February 19, 2008
Wine Descriptions: How Much Is Enough?

IMGP2644_edited.jpg"Cedar hope chest, all memory and hope."
"Smoky sunset but no need for alarm."
"Hey, zinfandel doesn't own all the raspberries."
"Here's the mushrooms, now get the pappardelle."
"Monumental, but built of redwood, not granite."

Oh, excuse me, I was continuing an exercise I began while at a tasting of cabernet sauvignons at Trefethen Vineyards & Winery in Napa Valley earlier today. Just before heading over that way this morning I read an online commentary in which Andrew Barrow of Guardian Unlimited challenged himself and readers to describe a wine in just seven words.

How Barrow settled on seven words isn't clear to me, but I suspect the number is irrelevant to his greater goal, which seems to be to get wine enthusiasts to tell him what they expect of tasting notes. Do they simply want to know whether the wine tastes good, whether it's ready to drink now and the kind of food for which it is best suited, or do they also expect a rundown of all the grape varieties in the wine, the kind of oak barrels in which it was aged, the nature of the vintage, the level of acidity and so on? He challenged readers to come up with their own seven-word wine descriptions, which are being tacked on to the end of his commentary. My favorite so far probably should be disqualified because it's only four words, but it does provide basic information: "Good, riesling, immediately, fish." Basic, but just how helpful and inspiring is it?

I'll be saying more of the Trefethen tasting down the road, but to sum up in seven words the overall nature of the 20 cabernet sauvignons we sampled: "At 40, Trefethen's sharp, nimble and centered."

In this photo, incidentally, that's Matt Kramer, wine columnist for The Wine Spectator and the Oregonian in Portland, and Janet Trefethen, a member of the family that established its Napa Valley estate in 1968.

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