Why Words Matter

(I really should be labeling this post, Why I’m Obsessed, Part 3 – here’s Part 1 and Part 2 – but it’s a good column that deserves its own posting.)

This is an interesting column. You think it’s about language (and yes, eventually it is), but as you begin reading, you’re hit with a wonderful lesson about Montrachet wines. It immediately resonated with one of the reasons I’m obsessed with this industry. Wine is risky: Or as Chateau Montelena’s Bo Barrett quips in the documentary Somm, buying a bottle of wine is always a wager. Now, in a recent Wine Spectator column (also linked from the top of this page), Matt Kramer provides a fabulous example of this:  

Montrachet at its best can indeed be an awe-inspiring experience. But it’s rare. You have to win a trifecta of the right producer, in the right vintage, with the right amount of bottle age (10-plus years) in a cold cellar. If my experience is anything to go by, those are long odds.

So what happens when you’re among the majority who don’t have a breathtaking experience with this $500 bottle of wine? Kramer argues your approach should be in reframing your language (which also changes your expectations). Rather than concentrate on its flavors, he suggests using the word “texture,” which will allow you to refocus how you taste the wine.

In comparison, “texture” is a broader term that, again for me, captures a sense of fruit density, as well as the nature of the tannins in a red wine. As is well-known, tannins are frequently described as being ripe or green; coarse or fine-grained; gritty or silky. Obviously, the nature and quality of tannins will dramatically affect “texture,” as will acidity... Bottom line: I use the term “texture” to encompass the complete tactile experience of a wine.

Just as I enjoyed Kramer writing about risk, I enjoyed this column for two more reasons:

  • His main argument is not just about language, it’s about how to taste. And tasting is not just about flavor. If you’ve been reading this tumblr, then you know identifying flavors is the hardest part of tasting for me. It’s everything that’s wrapped into his definition of “texture” – body, acidity and tannins – which I excel at and prefer discussing. And so does he.
  • This column is indeed about words and language! It’s about how to communicate. And that’s what I do. As a journalist for 20 years – who enjoys writing, editing and finding the best way to tell a story – this falls directly into my world. His use of “texture” to taste, is how he suggests telling a wine’s story: “Texture helps tell the tale of a young wine’s future or a mature wine’s lost opportunity,” he writes. 

It’s funny, as I left my class last Thursday, I realized that one of the main objectives in this six-week course is to learn the best way to communicate about wine. It’s what I’ve spent most of my career doing – honing in on the best communication and storytelling methods.

I’m beginning to understand a little better why wine is so fascinating to me. I’m also realizing it may not be such a leap from what I do now.

Why Words Matter

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