I had a glass of wine the other night that, according to the description on the bottle, was “warm and mellow like the sun embracing its branches at summer ending . . .” (The sun has branches?) That vintage promised to “enchant . . . with its peppery, chocolate and red fruit hints” and to “astonish with the strength of its structure and satisfy with the length of its taste.”
It was red wine, which may explain the purple prose.
Not that I can afford sanctimony. I have been a sportswriter for more than half a century and, by definition, have been as guilty as any of my brethren of occasionally waxing rhapsodic over some jock’s two-out single or one-handed touchdown catch.
Say you have an athlete hobbling on a bad leg in the game’s waning moments, but, somehow, he or she produces the come-from-behind winning score. It really isn’t equivalent to Teddy Roose velt leading the charge up San Juan Hill. Or John Kennedy rescuing a mate from the sinking PT-109. It hardly makes America safe for democracy. Still, you may be tempted to cast it in similarly vivid terms.
So I accept that the urge toward high-octane verbosity, to paint an extravagant picture with fussy words, is a mighty one — even while acknowledging the need for discipline and the Hemingway ideal of simple, declarative sentences. (Papa also advised to write with a pencil, but that isn’t happening anymore.)
Anyway, I’m not convinced that wine-label rhetoric is meant to be taken seriously. (Apart, that is, from the surgeon general warnings that “women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects” and that alcohol “impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery.”)
As a professional wordsmith, I can enjoy a soupçon of elegant gibberish. I may even be a little jealous of those back-of-the-bottle authors, turning pitches for their product into anthropomorphic characterizations of potables. Or crafting relaxing scenes of rolling hillsides, warm breezes and weathered old vintners.
Given the cavalcade of mixed metaphors and literary schmaltz, I envision a creative process in which a handful of wine company employees sit, feet up on their desks, a glass of their product in hand — possibly sailing the occasional paper airplane across the room — while they float trial balloons. . . .
How about: “This wine, bareback, gallops on aromas of blackberries, cherries and spice toward an unforgettable gustatory sensation. . . .”
Maybe: “Others are a poor ghost of this broad-shouldered red, wan and tired; ours will cut trouble down to size with its wood tannins and hints of mocha. . . .”
Or this: “If this wine can’t fill the bill then, forget it, it can’t be done.”
I stumbled onto a Reading, Writing & Wine website in which the author, Isaac James Baker, contended that “wine is emotive, and sipping a glass of wine encourages us to analyze it, and enjoy it, through language.” He gave examples of references to “spice and pickle notes,” “red velvet,” “wild mushrooms,” “deep affection.”
My own totally unscientific survey, conducted over recent months, found that one wine purported to be “the perfect symbol of freedom” with “uninhibited spirit.” Another had a “larger than life personality . . . long on fruit and short on attitude.” Another was “sure to leave an impression on all.” Another was “immense and complex.” Another boasted of “dramatic style.” Another — and I’m not quite sure how to interpret this — advised that it was “best drunk when not wearing light-colored clothes.”
Enchanting. Astonishing. Something like Teddy Roose velt leading the charge of San Juan Hill.
In the meantime, though, this might work just as well for connoisseurs of straightforwardness:
“This is pretty good wine.”