Confused by Wine Descriptions?

I am often told by customers and students alike that they find it difficult enough to describe a wine's flavour or aroma without being further confused by some of the poetic descriptions offered on the reverse label. I thought this recent article in Harper's highlighted the problem quite succinctly.

Wine descriptions are more pompous than helpful, and most of them fail to help consumers understand the taste of the wine.

That's the damning verdict of UK wine drinkers who were asked about wine and words in a poll commissioned by Laithwaite's Wine.

The online survey of 1,000 wine drinking adults was carried out by One Poll and excluded Laithwaite's customers.

Some 55% of those polled said wine descriptions failed to help them understand the taste of wine, while nearly two thirds said they never get the same smells from wine as are suggested from the label. Only 9% said they looked to wine critics before choosing a bottle.

The respondents were also asked to select which specific words - used by critics, supermarkets and on wine labels in the last year - they found most and least helpful. The most useful terms were fresh, mellow, zesty, peachy and earthy but terms including firm skeleton, old bones, wet stone, tongue spanking and haunting were selected as the least helpful.

Asked why the descriptions were not helpful, responses included finding them meaningless, bearing no relationship to a wine's taste, pretentious and a load of poppycock.

Six out of ten people said picking out a clear fruit taste in the wine was the best way to help understand a wine's taste and also found it helpful when food pairings were suggested.

Nearly half of the group surveyed said wine descriptions could be improved by using modern day language and comparisons.

"We have probably been guilty ourselves of using overblown language in the past but this is a wake-up call to the whole wine industry to make a change," said Laithwaite's Wine's global wine consultant and taste expert Justin Howard-Sneyd MW.

"Describing wine is not an exact science. Wine and taste are very personal, very subjective things. A wine that I think tastes of cherry, could taste totally different to someone else, so it's no wonder that there is such a vast variety of language when it comes to wine descriptions," he added.

From a recent article in Harper's.

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