Flowery, soft, supple, juicy, zesty, smooth, voluptuous, tasty, spicy – or god forbid – easy drinking. What do such terms really tell you? Are they descriptive, or merely a convenient, lazy, shorthand dashed off by the uninspired to promote a dull product.
I recently saw a tasting note where a Spanish rose’ was described as mineraly, not once, but twice in the same sentence! This currently fashionable, and overused term, is not only bandied about inaccurately (confusingly used to denote/ describe acidity rather than the actual mineral content of a wine) but is wholly inappropriate for a warm climate rose’ – two mineraly then?
So, should the descriptive language surrounding wine be figurative or literal? A recent broadsheet article stated that ‘ordinary people enjoying a bottle of wine at the end of the day couldn’t give a monkey’s about the story behind it or wine education’. So perhaps we have the descriptors we deserve, ‘tales told by idiots signifying nothing’, accurately reflecting our preference for bland, neutral, insipid whites and blackberry juiced, alcoholic, over-sugared, cloying reds.
The Utilitarians, Mill and Bentham, thought that the greatest happiness of the greatest number would inevitably lead to the death of opera and the continuation of bear baiting, they thought that there should be moral and aesthetic arbiters for good taste.
‘The best way to give the public what it wants is to reject the express policy of giving the public what it wants’.
John Reith, essentially a Victorian, argued that high culture only needed to be made available for most people to embrace it. His position, via the BBC, was to educate inform and entertain, but if it’s a mammoth audience or market you covert then perhaps education is not the best bet.
There used to be a progression in the world of drinking. The bibulous were inevitably led by some elder, a Yoda or Master Oogway to take the straightforward and natural journey from sweet, fruit-flavoured drinks to something drier and more sophisticated. Occasionally they were led down dark and winding paths to encounter and appreciate the complexities of sherry, port and fine old sweeties. This rite of passage began with a sneaky shandy or cider in ones’ ‘yoof’, then bitters, wines and eventually spirits and brown spirits.
In recent years, let’s say the last 40, the big brewers realised that, if something is insipid, has no real virtue, or taste, given the right conditions, people will consume lots of it. I will spare you the brand names and grape varieties but you know where I’m going with this.
People became afraid of flavour ‘I know what I like and am sticking to it’ unadventurous and scared to move on. Those that did, were encouraged to eschew complexity for simple, primary fruit flavours, promoted by egalitarian pundits who simplified wine to the level of fruit juice – reducing and homogenizing descriptors to papaya, kiwi fruit, and melon and at its lowest ebb ‘cats pee on a gooseberry bush’!
Wine is now the drink of choice for many, but is that because, in its big branded form, it is easier to understand than say beer or spirits? And has it become simpler in structure and flavour, yet higher in alcohol, to make it sell more.
Does this signify a fear of drinking or a fear of flavour? The desire to drink (and drink lots) is apparent, but drink without work, drunkenness without fuss, no journey, no grown up flavours, no progression – pass the raspberry cidre.