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Gumdrop? Are you kidding me?

I read thousands of wine reviews because wine is my hobby and I like to.  In other posts I’ve written about the various flavors I sometimes can pull out of wine (although I wish I could do it more often), so it’s intriguing to see what others, especially the “experts”, have to say.  There are many wine writers I like to read and respect – I can relate to their opinions and tend to agree most of the time.  For instance, I usually almost always agree with Matt Kramer’s opinions, although based on my much more pedestrian level of experience.  Additionally, I found over a few years that if James Suckling tended to like a Bordeaux, then so did I.    This is very handy when buying Bordeaux futures since I never get to taste the barrel samples and there were no invitations to private tastings at any of the Chateaus in my mailbox this year.  Alas, I must rely on the wisdom and fortune of others.

However what do you make of some of these reviews that use terms I’ve never heard of and certainly never smelled or tasted?  What, for example, is bresaola?  Well, I looked it up and it is spiced, air-dried beef, Italian in origin, so it’s charcuterie.  Most people of Italian descent probably know that.  So could the writer have said cured beef?  Sure they could have.  Would that have meant more to me?  Yes it would have.  Can they really tell the difference between bresaola and Jack Links Beef Jerky?  Well, I don’t know.  We must assume they they can.

But look at some of these other recent descriptive terms used in wine ratings from a major wine publication: “black cherry puree, damson plum, ground anise and clove, gumdrop and smoky mineral”.  Huh?  Damson plum?  Back to Wikipedia for the following definition: “Damsons are relatively small plums with a distinctive, somewhat astringent taste, and are widely used for culinary purposes, particularly in fruit preserves”.  OK, I get that they’re plums and used in preserves, and that they probably have a somewhat distinctive taste.  Maybe this is really all about education, and the reviewer is prodding us to research these things, try and find them, taste and smell them, and expand our wine repertoire.  Maybe.

The elusive White Raspberry

Another recent review stated “notes of damson plum, sun dried cherry, white rasberry, smoky mineral, bouillon and lots of dried marjoram, ground anise and pink peppercorn”.  Not just spice, but marjoram, anise (ground) and “pink” peppercorn.  This is wonderful.  I wish I could do this.  I have to go and try pink peppercorn immediately.  The bouillon confuses me however, as I don’t know what type they mean.  Is it beef or chicken, or something else.  I can’t pin that down.  I have also never had a white raspberry, and didn’t even know it existed.  But it does: here’s a picture.   This is kind of cool looking and I’m sure is delicious.

Here is an example of a review I can relate to.  This is for a Syrah: “roasted plum, beef bouillon, mesquite and savory grilled herbs”.  So here we have plums with a roasted overtone, a specific type of bouillon (beef) so I know the flavor, mesquite (again a barbecue, wood roasted feeling) and savory grilled herbs.  If you had a lot of Syrahs these all make sense, as it frequently has a meaty flavor that could line up with everything in the above review.  These terms are specific, but not crazy specific.  Some writers might have added that the grilled herbs were roasted over burning cedar with a couple of nuggets of hemlock.  That would be too much.

To summarize, I think that some of these writers really need to get over themselves.  Nobody, and I mean nobody, is really going to pull that much out of the wine.  I wish I could.  Every now and then I get a really specific aroma or flavor out of a wine, and we’ll include it in the review, at the same time remarking how unusual it is.  These other reviewers are clearly in another league, and have palates trained to an almost unbelievable level.  Some of these take it to a truly unbelievable level, and are so far out there that they offer no value to the average wine fan.  For instance, in the first review I quoted above, they use the term “gumdrop”.  What does that mean to you?  To me it means a soft, sugar coated candy that comes in every flavor you can think of.  Yet the reviewer states “gumdrop”.  Is that a cherry gumdrop?  Maybe it’s a lime gumdrop?  Perhaps it is an orange gum drop with a hint of mesquite and damson plum?  If this is real I am in awe and heartily apologize.  I just don’t think so.

A votre sante!

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