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The Loaded Language Of Wine Rebuffed

By Stephen Eliot

Try as I might, I can no longer deny that, despite my best efforts to the contrary, I am guilty of prejudice. There are words and phrases that are “loaded”, and, upon hearing them, I am too quick to make conclusions about those who use them. Sometimes, they signal a certain doctrinaire rigidity and at others a lack of considered thought and basic knowledge, and they can trigger in me an unfortunate unwillingness to take seriously anything else that those who use them might have to say. Upon hearing or reading them, I find myself sighing and rolling my eyes when I should perhaps be paying attention, yet experience has taught that there are, in fact, a few fashionable words that pretty much predict a certain philosophical bent on the part of the speaker.

Now, I am not talking about politics here, that is the eternal realm of reductive sound bites and shibboleths that become, in their advocates’ eyes, the emblems of absolute truth, but as the conversation about wine has become increasingly contentious, there are words that, while used so often that they at times have little real meaning, have come all too close to being the equivalents of political sloganeering. Descriptors like “fruit bomb,” “natural,” “biodynamic” and “low alcohol” are immediate clues to a sermon to come, and even inherently uncontroversial words such as “terroir” and “balance” have been co-opted by those with certain axes to grind.

Although enough years have passed since my first introduction to wine that memory may not be as clear as I would like, I simply do not remember, other than dyspeptic commentary in the New Yorks Times about the shortcomings of California, many calls to choose up sides and, if at times fairly florid, writing about wine was not peppered with phrases that carried quite the ideological clout that they do today.

I do not know what happened. I do not know when or why civility and contemplation was replaced by righteous true-belief. Perhaps, it is that the world of wine is vastly larger than it was forty years back and that the driving force of market competition compels us to think in terms of “this one, not that.” Maybe it is that the electronic universe affords everyone a chance to voice their opinion, opinion whose validity is measured in the number of “likes.”

I like to believe that every wine is different from the next, some more so than others. It is nearly impossible to consider individual wines when so many exist, and sorting them into simple categories is both practically and intellectually far easier. That of course gives rise to simplistic thinking, thinking that is antithetical to what good wine is all about. There are families, to be sure, but subtle differences in voice and appearance are what make wine so endlessly fascinating. Prejudice and preference, my own included, and pithy phrases of praise or dismissal are not about to disappear, but I would ask everyone with even the slightest interest in wine to look past the catchwords of the day and see what a wine really has to say.

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