The Language of Wine

By Thomas H. George
Founder, Bacchus & Books

Wine, like many subjects, has its own terminology, vernacular, and technical jargon. To wit, terms such as: “batonnage, foudre, lees, and Geneva Double Curtain” must seem positively bizarre and unfathomable to the uninitiated.

However, wine doesn’t have to be intimidating. All it requires is a little bit of curiosity on the part of the wine drinker and a person who is fluent in the language of wine. In my case, it is as a wine educator and owner of a wine shop.

I see my role in the wine industry as a passionate and enthusiastic educator with a simple philosophy:

  • Wine is about pleasure and should not be intimidating.
  • There is no room for arrogance or pretense.
  • Excellent wine should be accessible by all and it need not be expensive.
  • With greater knowledge comes greater enjoyment.

People these days talk a lot about food and wine pairings. Understandably so, because the world of wine offers immense versatility. There is a wine for every dish and every occasion.

However, my favorite type of pairing is that of pairing people and wines. This is the process of discerning which wines or styles a person enjoys and extrapolating from this information which other wines they will most likely enjoy. I find this to be perhaps the most enjoyable and satisfying experience in my line of work.

If a client comes to me and says, “you know, I really love big Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa Valley”.  Translated into Wine language, this means that my client really enjoys wine that has been made from grapes grown in a warm to hot climate, picked at the very peak of ripeness, even slightly overripe, and that features pronounced aromas and flavors of oak, intense black fruit and spice notes, and often, but not always, (a naughty little winemaker secret) just the merest hint of sweetness, which we like to call residual sugar (aka “R.S.” in Wine language). These wines do not taste sweet per se, but the R.S. helps to emphasize the ripeness of the fruit and gives even more body to the wine.

Another example might be “I love Chablis”.  The English to Wine translation would be along the lines of: I love Chardonnay that has aromas and crisp flavors of citrus and apple, a taut mineral profile, high acidity that is made and/or aged in stainless steel and/or neutral oak barrels (because these techniques impart neither oak flavors nor aromas).

As these examples show, there is a language of wine that a specialist uses to interpret the desires of the client to match the most suitable wine to their preferences. It therefore stands to reason that the more fluent a wine educator or purveyor is in the language of wine, the more effectively they can match a client with the wines that will make them happiest. At Bacchus & Books this is what we teach in our Wine School and this is what we offer at our Wine Shop. Everything we do comes back to education because that is how we can add significant value for them and maximize their enjoyment.

I know I have done my job when I hear comments such as, “Thomas, I really loved the last wine you recommended for me. Do you have any other wines you think I would like?”. Another phrase I never get tired of hearing is, “Thomas, just choose whichever wine you think I would like; I trust your judgment.” This last comment is the ultimate form of praise in my line of work and never fails to make my day.

Those of us in the wine world spend our careers striving to master the language of wine, but how we use it effectively is what matters most to me. The end result of making a client happy and excited about trying a new wine makes the dedication to my craft meaningful. That’s reward enough. To me, this is the most satisfying form of wine pairing.

 

Thomas H. George is the Founder of Bacchus & Books. Thomas grew up in London, England and Asheville, North Carolina. He studied in France for a year in high school and during university he spent a semester at the Institute of Political Science (Sciences-Po.) in Lyon. While studying in France, Thomas visited Burgundy with his family and experienced the beautiful wines of Olivier Leflaive. This trip and Kermit Lynch’s book, Adventures on the Wine Route, provided the inspiration to dedicate himself to the world of wine.

Thomas started his wine career in Napa Valley, working for Round Pond Estate and Failla Wines, then Whitehaven Wines in Marlborough, New Zealand before fulfilling a lifelong dream of settling in Charleston. He created Bacchus & Books to be a unique gift to this special city.

Thomas holds the Level 4 Diploma, the highest qualification offered by the renowned Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET). He is also a WSET Educator and a Certified Wine Educator (The Society of Wine Educators). He is a graduate of The Taft School and The University of Virginia.