THE late Simon Hoggart, a fine political journalist who also wrote about wine, recalled the most ridiculous description he had ever read of a wine, a Gewurztraminer. “Top notes of vanilla, spice and lychees,” it said, “with undertones of Nivea cream.”
Can you imagine telling your guests, “You’ll love this – it tastes of Nivea cream.”
“Oh,” they might reply, “we were hoping for something a bit more Oil of Olay, to go with the fish.”
I have no time for that sort of nonsense but I do have a little bit of sympathy for the writer, for it is hard to find words that capture the subtle flavours of a good wine.
‘Old leather’ is a description often used when referring to rich reds, such as claret. ‘Ceader box’ is another term sometimes used to conjure up the positive aroma of full-bodied reds with moderate oak aging. And ‘pencil shavings’gets hauled out from time to time in reference to the Cabernets.
Who are these people who know what leather, cedar and pencil shavings taste like?
The website Wine Folly has compiled a list of “33 really bizarre wine flavours”. They include Diesel: “A more rustic petrol-like aroma associated with Rieslings from Australia”; Bubble Gum: “A very unique red wine aroma associated with light red wines from Northern Italy” and Petroleum: “A positive aroma associated with aged Rieslings from the Mosel in Germany”.
I try my best to avoid such terms. But forgive me if I sometimes detect hints of peach, blackberry or cinnamon. “It tastes of grape” might be accurate, but it gets a bit boring.
So, with a fine flourish, let me recommend this pair of reds:Les Auzines Hautes Terres 2017 (€12.95, O’Briens). Lush ripe red with a touch of wild herbs. From the Languedoc, Castellani Nero d’Avola (€10.50 Dunnes). Sandlewood and old(ish) leather. Bloody good. From Sicily.