Basically there’s a cheat in all of us. It’s our lazy side, the side that couldn’t be bothered to read the entirety of Wuthering Heights for A level, so read the first and last pages and hoped for the best. The problem with wine is that there are so many parts to it, so many variables, that it can be quite complicated to convince someone that you know your onions – or grapes, to be precise – when in reality you don’t.
So this piece is for those of us who haven’t outgrown the above phase – in other words those of us who are still trying to wing it through this complicated, trying world.
It’s meant to be a short cut to bluffing it, with an emphasis on making sure that, whatever the occasion – dinner party, wine tasting, funeral, wedding – you can make sensible but suitably vague comments on the wine and give all those around you the impression that you actually do know what you’re talking about. So I’ve put together twenty key words or phrases that you can use to make sure everyone knows you’re an expert… of sorts.
But first the golden rules…
Rule 1: This works only if you say and use these words and phrases with the utmost confidence. Any sign of weakness will be pounced on by real wine aficionados.
Rule 2: If you encounter another bluffer, never, never, never, ever call his or her bluff: there is honour even among bluffers.
Rule 3: If someone calls your bluff, just smile, look at the ceiling in a resigned, “I’m dealing with a child” fashion, and say “Good gracious, let’s not fall out over a glass of [insert appropriate grape variety or style here]. After all wine is totally subjective thing.” Then run – you’ve been rumbled.
Rule 4: Don’t try this at home – it’s your home and if you can’t behave in an ignorant manner in your own home and castle where can you – unless you’ve stupidly asked your boss round for dinner. Which leads me to…
Rule 5: Don’t ever ask your boss round for dinner….
So let's begin:
Fantastic catch-all. A wine can be aggressive if it’s too tannic or too acidic or lacks fruit. But, fundamentally, it can also mean it’s rubbish. Spotting an aggressive wine is relatively easy. If it’s too tannic, then you will feel the sides of your gums drying up, and you’ll want a glass of water. If it’s too acidic, then you’ll look as if you’d just shoved a lime in your mouth and chewed hard. If it’s too fruity it will feel as if you were drinking fresh jam from the jar. Often its “aggressiveness” will be exaggerated if the wine is very young.
So how would that go? “My oh my, this is a touch aggressive dontcha feel?”
Likely response: “Do you really think so?”
Double bluff: “Perhaps I’m being a little aggressive, nay, harsh on it myself” (Said with a slightly camp olde worlde weariness).
Advanced use of phrase: “My, but the tannins/acidity are particularly aggressive on this young whippersnapper”
What not to say: “Put ‘em up, put ‘em up, I’ll fight you with one hand tied behind my back” (apologies to the Cowardly Lion).
This is perfect for when you come across a grape variety that you’ve never known or tasted before. You can peruse the glass for a few seconds. Sniff. Slurp. Swirl. Slurp again. Then roll this little number off the tongue like a smoking grenade, ready to cause friction among the rest of the dinner party. Always a good one to use for traditional varieties that have been made in the New World, e.g. Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc.
So how would that go? “I’m not sure but this seems quite atypical for…” [insert appropriate grape variety her]
Likely response: “But I think it’s a classic”
Double bluff: “Do you really, how fascinating?” (Said with a raised eyebrow and a musing silence)
Advanced use of the phrase: “Incredibly atypical, so much so that I actually thought it was…” [fill in alternative grape variety here]
I love this one. Again, it’s suitable for many different occasions, but fundamentally is used to describe wines that are less intense, say than an in-your-face-Aussie Cab or Chardonnay, i.e. somewhat reserved. It can also mean the fruit is a little “green” or young. If you’re not sure, look at the label. If you see a very young vintage – up to two years before you’re drinking it say – and it’s from the Old World (France, Spain, Italy) rather than the New World (Australia, South Africa, California) then it’s perfectly possible that it will be on the austere side.
So how would that go? “Mmm. A little austere on first glance. Perhaps it will open out as time goes by.”
Likely response: “Do you really think so?”
Double bluff: “Well, difficult to tell these days”. (Again, a very good, all-round get-out clause should someone try to call your bluff).
Advanced use of the phrase: “For a 2003 it’s awfully austere, but then I guess that’s the French [or Italian/Spanish] for you.”
What not to say: “I find the 1945 is still a little austere and needs a little more time in the bottle.”
Like “atypical”, this can go either way. But, if you’re talking about an Old World Wine, you’re perfectly likely to get away with an explanation that this is a “classic”. It has multiple, almost endless, applications, but overuse at the same dinner party can give away your amateur status very quickly indeed.
So how would that go? “My goodness! Absolutely classic Chablis”
Likely response: “I think you could be right!” (never forget, in a room of three, at least 66.35 of you will be bluffing)
Double bluff: “Well thank you. What do you think of it?” (Always quite whilst you’re head and use deflection to your advantage).
Advanced use of the phrase: “Classic use of steel fermentation techniques”
What not to say: “I do like that classical music much the same goes pour mon vino, mon brave. Know wadda mean!”
A word more often used to describe the various members of the royal family, this is a very useful word when you’re trying o disguise the fact that you’re not sure what you’re smelling. In fact, it’s multifunctional. It can be used for smell, for taste and for the finish of a wine (that is, the last, lingering dregs of taste after you’ve swallowed it). Spotting a “dumb” wine couldn’t be easier. If you can’t smell anything, if you can’t taste much fruit, or if there’s little flavour you can use the word dumb with gay abandon. The only problem, is that sometimes wines can be good, but dumb to begin with – and may need some time in the glass. If you leave it for five minutes or so and it starts to taste better and more fruity, then its “opened up”.
So how would that go? “I’m trying really hard to get more on the nose/palate but I think this is coming across a little dumb at the moment.”
Likely response: “What on earth are you talking about”
Double bluff: “I was talking about the wine, not you – although I’m having second thoughts.”
Advanced use of the phrase: “It’s very dumb on the nose but I think it’s coming round slowly on the palate. Perhaps its suffering from bottle shock.” (Don’t ask!!)
What not to say: “That label’s a bit dumb, don’t you think?”