Dan Berger on What Wine Terms Really Mean

Few wine writers have a resumé as lengthy or impressive as that of Dan Berger, who writes a syndicated wine column, is an editor for Appellation America, and (with wife Juliann Savage) runs the Riverside International Wine Competition, among other projects and activities.

I was introduced to Berger’s writing back in the late 1980s, when he was working for the Los Angeles Times. I always took his stories and columns seriously because, like I, he came from a journalism background, having spent many years working for Associated Press.

It’s easy for even an accomplished wine writer to get lost in the modern world of fizzling “old media” and sizzling social media, where anyone with an opinion has a ready-made platform for having it heard or read. The “vetting” process once performed by editors has been largely supplanted by a “Wild West” atmosphere in which the best self-promoters, rather than the best writers, get the most attention.

That’s the only way that a writer of Berger’s experience could get lost in the shuffle. But now, Berger is being featured weekly in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, and I’ve been having fun getting reacquainted with his work.

Just before the holidays, he penned a very witty column dealing with wine descriptors—the words and phrases we wine writers and reviewers use to differentiate one wine from another—and what they “really” mean.

“Such language helps wine collectors discuss their purchases using many of the same phrases,” Berger wrote. “The problem comes when unskilled newcomers to wine wield them. Then the terms sound silly.”

He then went on to cite a number of such terms, three of which I’ll share with you here…

  • “This wine has a hint of smoke.” It’s so oaky that Greenpeace has demanded the winemaker sign a reforestation pledge.
  • “It’s a big, bold wine.” It has 16.5% alcohol and ought to carry a warning label that says, “Flammable.”
  • “It’s a delicate wine.” It has no flavor at all.

You get the idea. You can read the full column here. And once you’re on the newspaper’s website, you can join me in catching up with one of America’s great wine writers.

Posted in Editor's Journal
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