ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

I sometimes read your very good wine descriptions and I saw some crazy ones! There was one about a “meaty” or “beefy” wine from Portugal. How do they get the meat into the wine bottle? Why does the meat not go bad? What kind of meat is it?

—Marco P., Brazil

Dear Marco,

When a wine note says “meaty,” it doesn’t mean there’s actually meat in that bottle of wine, just as there isn’t any added chocolate, berries, flowers, tobacco or dirt, even if that’s what a description reads.

There are a couple of things happening that help explain why a review might seem crazy to you. First off, wine is made only from grapes, but as the growing and fermentation process turns these grapes into wine, it amplifies the way things smell and taste.

The molecular compounds that make a wine smell and taste the way it does are called esters. And the esters that make a wine smell and taste the way it does could be identical to the esters that make other things smell and taste the way they do, like cherries, vanilla, and yep, even meat. Many times when someone is describing a wine, they’re picking out these molecules and identifying them. It doesn’t mean there’s a right and a wrong way to taste or describe wine, just that some folks are good at recognizing a wine’s characteristics and describing them.

Something else is happening, too, and that’s the way language is used. Even if I’m trying to be as clear as possible when describing a wine, I use metaphors and a bit of poetic license. If I say the flavors “sing out” in a wine, you don’t think the wine is really singing, do you? No, it’s just a way to say that it’s effusive, fresh or focused. So let the reviewers seem a little crazy—I assure you it’s coming from a place of passion and excitement about what they’re doing.

I’ve come across plenty of beefy, savory and meaty notes in wines. Sometimes it’s almost a bloody note, sometimes it reminds me of pastrami or even roast beef. It’s neither a positive nor negative comment, just a distinctive one. If you’re a vegetarian, you may find it to be closer to a minerally note.

—Dr. Vinny


Do you have a question for Dr. Vinny? Ask it here...

Wine Basics

We break down the basics—how to taste, serve, store and more. Plus:
» Maps of major wine regions
» Grape variety characteristics

How-to Videos

Learn to taste wine like a pro, pull a cork with flair, get great wine service in a restaurant and more

Wine Spectator School: All courses are FREE for WineSpectator.com Members

Learn from the experts and get the most out of each sip. Take one of our online courses or take them all—from the ABCs of Tasting to in-depth seminars on Food Pairing, California Cabernet, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Sensory Evaluation and more.

Browse our course catalog
Check out the professional wine sales and service courses
Learn Wine Forum: Got questions? Get answers

MEMBER LOGIN

= members only

Keep me logged in      Forgot Password?

Free Email Newsletters

Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions

» View samples
» Or sign up now!
» Manage my newsletter preferences

Classifieds

The marketplace for all your wine needs, including:

Wine Storage | Wine Clubs
Dining & Travel | Wine Auctions
Wine Shops | Wine Accessories