Wine Snobbery Selected Entries (Page 3)
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.
Old World. Sepiatone-evocative term that refers chiefly to Continental Europe, the ancestral homeland of viticulture. As originally practiced by the British, Wine Snobbery was focused entirely on Old World wines, and while the rise of the NEW WORLD and ROBERT PARKER shifted the Snob paradigm, there remains a sizable Snob sector that still regards Old World favoritism as a mark of gentlemanliness and refinement. I can’t get my head around those high-alcohol California pinots; my palate is really more attuned to the Old World.
Over-oaked. Common Snob plaint during tastings, describing a wine whose maker has let the JUICE’s flavor get overpowered by that of the barrel in which it was aged. Though some degree of oakiness is desirable in many wines, imparting toasty and/or vanilla-like qualities, the prevailing Snob lament is that the American palate favors big, unsubtle flavors, resulting in domestic wines that are deliberately made to taste like lumber. His Chardonnay’s okay, but his sauvignon blanc is so over-oaked that I hurled.
Parker, Robert. Baltimore lawyer turned global overlord of wine-rating, at once respected by Snobs for legitimizing oeno-fetishism via his Wine Advocate magazine (begun in 1978) and his books (in particular 1985’s Bordeaux, since updated), and reviled for his power over winemakers, who, even in Europe, have tailored their product to suit his palate, which favors enormous, planet-sized, fruity, oaky, viscous, heavily EXTRACTED wines high in tannins and alcohol. Snobs especially love to bemoan Parker’s 100-point rating scale for wines, which impels lay consumers to avoid anything with a score lower than 90, and use the term Parkerize to describe the process by which wines and consumer tastes have changed as a result of Parker’s influence. Let us turn now to Chianti Classico, the last refuge of gracious, light, un-Parkerized Italian reds.
Phylloxera. Tiny, aphid-like pest native to North America that feeds on and infests the roots of grapevines, ultimately killing them. Inadvertently introduced into Europe in the 1800s, phylloxera destroyed two-thirds of the continent’s vineyards by the end of the century, thereby creating a Wine Snob mythos of a vanished Eden whose scant extant bottlings sell at auction for astounding sums. How cool is Broadbent for having tasted all those pre-phylloxera wines?
Robinson, Jancis. Bespectacled, prolific British wine writer, best known for editing the Oxford Companion to Wine, the most scholarly of wine reference books and one often referred to in Snob shorthand as “Jancis” — e.g., Look it up in Jancis. Blessed with an authentic wit and an assuring sensible tone, which she puts to use in several shorter books, a Financial Times column, a Web site, and sundry British “programmes,” Robinson is also the lust object of several Wine Snob admirers, Jay McInerney among them, who harbor Miss Moneypenny fantasies about her.
Rolland, Michel. Celebrity winemaking consultant, based in Bordeaux but forever flying first-class to Chile, Argentina, Italy, and wherever else there are deep-pocketed vineyard owners willing to pay through the nose for his services. Demonized, like pal ROBERT PARKER, for straitjacketing viticultural variety and encouraging the wine world’s absorption by corporate interests, Rolland was portrayed as a villain in the documentary Mondovino.
Route 29. California state highway that contracts into a relatively bucolic two-lane road as it runs through Napa Valley, with vineyards visible to the east and west. Usually spoken of dismissively by Snobs, who consider it a vulgar thoroughfare for tour buses and packs of drunken junior litigators in hired stretch limos. Veered off onto the Silverado Trail to get away from the hellish masses on Route 29.
Site-expressive. Sharpened adjectival evocation of TERROIR, referring not just to the area where a wine’s grapes are grown, but to the unmistakeable influence of a specific vineyard site on a wine’s character—be it a stony flavor from the soil, elevated ACIDITY as a result of altitude, or some other flavor sensation(s) driven not by the meddling winemaker but by the unduplicable quirks of a certain patch of earth. This site-expressive wine fairly tingles with the minerality that defines Les Clos.
Spoofalated. Scornful term invented by old-line winemakers to describe any wine so bombastic and overmanipulated by man—usually via excessive oak usage, but sometimes by way of overripeness or MICRO-OXYGENATION—that it lacks any discernible VARIETAL character. I couldn’t bring myself to tell Dad that the Chilean wine he so proudly gets by the case from Costco is a ghastly, overbearing, spoofalated grape beverage.
Straw-colored. Default lyrical descriptor for white wines, used to evoke the pastoral aspects of viticulture and obscure the fact that most white wines resemble urine or cooking oil.
Structure. Grandiose architectural term for a wine’s overall body and mouthfeel. A tart, high-acid wine is considered “firm” in structure, and a tannic wine more “powerful” or ‘tight,” while a softer, super-ripe style might be saddled with a deadly structural pejorative such as “flabby.” I really don’t know what all the fuss is about with these Oregon Pinots, ’cause most of them lack any classical structure.
Tannin. Naturally occurring chemical compound found in the stems, seeds, and skin of grapes, as well as in the wooden casks in which many wines are aged. Especially prominent in red-wine grapes like Nebbiolo and Syrah, tannins are both derided by Snobs for the unwelcome, bitter-tea astringency they lend to young or poorly made wines, and embraced for their role as a natural preservative and antioxidant in slow-developing wines that must be cellared for years, if not decades. Gagged on the ’01 at the barrel tasting in Sonoma a few years ago, but now, its tannins are nicely integrated with luscious cassis and dark-fruit flavors, and an awesome espresso finish.
Tchelistcheff, André. Russian-born, Toulouse-Lautrec-sized enologist (1901-1994) and leading light of the ascendant Napa Valley of the post-Prohibition era. Summoned to California from his adopted France in 1938 by Georges de Latour, the French owner of Beaulieu Vineyards in Rutherford, California, Tchelistcheff used his expertise to cultivate the state’s first superior Cabernet Sauvignons, and remained with the winemaker for some 40 years. For all his loyalty to Beaulieu, Tchelistcheff also blazed a trail for today’s “flying winemakers,” having started a sideline as a handsomely compensated consultant when MICHEL ROLLAND was still suckling at the teet in Libourne.
Terroir. Unimpeachable cornerstone of the Classicist Snob’s vocabulary, denoting the “total natural environment” of the grapevine—the climate in which it’s grown, the chemical and mineral composition of the soil from which it’s sprouted, the animals that poop near it, etc. Only the most wizened and Francophilic of Snobs can carry off the phrase gout de terroir (taste of terroir), usually while praising a cellared, old-growth French wine at the expense of some drink-now FRUIT BOMB bottled by a GARAGISTE.
UC-Davis. Branch of the University of California that, since shortly after the repeal of Prohibition, has been the home of the foremost American academic institution devoted to the making and study of wine, the Department of Viticulture and Enology (V&E in Snob shorthand). Long derided by Snobs, especially of the TERROIR-ist variety, for promulgating a scientific, machine-age, high-yield approach to winemaking that resulted in the California jug-wine boom of the midcentury, UC-Davis has more recently become a Snob-admired haven for wonky progressivists such as the professor who created the WINE AROMA WHEEL. As such, the V&E department is now handsomely endowed by the Mondavi family, the Wine Spectator, and other major wine players.
Varietal. Fancy term for “wine made primarily or entirely from one kind of grape.” Until the 1970s, wines were generally ID’d with low-rent, jug-worthy descriptors (e.g. “hearty Burgundy,” “white table wine”) or with a prestigious geographical appellation (e.g., Bordeaux, Sancerre, Saint-Émilion). But as California began to assert itself as a wine region in the 1970s, NEW WORLD winemakers discovered that marketing their wines by grape name (e.g. Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon) proved seductive to prestige-minded buyers. Varietal labeling has since spread to Europe, especially Italy, whose winemakers have found a robust market for overpriced wines made from (and named for) Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, and Tempranillo grapes.
Volatile acidity. Common wine defect caused by excess production of acetic acid, resulting in a vinegary smell. Traditionally abbreviated to V.A. by Snobs, who like to use the term to intimidate pourers and sommeliers. I’m getting a lot of V.A. on this—get this crap outta my face!
Wine Aroma Wheel. Hyperprecise yet fanciful wine-understanding tool developed in 1990 by UC-DAVIS professor Ann Noble. Resembling a baroque version of the spinner that comes with the game Twister, the wheel’s descriptors—grouped in terms of theme by color-coded wedges (e.g., purple for “Fruity,” green for “Earthy,” red for “Microbiological”) and in terms of specificity by concentric circles (the most general in the inner tier, the most specific in the outer tier)—enable even novice Snobs to unleash intimidatingly analytical wine-talk with ease. Among the wheel’s more outré (and therefore Snob-impressing) descriptors are “Wet Dog,” “Sweaty,” and “Plastic.”
Zero manipulation. Righteous buzz-term increasingly in Snob circulation as the backlash grows against consultant-goosed wines that are less about TERROIR than about the winemaker’s ego and such advanced techniques as MICRO-OXYGENATION. Sonoma County’s Peterson Winery has gone so far as to formally name its inexpensive red table wine Zero Manipulation, the first bottling of which was billed “a good, honest wine produced in the style practiced by the Italian immigrants who originally settled the Dry Creek Valley.”
Zraly, Kevin. Bearded, gregarious sommelier emeritus, unusually un-runty for his profession, who made his name as a twentysomething wine prodigy at Windows on the World when it opened in 1976, and who has gone on to become America’s foremost wine educator. While no Snob would ever cop to having attended Zraly’s beginner-friendly Windows on the World Wine School—which has soldiered on in midtown Manhattan since 9/11—he retains high Snob cred for the massive, American-heavy list he put together for Windows, and for his recent activity as a blogger on ROBERT PARKER’S Web site. If anyone can come up with a Cal red to pair with tilapia, it’s Zraly.