John Brown has been a wine and food columnist in West Virginia since the 1980’s. His regular columns appear in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail under the title Vines & Vittles and in The State Journal - a statewide business weekly

Describing wine: it’s easy to exaggerate

Sometimes it’s laughable. Other times it makes me crazy! Please read the description below of a wine being pitched to customers by an online wine retailer. This description takes hyperbole to a new level.

“The nose is redolent of dark Bing cherries, hints of black and white pepper on meat roasting in a wood oven, memories of English plum pudding steaming at Christmas, a touch of saddle leather, warm spice and tobacco at a distance. The nose continues to build and unfold with hints of violets and Portobello mushrooms, blackberries, minerals and sweet earth. It envelops the palette, almost to the point of overwhelming, then opens up to show beautiful balance and sophistication, and an elegant, glycerol texture. Explosive on the palette, it transforms midway into every red berry you’ve ever tasted. The finish lingers uncovering a wisp of anise, blackberry honey, and golden pastry roasting in the oven…Cherry Pie. “ Holy obfuscation! How can you possibly glean anything useful about this wine from this exaggerated drivel? Saddle leather, Portobello mushrooms, explosive on the palette, plum pudding steaming at Christmas along with hints of white and black pepper on roasting meat?

No need to have dinner with this wine. It is dinner: appetizer, main course and dessert all rolled into one!

I must admit I have, on occasion, let my enthusiasm for a good wine cause me to use overly flowery language to describe a particularly memorable bottle. But in the main, I try to use common taste and aroma descriptors to which you can easily relate.

For example, if I recommend a wine that has flavors of cherries and an aroma of cinnamon, just about everyone has had those sensory experiences, and can therefore relate to them in evaluating whether or not to buy the wine.

Of course, not all wine tasting experiences are positive. Just recently, I stuck my rather indelicate snout into a glass filled with wine and sniffed deeply. Mistake!

The wine smelled like the dead frog I once dissected in freshman biology class – only not as good.

In the future, I’ll try to stay away from terms like ethereal, sublime or orgasmic when describing the attributes or flaws in wine. Let me just say that the wines below are ones I have enjoyed for various sensory reasons that I hope I can describe to you in a manner you will find useful.

2009 Entrada Sauvignon Blanc ($7) Not only an unbelievable value, this wine from Argentina is a refreshing mouthful with citrus-like flavors. It has good acid balance and would be a nice porch-sipper or a good match with herb or vegetable dishes such as pasta in a basil pesto sauce.

2007 Guenoc Chardonnay ($14) Round and richly flavored with just a kiss of oak, this medium-bodied California chardonnay would make an excellent accompaniment to roasted chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese and sundried tomatoes.

2006 Cantele Salice Salentino ($13) From Puglia in the heel of Italy’s boot, this is a red blend of obscure grapes that is an exceptional food wine. It has an aroma of ripe cherries and teaberry mint and flavors of plums with a subtle hint of oak. Excellently balanced, this wine would be a very nice match to grilled chicken or even stuffed and grilled flank steak.

2004 Beronia Rioja Reserva ($20) Aged for 18 months in barrels and another 18 months in bottle, this wine is quintessential Rioja with a soft and supple texture ripe and round blackberry and cinnamon flavors. Has the feel and complexity of mature Bordeaux at a fraction of the cost, and would pair nicely with grilled beef steak or pork tenderloin.

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