As wine writers, we take a lot of grief for the way we describe wine. As long as we stick to descriptors like "tart" or "blackberry," people can relate, but as soon as we start using phrases like "cat's pee" or "barnyard" or compare a Pinot Noir to the sultry voice of Norah Jones, eyes start rolling.
We run a tight ship at Wine Spectator when it comes to flowery or excessive winespeak, but anyone who is required to describe hundreds or even thousands of wines a year will admit that it's tempting at times to get creative. We can't help it. It's the inner novelist in us trying to escape.
Whenever I'm tempted, I think of those bad fiction-writing contests in which folks attempt to write awful prose in the style of Hemingway or Faulkner. Not only are those fun to read, but they make you stop and think about what it means as a writer to have a voice.
The best wine writers, of course, have a distinctive voice. (Having a good palate goes without saying.) I've often wondered what it might be like if our most famous writers reviewed wine.
Just imagine, if you will, the possibilities …
Ernest Hemingway: "It is a wine. A good wine, not a great one. It is red. Wet. Its power is obvious, obvious and powerful the way men are, men who hunt and fight in bars. Real men. Except for the smell. The wine smells better than the men."
J.D. Salinger: "Boy, I hate Pinot Noirs like this, I really do. It's all big and ripe and phony. I mean, it's like the winemaker is the most terrific liar you ever saw. He's from California, so what do you expect. He took these perfectly OK Pinot grapes and decided to make Syrah out of them or something. Anyway, if you like Burgundy then you'll probably have a hemorrhage or want to commit suicide if you come anywhere near this crap. I am not kidding."
Deepak Chopra: "Is this wine outstanding or simply mediocre? Just by asking that question we reveal our true agenda. Enlightenment will not come through labeling one wine as good and another evil. The real question we should ask ourselves is: Why do we feel the need to define wines at all? Only by accepting the duality inherent in every wine do we come to know the divine. Price, of course, is also important."
Charles Dickens: "I can scarcely portray the chronicle of events, morbid and precipitous, that find me at this late hour putting pen to paper in fervored accounting. But, dear reader, I will spare you the circumstances and coincidences and instead will offer vigorous praise of a most delicious claret. The Château Margaux 1847 is not the frail, feminine red portrayed by many in the English trade; instead it is effusive and elegant, with an excellent complexity. At 11 shillings, it will not send you to the poorhouse."
Woody Allen: "It's n-n-n-not like I'm the kind of person who drinks Chianti, usually, I mean, I eat pasta and I swell up like a tick on an artery. And garlic, don't even get me started. Yet I like this tart little red in a half-hearted Jungian sort of way. I think back to those blind tastings with the Rabinsky twins, Doris and Phoebe. I get lightheaded just thinking about it. I still have one of their black leather blindfolds."
"O nectar, a poetry profound, a liquid fair and hedonistic,
a drink meant truly not for mortals but the gods of misty yore.
Burdened not by filtering or fining or such slings and arrows
beset by fools. Get thee to a bottle."
Raymond Chandler: "I've swilled better gasoline. That at least was at gunpoint. I should stick with Scotch but I have a thing for blondes, blondes like this Chardonnay. I thought it was classy, it had legs tall and sleek as the Chrysler Building. But it turned out to be trouble, like most blondes, a lot of flashy oak and cheap perfume. You'd think I'd learn my lesson."
Mister Rogers: "Can you say "trockenbeerenauslese"? I sure can't. That's a big word, boys and girls. Silly Germans. This wine is sweet like candy, fresh little candies. You like candy, don't you? Sure. Sure. One sip, and I'm off to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe."
William Faulkner: "A wine that calls to mind those languorous Southern summers when the days were oppressively warm and furious and impotent and you wandered the hills around Jacksonboro with your third cousin twice-removed on your mother's side, Finnegan Russell (the elder, not his son who everyone called Buck) and his half-witted dog."