Sunday, April 29, 2012

Smells like Shit Tastes Like Heaven

As the idiom goes, “One man’s meat is another man’s poison”. What one likes in wine may not be the preference of another. A similar sentiment is expressed in the title of this blog article when referring to a unique Asian fruit. I want to talk about this fruit in relation to faulty wine.
Discussing faulty wine is not a common topic. Some would argue that it’s not a fault at all but a unique and funky character of wine. Here I am alluding to the elusive five-syllabic oenological term “Brettanomyces”, often referred to as Brett. Jancis in her “Oxford Companion to Wine” describes Brett as “a spoilage yeast” perpetuated by less than hygienic conditions in the barrels resulting in off-flavours in wine. Although Brett is naturally occurring yeast, its excessive presence in wine is said to taint the wine.

While I have not experienced brett, wine tasters and writers use various descriptors to explain the smell and taste of brett wine. These range from mousey, metallic, smells like horse barnyards, band-aid, sweaty saddles, manure-like etc.
An Asian fruit found in Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand commonly known as the King of Fruits is as controversial as Brett. The fruit I would like to introduce is “Durian” (Durio Zibethinus). This fruit has a love-hate relationship with many western tourists but to Asians it is one of the most loved and popular tropical fruits. It is banned in many Asian airports, hotels and public transport systems. Durian’s aroma is an overwhelming stink of dragon’s breath or the waft of an open sewer. Yet its buttery pulp is the nectar of the gods – sweet and slimey and other-worldly.

But I wonder whether this spiky-shelled fruit is one that would better explain the subtlety or the boldness of Brettanomyces rather than a whole list of metaphors and wine descriptors mentioned earlier. Although Durian is not known in the West, you may purchase or smell one in your local Asian grocery refrigerator. Wine Consultant and writer Randy Caparoso in his blog has some great ideas for food that go with bretty wines, including the Durian.
If you are selling or explaining Bretty wines to Asians why not get off your high horse and sweaty saddle and just mention Durian and it will make sense immediately. Isn’t language in context more powerful than a mouthful of "brettygook"?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Why yet another wine blog? R.D Emerson said, "Language is the archive of history". How true this is when we look at wine and the descriptors used to explain its aroma, taste and other characteristics. To a novice the whole winespeak is baffling, puffy, aristocratic, traditional and archaic. Words are necessary to express concepts, abstracts, emotions and everything we hear see and feel. We use nouns and adjectives to describe things and states. We need words to hook these onto.
Where did wine connoisseurs find these wine descriptors or the jagon associated with wine? It is definitely not from China or India! From my viewpoint as a linguistics scholar, the wine language we read about and hear at wine tasting events is predominantly Western-European, traditional, historical and middle to aristocratic vocabulary. Dare I say an element of snobbery.

From a sociolinguistic or sociocultural perspective, the currrent wine jargon is a genre biased towards the Western culture and context and is therefore of little relevance to the Oriental or emerging social contexts.

So why have I started this blog? Firstly, I am an Asian but English educated and can present my "other worldview". Secondly, my credentials in Applied Linguistics and Wine has made me only too aware of the mismatch in wine and culture. As an Oriental, I see the Old World producers trying to rush to Asia to sell their wines. But the wine language they speak is somewhat alien in the Asian context. Try explaining "hints of blackberry" to an Indian as if this fruit grows in his backyard. Duh!

Is it time for a change in winespeak? Is there a need for wine and culture to "blend"?