Many wine taste and smell terms are easy to understand, delicious to imagine.
Stone fruits (plums, cherries, peaches, apricots). Blackberries and blueberries. Red currants. Soft, supple tannins. Cleansing acidity. Plush mouth feel.
Then, there are problematic descriptors. Minerals: like sucking on a rock—Old World whites. Leather: a product of tannins in red wine. Green bell pepper—mentioned with merlot.
But what about really off-the-wall stuff? Take descriptors with grains of salt—they are hints, not nose-curdling horrors. Some of most vivid:
• Petrol/diesel. Associated with reisling. Aroma is not smell you get filling your farm truck, but does suggest diesel or gasoline. It is caused by good-thing antioxident TDN, which forms from beta carotene and lutein as reisling ages; it is distinguishing marker for those identifying reisling in blind taste tests.
• Barnyard/sheep butt. Associated with pinot noir, particularly from Burgundy but also from New World. An earthy scent usually associated with quality—and can go away with decanting. It should not be confused with “barnyard” associated with brettanomyces (brett), a yeast that invades wineries and can spoil wine. So, there is good barnyard and bad barnyard. You want wine to be easy?
• Wet wool/damp straw. Associated with chenin blanc, often occurs alongside mentions of honey, pears, lemon. Embrace. Chenin blanc may be world’s most versatile grape—capable of almost any style. It is superb in Loire Valley of France. Want upscale? Ask for “Vouvray,” chenin blanc’s greatest appellation. Swirl. Wistfully comment on whisper of wet wool wafting amid notes of wild honey and lemons.
Next week: more weird wine terms.
• Anne Amie Willamette Valley Riesling 2007. Tiniest whiff of petrol amid wonderful tropical fruit nose; bright acidity, minerals; crisp apples, mandarin orange; off-dry. $20
• Tolosa Edna Ranch Pinot Noir 2007. Bit o’pinot barnyard fades quickly to reveal raspberry, cherry, full-mouth sweetness; grippy tannin; delicious winner, nice value. $24
• Barton & Guestier Vouvray 2010. White-flower nose; peach, pear, lemon, honey; residual sugar equals good aperitif, light desert pairing. Alas, no wet wool, sheep lovers. $12