Hmm, Perhaps Just a Hint of Humbug; A French Scientist Is Getting Right Up the Nose of Wine Experts, Claiming They Can't Tell Red from White. Evening Standard Wine Writer Andrew Jefford Defends the Language of Scent and Flavour

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WE'VE been rumbled. The language of wine is a load of old blackcurrants (no, make that "fat melons" with "hedgerow fruit and herbs"), and those who spout it are mystificatory hierophants (or, in common parlance, pseuds). That, at any rate, is the conclusion being drawn from a recent piece of French research whose findings have been published in the current edition of New Scientist.

A French researcher called Gil Morot discovered, by the agreeably simple stratagem of tinting white wines red, that his sample group of wine tasters immediately began to smell red fruits and substances instead of the white and yellow repertoire they had previously detected - when the white wine was still white. To be fair, Monsieur Morot didn't have the tough trio of Oz Clarke, Jancis Robinson and the all-powerful American taster Robert Parker sitting in front of him, but a group of eager-toplease French undergraduates.

NONETHELESS, he concludes that "olfactory descriptions are completely subjective". You might as well chose your fruit 'n' nut wine descriptions, in other words, by pulling the handle on a slot machine and seeing what chugs up to the line. All us wine writers should be sent packing.

This, it has to be admitted, is a view which commands considerable public sympathy.

Wine writing is commonly seen as ludicrously extravagant, even meaningless, and its use is one of the alienating factors in making the uninitiated feel excluded by "wine snobs" from their world.

What do we make of a red wine said to be "dry with a hint of rustic sod"?

Just how do you feel about "superbly glossy tannins and strikingly berried fruit in first-class, textured collusion"? Can you immediately imagine a wine which "has a warm, earthy aroma (touch of basil), stunningly well-concentrated and murky tannins, and an evolved finish of hedgerow fruits and herbs, and that ineffable quality the Spaniards call duende"?

These are descriptions from The Guardian's Superplonk column of 17 March, 15 September and 16 June this year.

There is an irony in all this, which is that fanciful formulations of this sort were actually meant to be a stratagem to open up the world of winetasting and make it more accessible to the uninitiated.

Thirty years ago, wine descriptions would have read something like this.

"There is now a suggestion of evolution on the colour. Lovely nose. Really sophisticated complex fruit.

Fine acidity but rich enough so not hard or austere Good tannins but they don't stick out. Very very subtle and complex at the end." Some wine writers, in fact, still write like this: it's a quotation from Clive Coates's 1997 CUte d'Or. When Jilly Goolden and Oz Clarke introduced wine tasting to television, they quickly worked out that if they began with "a suggestion of evolution", it would take about seven seconds for people in Barnsley and Chelmsford to decide they'd rather watch the ice hockey playoffs from Calgary. …


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