"Funky and mealy with a mineral complexity".
If you regularly read a person's tasting notes you may notice a style developing over time, and with it that writer's own form of wine dialect scattered with jargon. Take the above description, for example. It could be a 7-word description for this week's Wine of the Week, the Dog Point Section 94 2004. But if I describe the wine like this do you, the reader, understand what I mean?
In one of my former lifetimes, I used to write user manuals for computer systems. I soon made a rule that everything had to be written in user-friendly terms - to omit the jargon that the technical people understood but the users didn't - because the users, not the technical boffins, were the intended readers.
Sometimes I wonder if I should apply the same rule to my wine writing. I know what I mean, and reader X - who regularly reads my notes and tastes the same wines - might do too. He or she may start to associate a particular word to a unique smell, taste or texture in the wine. Then they too start using the words, picking up the jargon.
But anyone can read my notes on the Internet and I know that some of my readers do not have English as a first language and other readers may be new to wine, having arrived at my site by searching for a tasting note via Google. So to them the short description for the Dog Point Section 94 may be simply a string of gobble-de-gook.
It might be trendy gobble-de-gook, however.
Trendy jargon comes from writers like Robert Parker. He may use a term and adoring readers of his writings think that's cool, so they start using the terms for their own wine blogs or wine forum contributions. But if they don’t really understand the terms, the jargon can start spinning out of control. The words take on new meanings of their own.
There are three terms in the short description for the Dog Point Section 94 that fit into the wine jargon category - they are 'funky', 'mealy' and 'mineral'. Only 'mineral', however, is a descriptor that I think has spun out of control.
Funky is a term I've always associated with wild yeasts. To me it's a good smell, a satisfying smell, but very hard to describe. However it all became clearer after finding the origin of the word on
Evidently 'funk' was once described in dictionaries as the smell of sexual intercourse and African-American musicians originally applied the word to music with a slow, mellow groove, then later with a hard-driving, insistent rhythm because of the word's association.
Play that funky music, white boy
Play that funky music right…
But I have to omit funk from my vocabulary after talking to a winemaker in the weekend who defined funk as 'stinky' and 'putrid'. "Funky means f.…d up," he said.
This is a term I use to describe the character of yeast lees that have had some role in the wines maturation. Yeast, of course, is used to convert the grape sugar into alcohol. When the yeast has finished doing its work, the yeast lees remain. To make a wine more complex (and more expensive) it is common for the yeast lees to remain in barrel or tank. They sink to the bottom but with occasional stirring, or batonage they are dispersed into the liquid before they sink to the bottom again. This adds a yeast lees flavour, which I describe as mealy. I think of it as a corn meal / wheat meal / biscuity character and when it's well done, it is nice.
In another former life I spent ten years as the curator of rocks and minerals in the Geology Department at the University of Auckland. I use to smell the rocks and minerals and sometimes taste them and chew them too, especially when setting up the laboratory teaching sets for Geology 101.
There are a few minerals that are distinctive in their smell and taste and these were used in the teaching sets, but in the big wide world of minerals, there are overall very few.
In fact, with the inert minerals such as quartz and feldspars, any smells or tastes on the teaching specimens came from hundreds of students' hands that had felt them and rubbed them over the years.
The tastiest mineral in the world would have to be Halite, which we know more commonly as salt.
The smelliest mineral in the world would have to be Sulphur, a bright yellow elemental mineral, which is easy for students to distinguish by the colour and smell. However Sulphur readily combines with other elements to form sulphide and sulphate minerals, which usually have some smell and taste. Arsenopyrite was the mineral specimen used to show the distinctive sulphide smell because when hit with a hammer it emitted a whiff of garlic or mercaptan. This immediately alerted the student to the fact that they shouldn’t taste this specimen. Thus sulphide is a nasty, minerally smell that is regarded as a fault in wine.
All minerals have texture, from soft to hard, from smooth to exceptionally rough. Two of the softest, smoothest minerals are Talc, which is the basis of talcum powder, and Graphite, a smooth greasy mineral that you can write with, hence its use as pencil lead.
When I ask people who use the word mineral, what they mean, the answers are varied. Some relate it to a textural thing in the mouth, some relate it to forms of rock or minerals that have no natural smell or taste, but many relate it to mineral salts that they take for indigestion or after a heavy night's drinking.
But if you look at the fine print on your mineral salts packet you will find that some form of citric acid is used as flavouring. So I wonder if the fine seam of citrus that is inherent in many of the wines described as having minerality, is what the writer relates to the austere citrussy flavour of mineral salts.
With 'funky, 'mealy' and 'mineral' removed from the vocabulary, just how do I describe the Dog Point Section 94 2004.
Dog Point Section 94 2004, made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc, is light yellow gold in colour with complex savoury aromas derived from wild yeasts and a creamy, nutty, wild-yeast influenced tropical fruit flavour with a fine seam of citrus that is reminiscent of grapefruit zest and lime blossom. It's a rich, mouthfilling style with a firm backbone and a fruit sweeteness to the lasting finish. This is a wine with texture, richness, a warming mouthfeel and a persistence to the aftertaste.
The winemaker is James Healy, the person who developed this distinctive, wild yeast, barrel-fermented, oak-aged style during his tenure at Cloudy Bay Vineyard. He made Cloudy Bay Te Koko a unique expression of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and I reviewed a mini-vertical of the wine a couple of years ago.
Click here to read those reviews.
Now he's applied the method to his own baby from Dog Point Vineyard.
Section 94 is a specific area of the vineyard, the name dating back to an early survey of Marlborough. It's part of the vineyard that former Cloudy Bay viticulturist Ivan Sutherland planted in 1979.
While grapes are still supplied to Cloudy Bay, Dogpoint Vineyard partners Ivan and James are producing approximately 18,000 cases of wine, comprising of the Section 94 oak-aged Sauvignon Blanc (1200-1300 cases), a stainless steel fermented Sauvignon Blanc, a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir.
Dog Point Section 94 2004 carries 13% alcohol by volume with total acidity of 7.2 grams per litre and residual sugar of 2.3 grams per litre. It spent 18 months in French oak barrels before bottling, and is sealed with a cork. Expect to pay about $33 a bottle in New Zealand.
It's available overseas too. Find out more from the Dog Point Vineyard website.
© Sue Courtney
19 March 2006