Elegant. Hints of leather. Overly oaked. Touches of lavender. Smooth mouthfeel. Concentrated plum. Read “traditional” wine reviews and these are just a handful of descriptions you’ll see used again and again describing reds and whites, from cabernets to pinots to chardonnays and more. For some wine drinkers, tasting notes may become a barrier to entry. Less-seasoned sippers may ask “if I’m not getting those notes, am I doing it wrong?”
RyR favorite Wine Folly has done a masterful job (left) showing just how many descriptors can go into one glass of wine. With all of those adjectives, it’s obvious that no two tongues will ever taste the same wine the same way.
Now for a new generation of wine drinkers, wine talk that turns away from these common notes is becoming the norm.
A great deal of credit goes to Gary Vaynerchuk who, before he was a digital media guru, helped reinvent wine speak with his now-sunsetted daily YouTube show, Wine Library TV. Daily broadcasts of wine reviews brought in tens of thousands of streams a day from his followers (aka the “Vayniacs”) and helped turn his Springfield, New Jersey wine shop into a multi-million dollar a year enterprise.
Vaynerchuk became a refreshing alternative to the classic wine critic establishment by describing wine with notes of cat pee, romance and mussels shell. He said that drinking a 1998 Italian Barbaresco was like “sticking his face in mud.” The fact that he was aggressive promoting his reviews across Facebook and Twitter also appealed to a wine-tasting public who wanted reviews in 140 characters or less.
“The problem was that everybody, once they got some knowledge, they started looking down on people,” Vaynerchuk says of his candid wine talk. There was arrogance in the air that wasn’t good for the wine world. It was very important for me to bring it to the masses.
Wine review apps like Vivino have carried on the tradition of candid speak of wine, with 9 million users, the majority of which are not classically trained sommeliers, Vivino tasting notes run from the familiar to the stunningly candid.
When looking through how Riberas and Ruedas stack up, some of the descriptions are worthy of being called out.
“THIS WINE NEEDS ALL CAPS BECAUSE IT IS KABOOM with a mellow finish.” — Sarah Wendell on the Torremoron 2013 Ribera Del Duero Tempranillo Find Torremoron by You
“Terrific with clam steamers on the grill … wife doesn’t like white wines and thought it was really good and very tasty.” Ben Whitfeld on the 2013 Shaya Arindo Rueda Verdejo Get Shaya’s Story | Find Shaya By You
“Lance Armstrong! A Crianza is sort of like a regular Rioja on just a touch of steroids. Jazzy, spicy, earthy. Throw in a touch of black licorice, hot cranberry and black pepper … and a finish that coats your mouth in suede and you’re wearing the yellow jersey.” — Scott White on the 2006 Condado de Oriza Crianza Ribera Del Duero | Find It Near You
“Wow, this is what I love about Spanish wine. Did not have with food, but when a wine is this great, I don’t care. Not a fruit bomb, just a wonderful expression of Spain.” — Mike Schotzinger on the 2006 Valduero Ribera Del Duero Reserva
“Bright-eyed and bushy tailed — enjoy with chimichangas and some awesome salsa music.” — Scotty Frampton on the 2012 Palacio de Manade Rueda
“Deep, inky and brooding. Smells incredibly inviting. Dark cherries, raisins and bitter oranges with a whiff of coconut and almonds.” — Richard Marsden on the 2012 Finca Torremilanos Montecastro Ribera Del Duero
“Sunday evening — needed a white cooking wine. I must continue my approach of drinking the cooking wine! Juicy Fruit, like the chewing gum (left) and honeycomb. Flavors of lemon, honey and bright white grape with a sweet touch. This is a light deck party wine. For the price, it’s perfect. Cheers!” — NovaCats on the 2012 Terra Nova Añares