Monday, 7 January 2008

Describing Wine Aromas

Mention Jilly Goolden and you either end up with a group of people that loathe her or a group that love her. Her descriptions of wine flavours and aromas can be mind bogglingly confusing or brilliantly apt.

Before her, wine descriptions were ultra-conservative, based around terms such as dense, evolution, complex and dry, honed through a generation of writers such as Michael Broadbent and Hugh Johnson.

Goolden's successful double act with Oz Clarke on the BBC's Good Food Show didn't so much rip up the rule book as blow it to smithereens. She has described Bollinger as “Bog gas” and you’ll find the phrases "wheelbarrows full of ugli fruit" and "dark as the bruises on a cowboy's bum", underpinned by ever more exotic similes.

Only last year, Johnson - who happens to be the world's best-selling wine writer - reignited the debate, publicly ticking off Goolden for "attracting ridicule" to wine appreciation. "Jilly and Oz are wonderfully entertaining," he said, "but I don't really want my favourite subject to be ridiculed. There is a problem when these people list all these flavours and aromas they think they have detected. That is not what a wine is like. It is not appley or blackcurranty. People don't sniff a rose and say, 'Oh yes, pineapple, cucumber.' It smells like a rose - and a bottle of wine smells like wine."

Goolden admits that the wine establishment hated them and says "They still do. But why? We were only having fun . . . What I try to do is open up the subject to someone who has perhaps never tried wine before." I think that Goolden’s approach – although it can appear eccentric at times – is on the right tack. Different descriptions are going to appeal to different people. I think the best way is to look at the varying notes on wines and see what they mean to you. What does “fragrance of elderflowers” mean to somebody who has never smelt it before – if different descriptors are added then one of them may make sense!

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1 comment:

Wine-Know said...

I agree that all the jargon and lingo used to describe what a wine tastes and smells like is just that, jargon and lingo, and it's used to market and sell wines. But what about wine faults? I think it's important to be able to detect and describe the most prevalent wine faults. And this is a skill that most consumers, and many professionals, lack. I've developed a product to help consumers learn about how to detect a faulty bottle of wine, and also how to interpret wine reviews. Learn more about the product at, and a different take on wine faults on my blog at

Cheers, and here's to never drinking a faulty bottle of wine again!