Wine Snobbery Selected Entries (Page 1)
NOTE: Given the complexities and interconnectedness of the Snob universe, cross-references between entries are common and are spelled out in CAPITAL LETTERS for easy identification.
Acidity. Crucial, fairly self-explanatory component of STRUCTURE in wine; the cause of the palate-puckering tartness that either excites or repels the Snob taster, depending on whether said Snob is a devotee of more measured, traditional wine styles or a hedonistic guzzler of FRUIT BOMBS.
Aerator. Unnecessary status gadget, often fashioned of crystal, that hastens the process of getting a wine to “open up,” obviating the arriviste Snob’s need for patience or traditional decanting. Most aerators require the user to awkwardly and cumbersomely hold them over a glass while wine is poured through them. Many aerators pass themselves off as objets d’art to justify their steep prices, though they generally resemble the sort of whimsical “folk art” sold by rich men’s wives in resort-town gift shops.
Attack. Martial term deployed by machismo-minded Snobs to describe the first impression a wine makes as it storms the sensory beach that is one’s palate. Used especially in reference to the sweetness that is naturally picked up by receptors on the tip of the tongue. The attack on the ’99 Chambolle was an intense blast of ripe, round, red fruit, followed by a generously proportioned mid-palate and a long, lingering finish of East Asian spices and beechwood smoke.
Balance. The quality achieved in a wine when its fruit, ACIDITY, alcohol, and TANNIN are all in good proportion to one another. While a reasonably straightforward term, especially by wine-talk standards, balance nonetheless sounds obtuse or off to the non-Snob ear, somehow evoking strange images of balloon glasses fitted with calipers.
Barnyard. Counterintuitively positive adjective for wines with a pronounced earthiness; the Wine Snob analog to the Food Snob term “lusty.” There’s a healthy dose of barnyard funk on the nose of this Echézeaux.
Barrique. A 225-liter oak barrel used to age wine. In the olden days of winemaking, a wood barrel was simply a vessel in which to transport wine, but after it was realized that oak imparts pleasing flavors and textures to wine, barriques—especially new ones custom-built from French oak—became the ultimate symbol of vintnerific sophistication. Depending on a Snob’s persuasion, barrique aging is either a glorious source of oak-derived notes of vanilla, buttered toast, and toffee (progressive modernist with a second home in Sonoma) or a vile abomination (aging classicist who publishes his own newsletter).
Betts, Richard. Dreamy, swishy-haired, new-paradigm Master Sommelier who serves as the wine director at the Little Nell, a swank Aspen inn and resort. The antithesis of the imperious, tastevin-wearing sommerlier of yore, Betts, a mountain biker and trained geologist, exudes a hempy, Perry Farrell-ish looseness and cultivates envy among year-round restaurant floor-patrollers by not only overseeing a Grand Award-winning list but also enjoying a six-months-long off-season during which he makes private-label wines in France, Australia, and elsewhere.
Brett. Abbreviation for Brettanomyces, a strain of yeast that, when present in wine, causes the wine to smell metallic and taste a bit “off”; usually indicative of less-than-ideal sanitary conditions in a winery. Though professional winemakers are the ones most likely to notice and correctly identify brett, the term is increasingly heard issuing forth from the mouths of sommeliers at industry tastings, often as they attempt to throw competitors and prosperous civilian interlopers off-guard. Eiuww, I’m getting a little brett on this Cab.
Broadbent, Michael. Droll, prolific, trilby-wearing British wine writer of John Gielgud-ish mien and imposing stature, having long served as the head of the wine department at Christie’s and having written the most authoritative books on vintage wines. Adored by Snobs for the voluminous handwritten notes he has kept in red, schoolboy-style exercise books since the 1950s and for his utter lack of concession to the mores of the ROBERT PARKER era—in a typically Broadbentian utterance, he has decreed that today’s “supermarket wines… are for drinking, not for writing about.”
Cellar management. Newfangled “service” marketed to serious collectors, in which a wine merchant or expert oversees the assembly and maintenance of a client’s cellar: ensuring that certain wines are stashed away for aging, that bottles are properly tagged, that the storage conditions are good, that the collection is sufficiently balanced between wine regions and types, etc. A uniquely first-world and unnecessary result of dot-com and hedge-fund wealth. Our trained and well-traveled team offers a varied portfolio of cellar management solutions.
Cheval Blanc, Château. Bordeaux estate in St.-Emilion whose wines are a slightly offbeat target of Snob adulation—the Thelonious Monk to Château Margaux’s Miles Davis. Lush and generous when young, Cheval Blanc, which has an unsually high percentage of the Cabernet Franc grape in its blend, has a fervent cult whose members consider its 1947 vintage to be the greatest wine ever made. My most recent tasting of the ’47 Cheval Blanc showed it to be very much alive, almost port-like in its intensity.
Cigar box. Improbable Snob tasting term, commonly applied to deep, dark reds of the Cabernet family—Franc especially, but also Sauvignon. Lovely aromas of blackcurrant and cigar box carry through to the long and harmonious finish.
Claret. Quaint term for a red Bordeaux, still used in England (especially by MICHAEL BROADBENT) and revived in recent years by such American producers as Francis Coppola and Su Hua Newton, who trot out “claret” even though their wines aren’t from Bordeaux.
Clendenden, Jim. Falstaffian California winemaker whose Robert Plant mane, floral-print shirts, and dude-ular bonhomie have established him as the face of the laid-back, communal Central Coast, the region affectionately portrayed in Sideways. In addition to running the winery Au Bon Climat, Clendenen is also a well-traveled seeker with several Burgundy quests under his belt (Burdgundy being the favored destination for spiritual Wine Snob questers), and his Burgophilia shows in his wines, which incite Paul Giamatti-worthy soliloquies from critics.
Concentrated. Fancy enological synonym for rich. In scientific terms, a wine’s concentration is its ratio of grape solids to water; thus, to praise a wine as concentrated is to celebrate its palate-coating viscosity. The deep ruby color is a tip-off to how marvelously concentrated this wine is.
Critter wine. Derisive designation for a mass-market-friendly wine bearing a cute, animal-related name—the foremost example being the ubiquitous Yellow Tail brand of Australian cheapo wines, featuring a kangaroo on the label. Though critter wines matter little in Snob circles, the boffo sales of bottles featuring dogs, cats, waterfowl, and even emus on their labels has prompted some high-end winemakers to capitalize on craze. Oregon’s Owen Roe, for example, has slapped a drawing of an Irish wolfhound on the label of its “value” line, but preserves its Snob cred by calling the line itself O’Reilly’s rather than, say, Arfy’s Choice or Pinot Snookums.
Cult wine. A NEW WORLD wine, produced in small quantities, that commands an inflated price and inspires irrational demand and Salem-style mass hysteria. Most often a boutique Cabernet from Napa sold only through a mailing list.
1855 classification. Snob shorthand for the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, a ranking of the great wine region’s CRUS that was commissioned by Napoleon III himself for that year’s Exposition Universelle de Paris. This classification continues to hold sway as the definitive ranking of Bordeaux’s First through Fifth Growths—a circumstance that, as many a chagrined wine progressivist has noted, has allowed certain classified Châteaux to coast on reputation for well over a century.