Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Funky Bordeaux 2007 primeur words

One of the best conversations I had during the primeurs, apart from the one about some of the Margaux 2007's smelling of old socks, was about wine words.

This year I tasted blind for the second time, and decided somewhere about half way through the first tasting that I would, in revolutionary manner, write down what the wine actually tasted like to me.

I could, I decided in a blinding flash, do this because, a) no one has so far checked my notes from any of the four previous primeur tastings I've done, or given me a telling off for using the wrong words. And b) I do not actually write about the taste of wine, so my words, are in fact, only for me.

Please try to overlook the fact it has taken me four primeurs, i.e. four years, to actually realise this, but until now I was searching faithfully for those flavours that everyone seems to talk about, thinking that if I didn't find them it 'my bad' as the rappers say.

You know the flavours I mean, 'dark fruits', 'red fruits', 'floral notes' and so on. I can never, or at least only very occasionally, actually, find those. And if I do I am not always 100% sure of what I am talking about. The problem, I now think, is that I just don't eat enough fruit. I eat, and have eaten in my life, lots of sweets, lots of chocolate and the obligatory once-a-day-when-I-remember apple.

Living in France I realise that here is a whole nation that actually eats fruits at least three times a day. And not just apples either. Plums, pears, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, red currants, black currants and so on. I have eaten them, just not very much. The staples in Ireland were gooseberries and rhubarb – so I am a little better when it comes to whites.

But anyway, having had this revolutionary thought, tasting suddenly became fun. When I tasted tequila, I wrote down 'tasted of tequila' instead of trying to think of some kind of fruit, red or black, that tasted of tequila and then writing that down.

When I tasted, or smelt, tobacco I wrote that one down, although that was not so revolutionary as things like tobacco, leather and chocolate are actually OK to talk about in wine terms.

More pleasing was the writing down of 'butterscotch Lifesavers on Saturday afternoon in sunny garden' – that was a red by the way.

Or 'old socks'. And my old new favourites 'flat' and 'energetic'. I also took great pride, as a former house painter – as in I did it for a living – in identifying hints of turpentine in one or two. I also, gaining confidence, tried out a few more, 'wouldn't mind it for lunch on a rainy Monday' sort of comments.

Naturally I didn't actually talk about any of this – the impossibility of suggesting – in Bordeaux and during primeur week – that I had just tasted a potentially nice rainy, Monday lunchtime wine was too, well, too impossible.

Then, it happened. At a press lunch. I overheard another journalist, who turned out to be bilingual French/English, talking about how he was better at describing a wine in English, when he could say things like 'funky teatime wine', than in French. And indeed, 'fétide (my online dictionary's translation of funky) vin pour l'heure du thé' is just not the same thing.

After that everything fell into place. I still did not have the courage to actually talk about my new vocabulary out loud, but that was fine, I had found it.

At least it was fine until the end of the week, when I whizzed though one tasting describing at least a quarter of the wines as FBD (flat, dull, boring – because the tastes, if there were any, were too inconsequential to go looking for), and then, went to the closing press lunch. Where, after a glass of really fantastically good Rauzan-Ségla 1999, and another of Kirwan 1998 I told everybody about FBD and old socks. Something I now regret.

You see, writers are writers for many reasons. Partly because being a painter can be hard on the back. But also partly, because they learn early in life, that writing things down, and having a moment to consider them, is generally preferable to saying things out loud and then being unable to edit them. But there you go. It happens.

As to the rest of the 2007's I can honestly write down that the whites were mainly very good. Fresh, crisp and clean. Like good shirts.

The sweet whites were instantly likeable, though none that I tasted had that searingly fresh finish that I once had from a glass of Château Nairac sauternes, but maybe it was colder and/or older. These were after all primeurs.

And the reds, well as you know. The reds were either really bad, FBD or genuinely good, funky, picnic slash teatime wines. Voilà.

Voilà, by the way and just to even up the 'what language is good for what' score, is an unbeatable way of ending almost anything, and untranslatable, in English anyway, in less than three words. So French.

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