by Tim Atkin

Before the rain: 25 wine euphemisms

They’ve barely picked a grape in Bordeaux, but the region’s euphemism generator is already up and running. “A winemaker’s vintage”, as one château owner described the 2012, is another way of describing a growing season that didn’t go to plan. And that’s putting it mildly. Given the sort of year we’ve had in Europe, from forest fires to record-swamping downpours, hail to heat spikes, a lot of wineries will be resorting to such terms over the coming months.

No one actually tells lies in the wine business, of course, unless they’re selling dodgy investments in fine wine portfolios, but there are plenty of instances of people being “economical with the truth”, as Sir Robert Armstrong famously put it at the time of the “Spycatcher” trial in 1986. In an industry where supply exceeds demand, it’s inevitable that PR, marketing and downright bullshit are required to shift cases from time to time.

It’s by no means exhaustive, but here’s a list of my favourite 25 wine trade euphemisms, along with a more cynical translation. I’ve started in the vineyard and finished at the restaurant table, via the winery, the auction room, the wine merchant’s office, the supermarket shelf and the wine writer’s desk.

1. We picked before the rain/hail/fire/plague of locusts.
Funny how winery owners always seem to have the foresight (or weather predicting skills) to harvest their grapes before disaster strikes. Have you ever met anyone who admits to picking after these things occur? If they do, it’s because they had “an Indian summer” (see English wine industry euphemisms).

2. We benefit from ocean breezes in the afternoon.
We shouldn’t have planted our vineyards this close to the sea, but as we did, we might as well make a virtue out of it. Anyone got a spare kagoul?

3. We’re as good as organic/biodynamic, but not certified.
We’re happy to benefit from the positive things associated with alternative forms of agriculture, but we’re too mean to pay for someone to audit us. And, we don’t have to stick to the rules either.

4. The yields were incredibly low on this.
Our vines have phylloxera/nematodes/Pierce’s Disease/are knackered.

5. We only irrigate as a last resort.
We’d flood the vineyards to trellis height if it helped us to increase yields.

6. We’ve got a state-of-the-art, gravity-fed winery.
The EU has just given us a grant to put a couple of stainless steel tanks on the side of a hill.

7. Our winemaker did a vintage at Château Margaux/Latour/Lafite.
He spent a day there picking grapes in his gap year.

8. Michel Rolland is our consultant.
He drops in for an afternoon coffee on his way somewhere else.

9. We source our barrels second-hand from one of the first growths/DRC.
It’s that, or they get turned into plant pots at the local garden centre.

10. Unfined and unfiltered.
Fined and filtered, but we fire any cellar hands who say so.

11. We like a bit of Brett in our wines.
It’s rampant in the winery and we don’t have a clue what to do about it.

12. Impeccable provenance.
Caveat emptor.

13. The vintage of the century.
The best vintage since the last “vintage of the century”. This is usually anything between one and 20 years ago, especially in Bordeaux.

14. A wine to cellar.
It’s so tough and unyielding that it’ll take flay your gums unless you do.

15. A food wine.
A wine that needs food to have any flavour at all.

16. This is our last case.
It’s stacked up in the warehouse.

17. Great value at £3.99.
Someone, somewhere, has been screwed to produce this.

18. Half price.
We’ve over-inflated the regular price so that we can “give” you a meaningless discount, suckers. More fool you if you buy the wine off promotion.

19. A restaurant vintage.
A vintage that consumers aren’t interested in buying, but we can dump on the on-trade. Sometimes described as a “classic” vintage, too. This could prove very useful in France in 2012, as it did in 2011.

20. Turkey/Greece/Portugal/Lebanon/Israel/Austria is the new Australia.
I’ve written it, most wine writers have written it. And it isn’t true. There will never be another Australia. Most wine drinkers are far less interested in wines from “new” countries than we are, alas.

21. An investment opportunity.
You’ve already missed the boat, the train, the bus, but not necessarily the bandwagon. Your chances of turning a profit are about as good as Fifty Shades of Grey landing the Booker Prize.

22. This is my favourite wine in the shop.
I’m on a bonus/in with a chance of an overseas trip for every case I sell.

23. It’s a natural wine.
It’s orange, tastes like cider and is re-fermenting in the bottle, but, hey, who needs sulphur dioxide?

24. We normally serve our wines at room temperature.
The fridge isn’t working and the cellar’s full.

25. It’s not corked. That’s terroir you’re tasting.
I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Unfair? Possibly, but I bet some of these euphemisms will be familiar to many of you. In the mean time, count how many times someone describe 2012 as a winemaker’s vintage.

Originally published in Off Licence News

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