|Mike Stoddart: How daft do we think consumers are?|
|Wednesday, 31 October 2012 13:37|
There's been much discussion lately about "de-mystifying" wine; does the traditional wine vocabulary still have any great relevance, or does it merely obfuscate and deter people from the specialist shops; or was it all rather vague in the first place?
But has nobody given any thought to the intelligence of the customer, or to where "de-mystification", by specialists of all people, will leave them?
The issue could raise lengthy debate, but for now I'll address it by offering a few scenes from tasting events I've hosted recently.
A large group of good-natured people are quietly weighing up the first of eight or so wines on display, and I ask them what they think. There is a wide range of wine knowledge and experience in the room, but one or two people seem to think I'm expecting a wine buff's response, and a few more simply look worried.
"Certainly is. Do we have any advance on fruity?" Yes, of course, we always do. Not immediately, but the snowball is rolling.
Throughout the evening, conventional wine terms garner differing responses and it is clear that people are readily aware not only of what I'm talking about, but of what I might be talking about. Neither the meanings nor the ambiguities are getting past anybody.
"How would you describe the nose on this, Mike?"
"Well, I'd be inclined to agree with the producer's note and say it was quite elegant."
Another voice: "Is that 'elegant' in the sense of not smelling of much?"
"Yes, elegant can mean pleasingly restrained, but I take your point that, in this case it might be used in its 'unassuming' sense. "
And we're off: "flinty" becomes "pungently smoky", "steely" becomes "painful". "Velvety" comes to describe a merciful antidote to the steely and flinty wines. "Volatile acidity" invites as piquant a response as can be imagined. "Cat's pee" remains cat's pee, however, and we find much to agree on – acidity can make a fruity wine a little more interesting, if a little less fruity, and tannin, while reassuringly indicative of longevity, can make it even less fruity.
As we approach the end of the evening, we spotlight a couple of mightily impressive showstoppers from a popular Australian winery whose florid blurbs will add a little fun, labelling it as the "serious side of Grenache". It is also described it as a "thought-provoking wine".
"Well it's provoked me into thinking I'd be mad if I paid thirty-five quid for it," was one response.
Of course, the effort to describe wine will occasionally result in some misguidedly picturesque language, and anybody who claims they can taste caramelised lemon zest in a wine is no more deranged now than they ever were.
But where will "de-mystification" take us? Away, perhaps from the odd bizarre if well-intentioned attempt to describe and share some massive personal impact, to a place where ranks of wines are graded from "rather decent" to "doubleplusgood", by way of "gerrit down yer neck?"
The wine vocabulary is a part of the wine experience, and it will grow as the wine lover's journey progresses and, without encouragement, he/she will simply walk in circles.
Mike Stoddart is manager of Oddbins, Allerton Road, Liverpool. Read his blog at wineandvinyl.com