Sunday, December 28, 2003

A little side note before we advance into the 5 s's! In the inaugural NSW Wine Press Club Lecture Jeffery Grosset discussed the word "pangkarra" as the Australian equivalent of the French "terroir". Pangkarra is an Australian aboriginal word used by the Kaurna (usually pronounced "Garner" or "Gowna") people who once lived near the Adelaide Plains of South Australia.

Neither pangkarra and terroir has an English equivalent. Terrroir essentially encompasses "the total natural environment of any viticultural site" (Janis Robinson's Oxford Companion to Wine). The emphasis however seems to be on the soil. Pangkarra is derived from pangka, which means a lake or a lagoon "but its meaning also incorporates the concept of a vast area including a vast expanse of water such as the ocean. The latter part of the word arra, is a postfix denoting the sense of being alongside." (See The Kauna). Pangkarra therefore indicates an area of land at least some of which is alongside a body of water that was used by a particular family group. In a recent interview on Radio National Linguist Jane Simpson noted that pangkarra was defined in 1840 as "a district or tract of country belonging to an individual, which he inherits from his father".

Its a little hard to justify Grosset's use of the word given that it may simply mean a plot of land owed by an individual family group. Where is the relationship to the "natural environment"? Of course the meanings that are given above for pangkarra may not do justice to the meaning in Aboriginal language. The concept may mean far more than the land, it may also refer to what is on and under the land i.e. food, and certainly water. But I'm willing to bet that even through the aborigines were great managers of their land they didn't grow grapes, nor did they make wine. One may be forgiven then for being just a little "terroirfied" of winemakers venturing into linguistics!

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Ah, Aroma!
Wines have aroma. Which means you can smell flavors when you take a good sniff. This means you stick your nose deep into the glass. No, don't wave your nostrils over the top of the glass, all you'll smell is whatever is in the air around you; which shouldn't be perfume, cigarette smoke, body odor, etc. Stick it in there! See, aroma!

But what aromas? Well if you read the tasting notes in every wine magazine and on-line wine site you'll see many and varied descriptions of what can be smelled in wine. Some people seem to be able to smell just about everything in a single wine. Others, like me, smell something but often an accurate description eludes us. Why? Well it is probably because we don't have a good library of matched flavor memories and descriptors. We know we've smelled that odor before but just can't put a description to it. Is it asparagus, wet hay, grass cuttings, or grandma?

Then along comes the aroma wheel. No it won't improve your ability to smell all the flavors that the wine magazine lists for its latest fad wine. But it will allow you to standardize your descriptions of wine. You'll use fewer key words, but they will mean more and that's a good thing if you want to be consistent in your wine tasting. For example, "Floral is a general but analytical descriptive term, whereas "fragrant", "elegant" or "harmonious" are either imprecise and vague (such as fragrant) or hedonic and judgmental." Of course, if you're a hedonist and like to come up with descriptions like, "Hmm, a simple yet fragrant wine, somewhat reminiscent of the runoff from an Afghan camel driver's loin cloth", then an aroma wheel is not for you.

Along with how to use the aroma wheel, AC Noble (of UC Davis) provides information on how to generate sets of aroma standards for white, red and sparkling wines. The standards can then be used to describe the aromas in different wines. Practice makes perfect in wine tasting. Or you could just buy pocket sized aroma cards. Just imagine on your next visit to wine country you could pull out your aroma cards, scratch and sniff and tell the wine makers just what their wines smell like! You'll look like a real pro!

Next, Stem, sight, smell, sip, swallow. Or I'll just describe how I taste wine. Its really simple and fun!

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Judging on a Curve?
Hmmm, so when wine is judged there is an "expectation of three to five per cent winning gold, around seven to ten per cent winning silver, and 33 per cent or thereabouts winning bronze" (James Halliday). Really? So wines from a great year, or an outstanding region, vineyard or winemaker have to conform to this arbitrary grouping? Apart from seeming fixed (and certainly biased) this type of expectation only levels the playing field in an arena where the field is anything but level. If a wine is worthy of a medal it should receive it. And if it falls below that level it certainly should not be raised above realistic expectations. After all life is too short to waste it by drinking inferior wine, especially when there are so many great wines available. At least 3% of the total, right?