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Wine Language Descriptors Entice Action?

Is it me, or does Gary Vaynerchuk at Winelibrary TV taste an inordinate amount of pickle juice, beets and other “green” vegetal characteristics in the wines he tastes?  I do not find these in many wines that I taste and they do not appear in many (any?) wine descriptor guides. 

Curious.  However, researchers indicate from the world of food that descriptors that are even more complex might be on the way.

First, Dr. Debs at Good Wine Under $20 has a fascinating post (found here) on the different types of sets or words that wine writers use—words that frequently confound the perfectly normal, yet eventually make their way into our lexicon. 

She says in part:

It turns out that wine writers use three kinds of confusing words: jargon (technical terms about wine), dialects (terminology common to a group of wine writers), and idiolects (terms that a single wine writer comes up with; if sufficiently popular, idiolects can be shared and become dialects).

Dr. Debs goes on to define the three areas with some background, including:

Wine jargon can run from winemaking terms like malolactic fermentation to the technical words associated with tasting (such as attack, mid-palate, and finish) and with taste (extracted).

Wine dialects include terms like those on the tasting menu in the picture: lush, fruity, soft tannins, juicy. These are short-hand terms that wine writers use that they think have a consistent meaning, but which are sufficiently subjective that no one knows for sure.

As for idiolect (please note: no “t” after idio), one of the great recent examples can be found in the tasting notes of Gary Vaynerchuk on WLTV. His unique tasting vocabulary started off as an idiolect …

Again, it is a fascinating post and goes a long way in nicely explaining not just the differences in wine phraseology, but also the buckets into which each fall.

So, yes,  it does seem as if Gary’s idiolect with “pickle juice” is well on its way to moving from being an idiolect to a dialect.

Reading Dr. Debs post nicely coincides with an article I read in an industry journal (Sante) about descriptive menu labels influencing customer behavior in restaurants.  While the article isn’t online, its content is derived from a book called, “Mindless Eating:  Why We Eat More Than We Think” by Brian Wansink, Ph.D. and at his website -with plenty of research material available-

The crux of the Wansink article is about the use of descriptive language on menus and the impact on the perception of the food by the customer.  Therefore, instead of having some wacky “Italian quesadilla” at TGI Friday’s, you have instead the, “Parmesan-Crusted Sicilian Quesadilla.”

Research indicates that more descriptive language increased sales 27 percent over plain-labeled menu items and that more description added other associational benefits like diners thinking the food was more appealing, tastier and the restaurant as being trendier and more contemporary.

According to the research and the author,

Descriptive labeling allows consumers to concentrate more on the feelings and taste aspects of the products instead of focusing only on the functional or utilitarian properties.  For instance, when asked to comment on their entrée or dessert, people who were given a descriptively labeled product directed 84.5 percent of their comments to factors related to the taste and sensory nature of the product.  In contrast, those who ate the less descriptively labeled products focused only 42.6 percent on these sensory aspects and reserved their remaining comments (…like filling) for the more utilitarian or functional characteristics of the foods.

In the article and on his web site, Wansink goes on to bracketize categories that can generate descriptive or suggestive language.

They include:

Geographic:  Labels that mentally tie or associate with a geographic area)

Nostalgic:  Using past time periods as a trigger for happy memories of family, tradition, and nationalism

Sensory: These are descriptors that describe the product in endowed and specific terms

Band: This is related to cross-promotion and not as readily found in the wine industry and example would be Kahlua flavored Seattle’s Best coffee, for example.

Taken together, Dr. Deb’s post and the Mindless Eating site and research offer some interesting food for thought (bad pun, I know) for the wine industry – both for wineries and consumers.

Simply, while even hardcore enthusiasts may find wine language frequently forbidding and enthusiasts find it impenetrable, the evolutionary answer may be that wine tasting notes will continue to get even more colorful and full of life, as opposed to less so.

Your “A classic California Zin—fruit forward and brambly with notes of stewed plums”  may soon turn into the even more flowery and prosaic note like, “A beautiful example of Dry Creek Valley, in Sonoma, CA, Zinfandel.  Its brambly notes that are redolent of earthy blackberries also call to mind stewed plums, dense and rich … “

Is this good for wine consumers?  I am not so sure that it is but I do know that it sure does not do anything to clarify the notion that tasting notes are already too complex to penetrate for many.  It would seem that wine knowledge is going to have to increase, not decrease.  Taken together, though, Dr. Debs astute analysis of our language patterns juxtaposed against independent research that can be translated from the food world point to this increasing complexity as an eventuality.


Music & Tasting Notes

There are no new ideas.  This was re-affirmed for me last week with Jim Gordon’s Unreserved wine blog—and that’s no slight to Jim.  If anything, it is a personal backhanded pimp slap to my own depth of knowledge regarding contemporary wine history, or lack thereof, I should say.

Does subscribing to Wine Business Monthly since 2001 count for some sort of carbon, er, credibility offset?

Last Tuesday, while walking my dog, Coco, the cutest pug/beagle mix in the world, bundled against the Indiana mid-winter chill, iPod earphones in place, listening to Brett Dennen because I roll more on the singer-songwriter side of things, I was thinking about Sacre Bleu wine and Chateau Petrogasm.  Sacre Bleu has as the centerpiece of their market engagement a lot of collaboration with bands and promotional events with music.  In addition, while I think Chateau Petrogasm is pretty cool and their visual associations to encapsulate the taste or experience of a wine is novel, frequently I have a hard time translating the images to any sort of understanding of what the wine would be like.  Call me dense, but it is true.  A picture may say a 1000 words, but not all of them make sense together.  However, wine and music … hmm … who doesn’t understand a muscular, sharp, angular, tight red wine, all dissonant, sharp, and angular like Metallica, for example.

So, I got to thinking about a different translation … Sacre Bleu, wine, and music.  Ding, ding.  Man, “that’s what I should do,” I thought.  Wouldn’t it be fun to do a weekly wine review and analogize it to music?  Nowadays, with music streaming technology, you can even link to a song so people can “get’ what you’re saying.

Well, this is all well and good, right?  Last Tuesday this was a good idea.  Then on Thursday, Jim writes the following:

Some years ago, Kermit Lynch, the Berkeley wine merchant and importer, who was definitely not a fan of the points system, suggested in a seminar that people get creative with how they convey the style and quality of wine.  He recommended that people compare wines to art, to architecture and other forms of creativity instead of reducing them to digits.

Jim continues …

But, lately I have tried comparing wines to classic rock sounds. I have two teenage sons, they both play guitars in garage bands, and they love Led Zeppelin (above, Robert Plant, left, and Jimmy Page), Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, the Who and Metallica (classic to them).

So instead of rating them on the 100-point scale, here are some wines I’ve tried recently, and how I’d rate them on the pop-rock scale.

Ahem, within the span of 48 hours I went from being a little onanistic to wishing I had a little more history to draw from in and around wine and the wine industry.

Of course, somebody has hit on this before … of course it would be an industry vet channeling another wine industry vet like Kermit Lynch.

Silly me.

By the way, Jim, it is a good idea!  Wine … music … who wouldn’t get it?  I might steal it.  And for Brett Dennen, I would analogize the 2006 Orin Swift Cellars “The Prisoner” Napa Red Blend.



Chicken Soup for the Wine Book Lover’s Soul

Readers of this site will know that I am a book guy.  I like books.  My wife likes books.  Our bookcases runneth over and, between the two of us, I think we single handedly pull up the mean that says the average American reads four books a year. 

Given my book fandom, I think 2008 is going to be a good year.  I say that because the majority of the books that I read are wine or non-fiction business books and it looks like ’08, in terms of wine books – published and in progress- might be a banner year.

And, as a brief aside, really, what could be a more fitting way to kick off ’08 than with a little schmaltz?  Chicken Soup for the Wine Lovers Soul was published in November and who can’t use a dose of feel-good dripping sentimentality every now and again?

Seriously, though, some folks near and dear to wine bloggers hearts are planning on writing a book, or publishing a book.  And, this is after we all convene for the wine klatch and Dr. Debs Wine Book Club.


Tyler Colman from Dr. Vino is releasing not one, but two books this year.  His first is intriguingly called, “Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters, and Critics Influence the Wines We Drink.”

Alice Feiring, known by many from her long career in journalism and to others based on her blog In Vino Veritas, is publishing the provocatively named “The Battle for Wine and Love: or How I Saved the World from Parkerization.”

Lenn from Lenndevours is going to pen the perfect book on Long Island wine ...

Tim Elliott from Winecast is going to write and self-publish a book for wine beginners to expand beyond the basics—a field guide to explore the 2nd level of wine enthusiasm.

And, finally, Ryan and Gabrielle from Catavino are kicking around the idea of doing a wine blogging magazine/book project with contributions from around the wine blogosphere.

Undoubtedly, there are also several other blogging derived book projects going on that are not mentioned here.  I recall from last year that Josh from was approached about potentially writing a book, as well. 

All of this publishing talk is a great thing in my mind!  Around wine bloggers there is always a subtle undercurrent of desirability for additional respect amongst wine consumers, established media and the industry.  I think all of us keep waiting for that turning point, the epochal period, where the wine blogosphere gets hot, red hot, and goes upstream towards mainstream with more vigor in people reading like other niches have seen—food, politics, gossip, etc.  One thing is certain however, regardless of whether the wine blogosphere heats up this year or ‘09, or never—publishing books and having books published after using wine blogging as a platform is an incredible way to increase legitimacy for everybody.  So, these hardy, intrepid souls deserve our attention and support—a rising tide raises all ships.

Good luck to all who are publishing this year and assuredly I will be reading your books—though, your books will be AFTER I get my schmaltzy fix from the Chicken Soup series.


News, Notes & Dusty Bottle Items

Some quick hitting random thoughts on a few wine related news items from the last two weeks before they turn into dust at the news and wine blog idea graveyard … and a reminder, as well.

First, the Reminder …

There is a small quantity left of the Good Grape Wine Blogger Pack at  The jist is, I made wine recommendations, wrote up a newsletter and Jill from Domaine 547 sells the vino.  The theme that I chose to select wines from is, “Alsace by way of Willamette”—Alsatian varieties from Oregon.  With the wines that I chose, you get three delicious wines from two boutique producers.  Amity Vineyards offers up a Riesling and Brooks Wines has two wines with a white blend and a Riesling.  The wines are tasty and affordable and I have no skin in the game, no dog in the fight.  I just get the thrill of playing wine club Sommelier.  You can buy the three pack for an easy $52 at this link.

Consumer Wine Shipments Gain a Temperature Assist from New Packaging Technology

Gaining exactly zero mindshare in the wine blogosphere, a wine logistics and consumer shipping company, New Vine Logistics, announced last week that they partnered with a packaging company to create a line of packaging, called WineAssure, that ensures that consumer wine shipments do not exceed 70 degrees on the high side, nor refrigerator temperatures on the low side.

Frankly, this is very welcome news and the packaging should help alleviate the threat of wine shipments receiving heat damage in the warm summer months. 

The rubber meets the road, however, with adoption, and I will be curious to see how quickly wineries adopt the packaging.  Many wineries shut off shipping in the summer months and I am guessing the wineries desire to turn shipping on in the summer will be based on pure economics.  Assuredly, the design and exclusive packaging development was not cheap, and I hope that New Vine is not expecting the wineries to bear the brunt of that design cost in a pass-along situation, therefore reducing the ability for consumers to win.  Time will tell, but don’t think for a second that the wine industry still doesn’t get in its own way on the path to trying to be successful.

Sacre Bleu Available at Target

One of my favorite wine brands, Sacre Bleu, is now available at Target stores in Florida.  Usually, when you are dropped into a top wine market, it is a temporary way station to a larger rollout.  Let us hope that happens for an underdog wine brand from Minneapolis, MN.  A nicer guy you will never meet, Galen Struwe deserves success with his fledgingly brand.  First, Galen comes from outside the wine industry and it is a long, uphill battle to figure out the Byzantine wine industry without the benefit of experience and, while people are genuinely helpful, there is sometimes a sense of a weary resignation amongst wine folks along the lines, “Yeah, let me know how that goes for you.”  The wine, kind of a negociant/import model from France, is good and third, the way that Sacre Bleu is marrying music with wine and the Millenials is something of a case study in successful marketing.  Think of Sacre Bleu as a Stormhoek for young music lovers instead of semi-young card-carrying wine blogger geeks (yes, I carry the card, too).  When the wine is available in a store near you be sure to confound your friends by saying in your best French accent, “I’m picking up some Sacre Bleu from Target Boutique.”  Congrats to Sacre Bleu and keep an eye on them as a rising story with loads of opportunity for wide success. 

Transparency alert:  Sacre Bleu has an ad on my site.  I have received no compensation from them though I am, occasionally, a sucker for a winery or objet d’art (see also Crushpad Wines) that I take a personal liking to.

Michael Chiarello Sticks his Hand in the Celebrity Chef Till

Anybody besides me read the press release or see the mention on Napa Valley wine blog The Cork Board and scratch their head and say, “What took so long?”

Michael Chiarello, the celebrity chef with the show “Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello” on the Food Network, a cooking show where, despite the name, he never seems to entertain anybody he knows, has announced plans to open a new restaurant in Yountville at the in-progress development called V Marketplace.

The founding Chef of Tra Vigne, Chiarello is going to go back into the kitchen with his new restaurant.

The thing that I could never figure out with Chiarello is that, despite his mail order lifestyle company Napa Style, why didn’t the guy have restaurants going already?

If you look at the Food Network and see Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, Wolfgang Puck, Morimoto and even Rachael Ray and Tyler Florence cashing in with restaurants and endorsements all over the place, why was Chiarello slow on the draw?

Sheesh, Emeril, Flay and Batali are printing money.  I don’t care how many re-used wine barrel end tables Chiarello sells, there’s got to be more margin turning three tables a night selling $42 steaks ala carte in Vegas.

I’m guessing Chiarello is going to be transplanting, as he says, “my personal blend of Napa Valley’s famous hospitality” to a Vegas hotel pretty darn soon.  Why else would you put the chef toque back on? 

Good luck to him, his show always has him turning out some nice looking food, and, perhaps, he knows, smarter than I do, that timing is right to take a swing at the plate to hit a major food and wine concept with “Napa style.” 


Good Grape Turns 14 in Dog Years

I am not a birthday person.  I scarcely recognize my own birthday—mostly because I like to follow the “never grow up, never grow old” school of thought.

And, while blessed with an abundance of ego, I really do not fancy myself the self-aggrandizing sort.  It is kind of a weird dichotomy, isn’t it?  Write in the first person on a blog, but try not to be boastful or annoyingly self-serving.  I try mightily, as do most of my wine blogging brethren.

That said, for just a moment of “look at me” messaging,  I do want to point out that one of the more creatively fulfilling things that I have done as an adult is start this blog two years ago today. It’s Good Grape’s 2nd birthday.  And, I must say that I have learned more about wine with greater insight over these two years than in the previous 10 years combined.  Frankly, I am not sure if that is a good, or a bad thing, but I do know that wine is an inexhaustibly fascinating subject to me and will likely be for the balance of my years.

I started the site with my “Good Grape” Ten Commandments, and I repeated them last year and I figure I will probably repeat it every birthday for as long as this blog is in existence. 

Herewith, then, are the Good Grape Commandments:

10) Wine is regional & historical
9) Pity the wine snob
8) Taste is relative
7) Quality is not proportional to price
6) 100 point rating systems are subjective
5) Enjoyment of life & wine is a function of time, place and company
4) Every wine and winery has a story
3) If you can’t go to the winery, let the winery come to you
2) Life is measured by experiences
1) Drink. Taste. Celebrate the Good Grape!

Thanks for checking out the site occasionally as we keep trucking to being 21 in dog years.


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