A nicely structured, lightly acidic addition to the handy Snob's Dictionary series, decoding the baffling world of winespeak from A to Z.
Wine Snob. The very phrase seems redundant, doesn't it? When faced with this snobbiest of snobberies, the civilian wine enthusiast needs the help of savvy translators like David Kamp and David Lynch. Their Wine Snob's Dictionary delivers witty explication of both old-school oeno-obsessions (What's claret? Who's Michael Broadbent?) and such new-wave terms as "malolactic fermentation" and "fruit bomb." Among the other things Kamp and Lynch demystify:
Finish: the Snob code-term for "aftertaste." (Robert Parker includes the stopwatch-measured length of a wine's finish in his ratings.)
Meritage: an American wine classification that rhymes with "heritage," and should NEVER be pronounced "meri-TAHJ."
Terroir: that elusive quality of vineyard soil that has sommeliers talking of "gunflint," "leather," and "candied fruits"
Featuring ripe, luscious, full-bodied illustrations by Snob's Dictionary stalwart Ross MacDonald, The Wine Snob's Dictionary is as heady and sparkling as a vintage Taittinger, only much less expensive... and much more giggle-inducing. Cheers!
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October 13, 2008
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Excerpt from The Wine Snob's Dictionary by David Kamp
The Wine Snob's
A symbol indicates a Wine Snob Vanguard item, denoting a person, an entity, or a concept held inparticular esteem by Wine Snobs.
Aaron, Sam. Revered New York wine merchant (1912-1996) who was the chief evangelist behind Sherry-Lehmann Wine and Spirits, the landmark Upper East Side shop owned by his family. In partnership with his older brother Jack, who purchased the shop shortly after the repeal of Prohibition, Sam, a trained psychologist and protege of FRANK SCHOONMAKER, shepherded in the era of upper-middle-class American wine connoisseurship, writing florid, proto-J. Petermanesque copy for Sherry-Lehmann's catalog and enlisting American-food guru James Beard as a fellow copywriter and sometime in-store greeter. If it weren't for ol' Sam Aaron, bless him, we'd all still be drinking rum toddies and backyard moonshine.
Acidity. Crucial, fairly self-explanatory component of STRUCTURE in wine; the cause of the palate-puckering tartness that either excites or repels the Snob taster, depending on whether said Snob is a devotee of more measured, traditional wine styles or a hedonistic guzzler of FRUIT BOMBS.
Aerator. Unnecessary status gadget, often fashioned of crystal, that hastens the process of getting a wine to "open up," obviating the arriviste Snob's need for patience or traditional decanting. Most aerators require the user to awkwardly and cumbersomely hold them over a glass while wine is poured through them. Many aerators pass themselves off as objets d'art to justify their steep prices, though they generally resemble the sort of whimsical "folk art" sold by rich men's wives in resort-town gift shops.
Ah So. Generic term for a two-pronged wine-bottle opener that, given that it isn't technically a screw-pull device, is better described as a "cork extractor" than a corkscrew. The Ah So's user slips one prong between the cork and the bottle, and then the other, rocking the opener back and forth until it shimmies down the length of the cork. Classicist Snobs prefer the Ah So to such devices as Metrokane's chic, expensive Rabbit corkscrew because it grips the cork from its sides rather than the middle, an especially valuable trait with old, wet, quick-to-crumble stoppers that cling stubbornly to the interiors of aged trophy bottles.
Appellation d'Origine Controllee (AOC). Strict, government-regulated classification system used in France since the 1930s to delimit the geographical origins of the country's more prestigious wines (as well as certain Franco-exalted foods, such as cheese). Despite the phrase's literal translation as "controlled appellation," the rules determining which wines qualify for AOC status have been assembled with all the clarity and consistency of tax code--a circumstance exploited by Snobs and Frenchmen, who count on the system's impenetrability to retain mystique and keep novitiates out of the Snob club. AOC appellations extend beyond mere geography, functioning as prescriptions for all facets of production: the types of grapes used, the allowable grape yields, and even winemaking and aging techniques.
Asher, Gerald. Authentically writerly wine writer, British-born but spiritually and physically based in the Bay Area, where, like ROBERT FINIGAN, he served as a firsthand witness to the Napa-Sonoma grapequake. A refugee from the midcentury London wine trade, where he bucked BROADBENT-ian mores by focusing on France's less hoity-toity, better-value wines, Asher found himself Stateside in the early 1970s and found his metier as the wine sage of Gourmet, a role he holds to this day.
Attack. Martial term deployed by machismo-minded Snobs to describe the first impression a wine makes as it storms the sensory beach that is one's palate. Used especially in reference to the sweetness that is naturally picked up by receptors on the tip of the tongue. The attack on the '99 Chambolle was an intense blast of ripe, round, red fruit, followed by a generously proportioned mid-palate and a long, lingering finish of East Asian spices and beechwood smoke.
Balance. The quality achieved in a wine when its fruit, ACIDITY, alcohol, and TANNIN are all in good proportion to one another. While a reasonably straightforward term, especially by wine-talk standards, balance nonetheless sounds obtuse or off to the non-Snob ear, somehow evoking strange images of balloon glasses fitted with calipers.
Barnyard. Counterintuitively positive adjective for wines with a pronounced earthiness; the Wine Snob analog to the Food Snob term lusty. There's a healthy dose of barnyard funk on the nose of this Echezeaux.
Barrel tasting. Literally, a sampling of a wine drawn directly from the barrel in which it is aging; socially, a means by which wine critics and other professionals may flaunt their access and avidity. While it is common for the winemaker himself to sneak a peek of a wine as it matures in its oak vessel, the better to keep tabs on its evolution and quality, it's a more rarified occasion for the non-winemaker, who prizes the experience as much for its me-firstness as for the insight it provides. The 2005, which I had occasion to try at a barrel tasting with Jean-Michel this past spring, promises to be one of the greatest releases of the last twenty-five years from this fabled chateau.
Barrique. A 225-liter oak barrel used to age wine. In the olden days of winemaking, a wood barrel was simply a vessel in which to transport wine, but after it was realized that oak imparts pleasing flavors and textures to wine, barriques--especially new ones custom-built from French oak--became the ultimate symbol of vintnerific sophistication. Depending on a Snob's persuasion, barrique aging is either a glorious source of oak-derived notes of vanilla, PAIN GRILLE, and toffee (progressive modernist with a second home in Sonoma) or a vile abomination (aging classicist who publishes his own newsletter).
Bead. Winespeak term for the bubbles in a glass of Champagne, which are purported to string together into a beadlike formation--ideally, a formation that is daintily delicate (the smaller the bubbles, the better) and persistent (the bubbles should still be snaking upward as you take your last sip). The mature, straw-gold color of the '95 Krug was accentuated by a lovely, finely woven bead and a nose of baker's yeast and Seckel pears.
Betts, Richard. Dreamy, swishy-haired, new-paradigm MASTER SOMMELIER who serves as the wine director at the Little Nell, a swank Aspen inn and resort. The antithesis of the imperious, TASTEVIN-wearing sommelier of yore, Betts, a mountain biker and trained geologist, exudes a hempy, Perry Farrell-ish looseness and cultivates envy among year-round restaurant floor-patrollers by not only overseeing a GRAND AWARD-winning list but also enjoying a six-month-long off-season during which he makes private-label wines in France, Australia, and elsewhere.
Biodynamics. Intense, holier-than-organic farming movement inspired by the lectures given in the early twentieth century by the philosopher and education innovator Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). The ethos of choice for Wine Snobs who think that even the organic movement has gone too corporate, Biodynamics is based on the concept of the farm as a self-sufficient, mixed-use organism dependent on the interrelatons of the realms animal, mineral, vegetable, and, indeed, cosmological. (Adherents believe that interplanetary relations play a role in healthy plant growth.) Though the French dominate biodynamie discourse as it relates to wine, thanks to such noisy testifiers as Nicolas Joly in the Loire Valley and Chapoutier in the Rhine, the movement is increasingly embraced by progressivists and infrequent bathers the world over.
Bohr, Robert. Wunderkind member of the celebrity-sommelier constellation who established himself at Cru, a New York City restaurant that became an instant Snob mecca when it opened in 2004. A Francocentrist despite his New Jersey roots and English-yobbo appearance, Bohr has adeptly cultivated wealthy collectors and assembled a wine list of such breadth that it takes up two massive leather-bound volumes. Known in Snob circles for his fetish for trophy wines in large-format bottles, which he conspicuously totes around at industry events, dispensing pours to colleagues he deems worthy.
Botrytis cinerea. Pesky fungus that arises in wet, humid conditions, destroying wine grapes or, in controlled circumstances, concentrating their sugar by sapping them of water. In this latter scenario, Botrytis infection is known as "noble rot," a phrase trotted out by plummy connoisseurs of expensive dessert wines like Sauternes and TBA (Trockenbeerenauslese). Still, Botrytis blight is generally a nuisance to most winemakers and is even the cause of a rare respiratory ailment known as winegrower's lung.
Breed. Supremacist-redolent term used in describing a wine of obviously ritzy pedigree--a wine whose luxurious, refined personality indicates to its knowing appraiser that it is the product of an aristocratic vineyard site, such as a Grand CRU in Burgundy or a First Growth in Bordeaux. The finely grained tannins, the deep core of cassis fruit, and the exceptionally long and perfumed finish all mark this effort as a wine of great breed.
Brett. Abbreviation for Brettanomyces, a strain of yeast that, when present in wine, causes the wine to smell metallic and taste a bit "off"; usually indicative of less-than-ideal sanitary conditions in a winery. Though professional winemakers are the ones most likely to notice and correctly identify brett, the term is increasingly heard issuing forth from the mouths of sommeliers at industry tastings, often as they attempt to throw competitors and prosperous civilian interlopers off guard. Eiuww, I'm getting a little brett on this Cab.
Brick. Visual descriptor associated with older red wines, which lose color intensity as they age. A wine's passage from RUBY to brick is usually brought about by slow, controlled oxidation over time and is oft the subject of lyrical commentary by Snobs, akin in their minds to a faithful dog's passage from vigorous stick-chaser to gray-muzzled layabout. Less lyrical, however, are those occasions when a young wine comes off as brickish, in which case the consternated Snob complains that he has some defective JUICE on his hands.
Broadbent, Michael. Droll, prolific, trilby-wearing British wine writer of John Gielgud-ish mien and imposing stature, having long served as the head of the wine department at Christie's and having written the most authoritative books on vintage wines. Adored by Snobs for the voluminous handwritten notes he has kept in red, schoolboy-style exercise books since the 1950s and for his utter lack of concession to the mores of the ROBERT PARKER era--in a typically Broadbentian utterance, he has decreed that today's "supermarket wines . . . are for drinking, not for writing about."
Burghound. Quarterly newsletter and, in recent years, corresponding Web site run by autodidact wine enthusiast Allen Meadows--like ROBERT PARKER, a refugee from the white-collar ranks (Meadows was the CFO for Fidelity National) who turned his hobby into an enterprise. Focusing exclusively on Burgundy, whose unpredictable wines have historically attracted the most obsessive and masochistic of Wine Snobs, Meadows is respected even by know-it-all Snobs for his ability to parse the region's hopelessly complex network of small producers and tiny vineyards. Buy up all the '05 you can now; it's been tipped as the best vintage ever by Mr. Burghound himself.
Cap. The crust of grape skins and other solids that forms atop a vat of fermenting red wine. Cap-related ministrations inordinately excite the wonkiest of Wine Snobs, who are familiar with the complementary processes of "punching down" (pushing the cap back down into the liquids to impart color, flavor, and TANNIN) and "pumping over" (pumping juice from the bottom of the tank and spraying it on top of the cap).
Cassis. French word for "black currant" and the liqueur made from same, employed in TASTING NOTES and reviews as the go-to sensual identifier for Cabernet Sauvignon. More experienced Snobs, having mastered this term, then graduate to such advanced Cab descriptors as "bilberry" and "mace." The '82 Mouton is still showing beautifully, its saturated ruby color still intact along with its dense, youthful flavors of cassis and chocolate.
Cellar management. Newfangled "service" marketed to serious collectors, in which a wine merchant or expert oversees the assembly and maintenance of a client's cellar: ensuring that certain wines are stashed away for aging, that bottles are properly tagged, that the storage conditions are good, that the collection is sufficiently balanced between wine regions and types, etc. A uniquely first-world and unnecessary result of dot-com and hedge-fund wealth. Our trained and well-traveled team offers a varied portfolio of cellar management solutions.
Chateau Cheval Blanc. Bordeaux estate in Saint-Emilion whose wines are a slightly offbeat target of Snob adulation--the Thelonious Monk to Chateau Margaux's Miles Davis. Lush and generous when young, Cheval Blanc, which has an unusually high percentage of the Cabernet Franc grape in its blend, has a fervent cult whose members consider its 1947 vintage to be the greatest wine ever made. My most recent tasting of the '47 Cheval Blanc showed it to be very much alive, almost portlike in its intensity.
Chewy. Ordinary adjective put to hyperbolic use when applied to wine, suggesting that the JUICE in question is so dense that it requires actual mastication. The big, chewy tannins on this Zin have got me jonesin' for a steak!
Cigar box. Improbable Snob tasting term, commonly applied to deep, dark reds of the Cabernet family--Franc especially, but also Sauvignon. Lovely aromas of black currant and cigar box carry through to the long and harmonious finish.
Claret. Quaint term for a red Bordeaux, still used in England (especially by MICHAEL BROADBENT) and revived in recent years by such American producers as Francis Coppola and Su Hua Newton, who trot out "claret" even though their wines aren't from Bordeaux.
Clarke, Oz. Bald, English, Oxford-educated, relentlessly chipper pocket-guide specialist who took up wine-writing as a second career after his West End acting career got stuck in idle. While not taken terribly seriously by Snobs, given his multimedia ubiquity and penchant for writing portable, softcover books, Clarke was prescient in recognizing the potential of Australian wines, so much so that many novice Snobs labor under the misimpression that he is, in fact, from OZ.
Clendenen, Jim. Falstaffian California winemaker whose Robert Plant mane, floral-print shirts, and dude-ular bonhomie have established him as the face of the laid-back, communal Central Coast, the region affectionately portrayed in Sideways. In addition to running the winery Au Bon Climat, Clendenen is also a well-traveled seeker with several Burgundy quests under his belt (Burgundy being the favored destination for spiritual Wine Snob questers; see also BURGHOUND), and his Burgophilia shows in his wines, which incite Paul Giamatti-worthy soliloquies from critics.
Climat. Wine-talk diminutive of TERROIR, used to denote the siting of a particular vineyard. Similar in meaning to CRU, but considerably more precious in conversation. To my mind, no other climat delivers wines with the velvety textures of Richebourg.
Closed. Utiliarian descriptor for any wine that doesn't seem to be giving all of itself, with no immediate suggestions of lychees, huckleberries, or what have you. In younger wines, a synonym, more or less, for TIGHT; in older wines, a sadder, more resigned term, denoting a wine that will never realize greatness, its fruit and aromatics smothered by a tannic towel.
Cocks and Feret. Titter-inducing shorthand for the so-called Bordeaux Bible, Bordeaux and Its Wines, a reference book whose first edition was published in France in 1850 (as Bordeaux et ses vins, Classes par ordre de merite) by an Englishman, Charles Cocks, and a Frenchman, Michel Feret. Historically significant as the template for the 1855 CLASSIFICATION, upon which Bordeaux classifications are still based, "Cocks and Feret" is linguistically significant for sounding like an especially filthy piece of Cockney rhyming slang.
It seemed like just another afternoon at school. As I looked out at my class that September day in 1999, I pondered how to engage them. I knew that unless I got my sixth-grade students excited about ancient Greece, they would look upon the unit as a boring lesson about a bunch of dead people in togas. So I launched into a passionate discourse about how ancient Greece established the first democracy, one that our founding fathers had looked to when establishing our government. After explaining the differences between America's representative democracy and the Greek model of direct democracy, I moved on to the great Athenian general Pericles, who believed that if you don't participate in your representative government, you have no place in society.
At the back of the class, Heather, a quiet brown-haired girl well respected by her classmates, raised her hand.
"Well, that may have been fine for the Greeks, Ms. Cahill," she announced. "But you can't run for office in this country unless you're a millionaire or unless you know a lot of millionaires."
Wow, she's already figured that out at age twelve, I thought. How sad.
I, too, felt that if you're not wealthy, you don't really have a way to participate meaningfully in this country's political system. But it wasn't my role as a teacher to pass on my personal views.
"That's not exactly true," I countered. "All citizens in our country have the right to run for office. Would having a million dollars make things easier? I'm sure it would. But not having the money isn't going to prevent someone from being able to run."
I became so wrapped up in cheerleading for democracy, I neglected to think three steps ahead. I should have seen the next comment coming. Sixth graders are renowned for daring each other.
"Well, then, why don't you prove it, Ms. Cahill?" Heather challenged. "Why don't you run for office? You're a fair person, you're funny, you'd be great."
After a moment of uncomfortable silence during which I couldn't manage to spit out an answer, the rest of the class took up the idea and added their voices to Heather's. "Yeah!" and "Why don't you?" and "That'd be awesome!" rose up from the students like a wave.
Are you kidding me? I thought in a panic.
Of course, Heather was showing the kind of initiative I tried so hard to encourage. Just a month into the school year, my new students had already started to take over the classroom walls. My classroom was always bare at the beginning of the year with the exception of a few of my favorite posters, including the one that reads "You Can Change the World" and my "Cahill Hall of Fame" banner that always adorns a bulletin board. But now their art and writing projects enriched the space. Montages they had made about themselves hung from the ceiling over their desks. Butcher paper for ever-changing murals spanned the length of the back wall above the bright yellow countertops and kids' cubbyholes. "Your class would be about the worst place in the world for ADD kids," joked a friend of mine who's also a teacher. "They would never be able to pay attention to anything because there's so much stuff hanging everywhere." But I preferred an interactive room, where children learned through immersion.
I also worked to make it a democratic place. I believe in giving students choices. If I'm going to make students come up with a project to show me that they understand a math concept, they always have options because I know that kids--like the rest of us--have different learning styles. Not every person is an auditory learner. Some are visual, while others--including the one out of every ten or twelve who is ADD--are kinesthetic. You've got to be able to let them learn in ways that are going to make sense to them.
Unfortunately, many teachers will teach the way they learn best and most teachers are school nerds. We were usually the ones who sat in the front row because we wanted to be "the good students." We liked school because we did school very well. That's why we came back as adults; we get the game. But not everybody does. So as a teacher, I vary my approach to--and presentation of--the material in order to reach all these different kids because only about 20 percent of them learn the way I do. Students should be encouraged to do their best, not to fit into a mold that may not be suited to them.
I also want my kids to be able to speak up and talk to me about how they feel. If they don't like the way our spelling test is conducted, they have to explain why.
"I don't mind if you have a problem, but come to me with a solution, too," I say. "If you have a better way of doing things, that's fine, tell me. But if you're just coming to complain, I don't want to hear it."
This was especially important when it came to my sixth graders' social interactions on the playground. There was often drama after lunch recess, and they needed to learn how to be problem solvers, not whiners.
My students quickly became very vocal little people who excelled at giving one another feedback and thinking for themselves. We were a community of learners. I loved that. I also loved the fact that Heather had challenged my statement. But now I owed them an answer.
Looking at twenty-eight intent faces, I knew that I had just been handed a test. Would this grown-up be as contradictory and hypocritical as so many of the adults and personalities in their lives? If our country worked the way I had said it did, and if normal people could--and should--be involved in government, then as their teacher I shouldn't have a problem stepping up to do what they'd asked. It was as if they were saying, "Either you are what you say you are and you believe that whole line you gave us, or you're totally full of crap, and we're going to find out right now." In many ways, our roles of teacher and pupil had suddenly switched.
What I say is really going to matter, and I'd better think fast, I realized.
Thoughts rocketed through my brain like simultaneous fireworks explosions.
Oh my god, what have I gotten myself into?
Do I believe what I told them? Or am I simply a mouthpiece for the establishment? Are these kids going to look back and resent me someday when they think about their teacher's rosy, half-honest introduction to politics?
How the hell can I run for office? I'm a divorced mom with three little kids. I have no money. I don't even own a house.
If I say no, will that prove their worst suspicions about people and the world around them?
This is crazy. I have no time, no influence, and absolutely no political connections. The only Kennedy I'm in good with is my daughter Kennedy.
This could be the best civics lesson ever!
Geez, what would my principal say?
There's no way I can do this.
This would be so cool for the kids! Why can't I do it?
How many adults whom these kids look up to wind up disappointing them? I don't want to be one of them.
Maybe she's right; maybe I should run.
As I looked at Heather's face, I realized that we ask children all the time to be brave. We ask them to be leaders, to say no to peer pressure, to turn down drugs, to step away from the crowd, and to be unafraid to take on challenges. We're really good at expecting that kind of courage from children, but how often do they see adults step up? How often do we actually model that you can do or be anything you want in life?
I had to buy myself some time. Smiling to hide my terror, I asked the kids for twenty-four hours, explaining that I needed to sleep on it since the decision would impact not only me but also my family.
"I knew she wouldn't do it," I heard a boy mutter.
Don't say I won't do something, a small voice inside me said. Any time I'm told I won't--or can't--do something, a huge, ornery part of me answers, Oh really? Wanna bet?