Thursday, February 19, 2015

Forget the fruit basket metaphor -- it's time for "Video Game" tasting notes




2006 Tinto Pesquera; current vintage, retail, about $32.

My fatheads know that I carry on a sort of perpetual border war with the Fruit Basket Metaphor. I get tired of, and I question the efficacy of, the endless comparisons of wine to cherries or lychees or things (when was the last time you tasted a lychee?) -- but I also use the fruit basket m., as Wodehouse might call it, myself. Sometimes it's appropriate. One day recently I savored a Spanish garnacha which smelled, not like a fruit, but exactly like lilacs. It was remarkable.

The trouble with fruit and flower basket metaphors is twofold. First, often wine does not smell or taste like anything except itself. It can be a whole, intact product, "just wine." Second, even though detecting fruit scents is meant to help train the palate and encourage reflection and enjoyment, it has all become a sort of impenetrable snob code by now. (It should be a parlor game at most, with little prizes.) Even at professional tastings, a group of thirty people might all swirl and sniff their glasses of good wine, and then be asked by a moderator, "What are you smelling?" -- and greet him with an uneasy silence. No one wants to say the wrong fruit, and no one most especially wants to say, "You know what? Not much." Chances are you'll be joshed that you must have a sinus infection. I think somebody shouted out "roses and tar" to get it over with. In trade magazines, the same dozen words have exhausted their meanings. Now we're on to "red peach" or "white raspberry." And isn't it telling that, in the same decades that we notice the arrival of the global red, all tasting notes sound in an echo chamber? Meantime all this doesn't begin to express my annoyance with marketers who put fruit basket metaphors on wine labels, thus confusing consumers who think there is pear juice in the wine, and are disappointed not to taste it ....

By way of exploring new answers, I've tried my share of very short, grudging "tasting note haiku." I also agree with Hugh Johnson's idea that a story should accompany the wine. He means a story about the wine maker or the estate, but I don't know any winemakers, so my stories have been, oh, about a cabernet and a hardwood floor, for example. Karen MacNeil in The Wine Bible recalls once challenging a wine shop staff member to help her pick "a wine like Robin Williams." I liked that thought, and found I was able to associate serene, pricey merlots with Hollywood movie queens. The defunct blog Chateau Petrogasm ran with the notion of "tasting note" images only. It was the dernier cri for a while. I contributed a few pictures.   

How might we talk about wine, then, if we're sick of overused cherries and lychees? Shall we turn to movies? Books, or characters in books? Prima donnas? Why not video game characters, or the games themselves? Pinot grigio as the calm and endless Journey; a gigantic shiraz as GTAV; a pioneering and classic California cabernet as Mario. A firmly constructed Bordeaux is Minecraft; a moscato is Sims. A big and haughty and silky Barolo is Assassin's Creed. A grand cru white Burgundy is Tomb Raider. In this metaphor world, what is Pong? Remember Pong? Sutter Home white zinfandel, perhaps. We could even end up with winemakers learning to roll their eyes about using old-fashioned GameCube technology in the chai, or about a vintage being disappointingly SkyRim

Now all that is needed is to get the young people driving the video game industry to start drinking more wine, and get the older people drinking wine to start understanding video games, so that we will all  speak a common language of connoisseurship. It is going to be so much more interesting than what we've put up with till now. 




Paul Dolan cabernet, 2010; retail, about $22 if still available.

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