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. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

In conversation over a few delicious glasses of wine, the question came up: Who started the ebullient verbal descriptions of wines? The four of us discussed this and then placed our bets. One of our know-it-all wine enthusiasts suggested it was started or perhaps just enhanced by a professor at UC Davis, specifically Ann Noble. What do your historians have to say on the effusion of adjectives to describe the size, flavors, colors, etc., etc., of the delicious fermentation we love to drink?

—Suzanne, Culver City, Calif.

Dear Suzanne,

Describing wine has been around pretty much as long as the beverage has. I recently read that there is a record of ancient Greeks—in the fourth century B.C.—comparing the wines of Lebanon to those of present-day Turkey. (If you're keeping score, the wines from Lebanon were judged to be more fragrant.) While wine lovers may seem to wax poetic at times, descriptors are just a vocabulary to express what we're experiencing. It might seem like a foreign language or code, but think of it more like a lingo.

You're correct that modern-day sensory evaluation was advanced by the professors at UC Davis's Dept. of Viticulture and Enology. In the 1970s, Maynard Amerine and Edward Roessler wrote a guide entitled "Wines: Their Sensory Evaluation," attempting to standardize descriptive terms. Later, in the 1990s, Ann Noble came up with a user-friendly "Wine Aroma Wheel" that helps industry insiders and consumers alike organize their thoughts, using broad categories (such as "herbal") as well as more specific descriptors within those categories ("rosemary").

—Dr. Vinny


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