Saturday, June 20, 2009

What to do when your Weber BBQ is ailing?

Ever so often, I'll read a tasting note and wonder, what the hell is this guy talking about? Take for example the ubiquitous "pain grillé." How does the pain of a busted-up grill related to the stuff in the 750 mL bottle? And more importantly, are you trying to tell me that my Weber BBQ is suffering because its wheel fell off?

As it turns out, no, my grill is just fine. "Pain grillé" is French for toasted bread. But I suppose it does sounds more sophisticated to note that a wine has aromas of pain grillé than of toast. After all, any average Joe knows what toast smells like and might even make toast every day. But it takes the cultivated palate of a connoisseur to appreciate the subtle aromatic intrigue that is pain grillé.

Understandably, there is jargon associated with wine as there is with any well-developed field. Describing a wine as tannic, having a round (or hollow) mid-palate, or displaying a lengthy (or non-existent) finish helps to describe the tastes, textures and sensations of a wine. In other cases, certain phrases such as "saddle leather" or "barnyard" are polite euphemisms for aromas that may remind some of straight up cow poop. A leathery Merlot with a lengthy finish is meaningful in the right context even if its not the most common description outside of the wine world.

But then there's turns of phrases that are just tossed out there to throw most everyone off the reviewer's trail. Takes "truffles," for example. How many people have actually tasted truffles? I certainly haven't, but truffles are a fungus like a mushroom that sprouts downward instead of upward. Given how inexact a science extrapolating aromas from a wine is, I suspect "mushroom" would more than suffice as a descriptor other than it just doesn't sound all that luxurious.

"Kirsch" is another popular term in wine reviews that refers to a type of cherry liqueur. Personally, I'd just say cherry liqueur since everyone would understand what that means. Just like if I had said licorice. But it seems "fennel," "anise" and "tarragon" are generally preferred to licorice in tasting notes (though I'm told fennel, anise and tarragon all have varying degrees of licorice flavor).

This confounding practice, however, achieves its absolute pinnacle with the descriptor "stone fruit flavors" because not only is this an unfamiliar terminology, but it also is less precise than virtually any other description the reviewer could have written! Stone fruit is a synonym for a drupe, or fruit with a pit. Peaches, apricots, nectarines, dates, plums and cherries are all stone fruits. But it gets better because bramble berries like blackberries and raspberries are actually aggregates of "drupelets." (This explains why I don't like blackberries very much--I get all those mini-peach pits stuck between my teeth.) Basically, "stone fruit flavors" could mean just about anything from cherries to peaches to even berries. This is one case where perhaps greater specificity would be beneficial.

Of course, you might say, "don't throw stone fruits at that patched-up grillé in glass houses" and you'd be right. The second you write a tasting note, you're in the same racket as those who feign to detect "the faintest soupçon of like asparagus and just a flutter of a, like a, nutty Edam cheese." But maybe, just maybe, there's a way to be accurate and complete in one's description without veering into the realm of absurdity.


Anonymous said...

Nice Post
Steven Spurrier

CabFrancoPhile said...

Thanks! Even more thanks if you are the real Steven Spurrier--internet anonymity breeds suspicion.