one else is likely to have ever tasted them: 1928 and 1929 are excellent - though not very original - possibilities.