Wine Amphorae, Pompeii, 79A.D. (Courtesy: Victoria-Albert Museum)
“Winespeak:” The art of impressing others with your wine knowledge and expertise by using arcane, florid, and over-the-top language to describe both the wine and the ritual of consuming it.”
I just made that up, but I think it’s close enough for our purposes.
In 1987, wine expert Frank J. Prial, wrote that “Winespeak can be traced to the Gothic piles of Oxbridge where, in the 19th century, certain dons, addled by claret, bested one another in fulsome tribute to the grape.”
Florid references to wine go back 7,400 years. The Bible tells how Noah took vine cuttings onto the ark and planted vineyards as soon as the land surfaced again.
The Greeks and the Romans reveled in wine, and even had a god, Bacchus, who both watched over the grape and enjoyed the occasional quaff himself.
In 74 A.D., the Roman historian, Pliny the Elder, visited the doomed Pompeii, buried by Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D., and reviewed their wines. He wrote that Caecuban wine, from Latium, was the best, but no longer available. The good stuff always goes first. The then current wine choice was Falernian, from the slopes of Mt. Falernus. It was an amber colored, white wine, sweet, with an alcoholic content of 15% – 17% (vs. today’s 13%). Pliny recommended mixing it with water to dilute the sweetness and avoid hangovers.
Storefront public house abounded in Pompeii, and wine price lists and testimonials were written on the walls. Mulsum wine was said to be “the drink of Zeus.” How’s that for a celebrity endorsement? One bar in Pompeii posted this wine list, based on a bronze Roman coin called the “as” (which I roughly estimate at .25 – .50 in US modern currency):
“For one ‘as’ you can drink wine.
For two ‘as’ you can drink the best.
For four ‘as’ you can drink Falernian.”
There are modern era vineyards now that claim to have rediscovered the secret of Falernian, and are offering it for sale to a 21st Century clientele.
There are also references to Mamertime wine, from Messina. It was served by the Emperor Julius Caesar at his public banquets. It was a good wine, and people drank it freely. No one complained, for obvious reasons, but current wine scholars consider it the “Two Buck Chuck” of its day.
Wine has a lot of history behind it, and people today still fill the need to talk about it in esoteric terms. But what is left to be said? You can get away with “…an interesting little vintage, and I’m amused by its pretensions…” only so many times.
I have decided to address this major societal issue. I have created my own “Winespeak Buzzword Matrix.”
If you already understand that a good wine need not be strained through bread, know the difference between a cork stopper and a screw-off cap, never drink anything from the original paper bag, and can tell a red from a white just by looking at it, you are ready for the next step.
Never again will you ask to see the fortified wine list, order Sparkling Thunderbird, or request “Whit-ay,” hoping your companions won’t realize you’re asking for “White.” Your awkward days are over. Using my “Winespeak Buzzword Matrix” will make you sound like the oenophile that Ernest and Julio Gallo meant you to be.
Here’s how it works: Pick any 3 numbers between 0 and 9 and you can come up with appropriate descriptive comments that are guaranteed to intimidate your average neighborhood wine snob. As you grow in wisdom and knowledge, you can toss in a few references to Cote Chalonnaise in Burgundy Country, Haut-Medoc in Bordeaux, and the Chenin Blanc grape grown on the low, chalky hills of the LoireRiver at Tours. Never forget the lingering after-taste of Petrus. That’s the only wine Frank Sinatra drank. Frank said you could get a late dinner reservation in any restaurant in the world by simply saying: “My party will drink only Petrus.” It goes in the better clubs today for $3,000. to $5,000. a bottle.
Ain’t nobody going to hassle you, buddy. Behold:
0 Elegant 0 Opulent 0 Finish
1 Oaky 1 Aristocratic 1 Overtones
2 Classic 2 Plummy 2 Aroma
3 Distinctive 3 Earthy 3 Flavor
4 Fragrant 4 Intense 4 Finish
5 Spicey 5 Robust 5 Body
6 Meaty 6 Textured 6 Character
7 Delicate 7 Scented 7 Bouquet
8 Crisp 8 Contemporary 8 Bloom
9 Subtle 9 Flinty 9 Nuance
You might start with your Social Security number: Your first 3 digits, “030”, becomes “Elegant Earthy Finish.” Your telephone exchange, “285”, becomes “Classic Contemporary Body.” If your age is “102”, you can rave about the “Oaky Opulent Aroma.”
If anybody starts to wise up, just take home a wine list, and add some new terms of endearment to your Matrix. I found these updates recently:
A Deep A Complex A Soul
B Vibrant B Layered B Nose
C Dusty C Sensual C Vintage
There is just no end to it all. You can even write and memorize little paragraphs (or lift them from wine columns) and create your own “Wine-Libs”: “We wine lovers quickly realize that whether it be the (3 numbers) of an Alsace, the (3 numbers) of a Loire, of the (3 numbers) of a Rhone, the sampling process is of paramount importance and is the responsibility of the host.”
Then, while you have them on the ropes, wrap it all up with a little toast. Perhaps something taken directly from the Bible to make you feel better about drinking in the first place: “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake.” (Timothy 5:23).
There will be no stopping you now. Salud!
*”In Vino Veritas” = “In wine there is Truth.”
Be careful: That’s a warning as well as a promise.