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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
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.
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