Buyer beware….

A month or so ago, I ran across an article on “The Top Ten Most Irritating and Ingenuous Wine Terms”.  While I could certainly add a few of my own, I thought I’d share the original list (in the author’s order, not mine) and add a thought/comment to each.

1.) Icon.  If you were to believe every wine writer and blogger (yeah, guilty as charged.  I too have been known to over use it in my articles!), virtually every wine, winemaker and vineyard has  been referred to as iconic.  Not so.  While Bordeaux’s first growths and the California cults are clearly in a class of their own, should they all be considered icons?

2.) Reserve. This one has always driven me nuts.  Peruse the shelves of your local merchant and notice the number of bottles that include the term “Reserve” on them.  And then consider the over-reaching hand of the BATF, the government agency that oversees wine labeling standards; they exercise no regulatory oversight when it comes to the term reserve.  Wineries are free to bandy about the term with impunity.  It means nothing people!  Do not, I repeat, do not buy a wine strictly because it says “Reserve” on the label!

3.) Passion.  It should come as no surprise to any of us that winemakers are passionate about their wines.  I too will often share that passion when I drink their wines – especially if they’re good, priced fairly, and not over-alcoholized.  But seriously, have you ever read of an impassionate winemaker?

4.) Varietal.  The issue here comes not from the word itself,  isn’t it pretty self explanatory that varietal means, well… varietal, as in the type of grape?  Odd is that many writers wax poetic over the varietal character of say a Napa cabernet.  But really, what should it remind them of,  gruner veltliner?  Again overuse vs. misuse.

5.) Terroir.  Ugh!  This is clearly a term so overplayed as to place second in my list of irritating and ingenuous wine terms,  topped only by minerality which interestingly was not included in the author’s Top Ten.  Terroir suggests that among other contibuting factors, a wine reflect the climate and soil from which it was produced.  Given the homogenation of many wines today where it has become increasingly difficult to identify the grape selection of a wine let alone specific climats or appellations, it may be time for a new go-to buzzword.  But please, not minerality!

6.) Burgundian.  If another California producer refers to his pinot as “Burgundian”, I’ll refuse to buy it!  California pinots for the most part can not, do not, taste anything like the red wines of Burgundy.  In fact, given the many over-ripe, syrupy versions a number of which frequently contain a healthy dollop of syrah, maybe they shouldn’t even be called pinot.  This is a mis-leading term that only serves to confuse the consumer and insult true Burgundians.

7.) Boutique.  I was actually a little surprised to see this make the Top Ten.  It was certainly one of most over-used terms back in the late 70’s and through the Disco 80’s, but I rarely hear it used today.  Back then, boutique generally referred to wineries that produced less than 5,000 cases and there are still quite a few producers who land in this production category.    But wait, it just hit me!  These wineries are now referred to as “artisan”.  Of course, that is still no guarantee that “boutique” wines are necessarily any better than some of today’s mega-producers who churn out 100,000 cases of great wine each year!

8.) Old Vines. Or “vieilles vignes” as labeled in France (and other non-French countries).  My issue, and I suspect that of the author’s, is not so much the term but just what is it that constitutes an old vine? One that is 20 years old, 30, 40, or 100?  Old vine zins from the likes of Paul Draper at Ridge is one thing, but does the term really provide the consumer any clue as to the age of the vines when and more importantly, whether “old vines” makes a wine good or bad, or has any real meaning at all?

9.) 100 Point Wine.  Ratings continue to be one of most hotly debated issues in the world of wine.  In general, I have two concerns about 100 point wines.  First, ratings are one person’s opinion.  Period.  In countless double-blind tastings I’ve conducted and attended, I can’t tell you how many times tasters- me included  could not identify the “perfect score” wine!  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, as wine consumers become over-obsessed with ratings, we often pass up very good wines, especially those below that score below the arbitrary cut-off of 90 points.                                                     Sadly, 100-point wines seem to serve only two real purposes:  Satisfying the egos of wine trophy point chasers, and more legitimately, they can provide a healthy ROI for savvy collectors fortunate enough to get pick them up at “bargain” prices.

10.) Premium.   As I thought about this term I came to the conclusion that it may be the most disturbing of all the irritating and ingenuous wine terms.  My sense is that the only thing premium about a number of wines labeled as such might just be the price.

Well, there it is.  Please keep in mind that the opinions here are my own and the list is far from complete and I’m guessing you may have a few of your own irritating wine terms.  I’d love to hear them.  Send me an email at



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