Loosely Translated

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When I was in high school, I signed up to be a Rotary Exchange Student and ended up going to The Netherlands.  I say “ended up” because originally I was supposed to go to Italy.  Alas, that trip was cancelled 6 weeks before I was scheduled to leave (long story, but I would like to state for the record that it had NOTHING to do with me–Scouts honor….and before you ask, yes I was a Girl Scout, thankyouverymuch–for a whole year!).  In hindsight, it was probably for the best that I didn’t go to Italy, as I don’t think I would have moved back.  But that is just a huge sidebar that doesn’t actually have anything to do with this post other than to lament at how close I was to moving to Italy.

When I arrived in the Netherlands, I was sent to a two-week crash course Dutch camp where I lost my voice learning a lot of useful phrases like “ik weet het niet” (I don’t know), which is exceptionally useful when asked random questions like (on the first day of school) “Are you new here?”  As the year progressed, my Dutch became much more fluent and I picked up many colorful phrases and colloquialisms.  I think my favorite is “helaas, pindakaas” just because it’s just fun to say. Loosely translated, it means alas or c’est la vie (if you want to be fancy), but literally translated it means “oh well, peanut cheese” (although the Dutch would argue that pindakaas is peanut butter, but I SAY that if pinda=peanut and kaas=cheese, then pindakaas is peanut cheese).

I know what you’re thinking “why is she even telling me this?”  Well, thank you for asking.  It is because this month’s Wine Writing Challege (MWWC #32) is TRANSLATION, as selected by last month’s winner Nesli of Wi.Nes.  And to me, nothing says “translation” quite like fumbling through learning a language while living in another country for a year.


Which brings me wine…because doesn’t everything?!?  The world of wine easily has its own language and when you are new to wine, navigating it is a lot like fumbling through learning a language while living in another country.  This extends beyond just the varietals that are a mouthful to say [ahem, gewürztraminer].  There is also the methodology and just try saying oenology after a bottle or two!   But I think that it is the descriptors that can leave people a little lost in translation, if you will.

I believe this is mainly because taste is subjective and how I describe something may not be how you describe something.  For example, if you ask me to describe the 1997 Sister Creek Cabernet Blend, I would say that it was oaky, medium-to-full bodied, with a lingering cherry finish.  My BFF would say it was so dry it knitted her tongue a sweater.  Incidentally, I think this became her go-to descriptor to whether or not I would like a wine:  will it knit your tongue a sweater? Yes?  Then Sherry will love it!

Some descriptors are easy to translate: red. white. rosè. blush. fruity. sweet. vanilla. cherry.

Others might require a bit of translating/clarification, especially to those who are new to the language of wine, like the following (while I didn’t look them up, I’m sure my descriptions are fairly accurate):

  • Nose smell
  • Finish aftertaste
  • Vintner winemaker
  • Dry leaving your mouth feeling like you drank sandpaper
  • Oaky the taste of drinking tree bark
  • Tobacco tastes like smoking a cigarette, but without the gross chemicals–just the tasty wine ones!
  • Buttery as if a stick of butter was added.  Not the fake movie theatre butter, but the good stuff.  
  • Dirt drinking freshly tilled earth, but in a good way of course
  • Jammy lots of fruit flavor, like you just got smacked with a fruit pie….or jam. That’s probably a better analogy.
  • Full-bodied like a painting by Rubens
  • Earthy see Dirt.
  • Chewy you’ll need a knife and fork to drink these wines
  • Floral yes, like flowers
  • Spicy usually of the pepper variety–black pepper, bell pepper, and if you’re really want to sound snobby, white pepper (just kidding….sort of)

And then there are those extra fun descriptors that make some wine drinkers question if they actually want to drink the wine in their glass.  You know those descriptors that make you ask (hopefully to yourself and not out loud to the vintner): WTF did you put in this?!?!?!  Don’t worry, the alcohol kills all the germs! Again, I didn’t look up these exact definitions, but I’m sure they are close.

  • Leather smells like you bought a really expensive handbag, but is much tastier
  • Smoky think campfire and that annoying smoke that blows in your face regardless of where you stand
  • Knit Your Mouth A Sweater see Dry and add “very, very, very” in front of it
  • Petrol yes, like gas–so no smoking and turn off your car engine before consuming
  • Pencil Shavings don’t panic…I’m quite sure no pencils were harmed in the making of these wines
  • Wet Dog just like in real life, this is never a good descriptor and should be dumped down the drain (the wine, not the dog).  DO NOT COOK with it (the wine–and, well, also the dog). No one wants “wet dog” food–except maybe the dog.
  • Forest Floor tastes just like you are hiking in the Pacific Northwest, but without hiking or the need to travel to the Pacific Northwest
  • Botrytis a mold that smells a bit dusty and like you’re about to spend a lot of money

Finally–my personal favorite descriptor–even though I try to avoid wines with this description because they always makes me simultaneously think “how do you know what that tastes like?” and “this is why I prefer reds!”

  • Cat Pee yeah, you read that correctly. usually associated with Sauvignon Blancs Tasting Note: try to refrain from asking the vintner if it was added–chances are you don’t really want to know.

Of course, the best way to learn is to drink taste a lot.  It definitely makes translating a lot more fun*.


Cheers!

PS–Thanks to my wino friends who offered up the descriptions they use most frequently. And if I didn’t text you for that information, it’s not that I don’t love you–it’s just that I don’t think you drink enough wine.

*this easily applies to both wine and languages.



Have Wine? Will Travel!

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This month’s wine writing challenge is TRAVEL, as selected by last month’s winner: the hilarious and enlightening Loie of Cheap Wine Curious.

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Of course, my first thought was to write about Napa, the first place I traveled for wine–but then I remembered I’ve already written about my trip and since I haven’t had the chance to go back, there’s nothing new to report.

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Then I thought about allllllll the places in France and Italy I passed through many, many moons (aka decades) ago that I’d love to go back and visit now that I have a true appreciation for the beauty and intricacies of champagnes and burgundies and amarones (ohmy!)–but then I realized that this post may never end.

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So then I thought about all the amazing Texas Hill Country wineries around where I grew up, which seemed apropos since I’m traveling (see what I did there?) down there at the end of the week–but then I realized that I should wait and do a bit of exploring of all the new wineries that have popped up since the last time I visited.

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Then I thought about cleverly describing how going to the wine store is like traveling around the world–but about the same moment that idea popped into my head, so did another:

Hawaiian Mead.

I know, I know you’re probably thinking “no, no…go back to writing about the wine store/traveling the world idea!”  But nope!  Hang on to your hats, we’re traveling to Hawaii!

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If you know me in real life or follow me on InstagramTwitter, or Facebook (shameless plug!), you will know that last September I went to Hawaii with some amazing friends.  While on the stunningly picturesque island of Kauai, we stumbled across the Koloa Rum Company.  By stumble, I mean April quickly learned she was traveling with lushes people who enjoyed sampling local adult beverages and she was trying to keep us appeased.

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But of course, this writing challenge is about wine, not rum (although THAT would be awesome!).  Having had a great time at Koloa, we (aka April, who was quicker with her google-searching fingers since she was giving away her rum samples) looked for other local places that made adult beverages.

While on the Big Island we visited the Kona Brewing Company, and so despite having not seen a grape growing anywhere in Hawaii’s lush and volcanic landscape, we were hopeful that we could find a winery.

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Alas, no grape winery…but BINGO! we found Nani Moon Meadery!  Now I will confess that I’ve never been a huge fan of mead, however, when in Rome…

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Nani Moon is in the back of a shopping center in Kapa’a.  We pull up, walk in, and, well, started tasting!  It seemed pointless not to try the full line-up, so we did.

For those of you out there who are unaware, mead is wine (although it can also be beer) made from honey instead of grapes.  It’s been around since…forever (and I’m pretty sure that’s an accurate timeframe!).  Much more sustainable, when you’re smack dab in the middle of the Pacific ocean and you have access to local apiaries.

As Stephanie (the owner) took us through each wine, she paired it with an appropriate snack and talked about where she sourced the honey (they weren’t all the same!).  I think my favorite was the Laka’s Nectar, which was the driest and most crisp of the wines.  While a little too sweet for me, the Cacao Moon was a big hit–understandable, given its chocolate undertones and velvety chocolate finish.  Stephanie definitely got bonus points for her Deviant Beehavior, which packs a kick as it is not only made from honey, but also chili!

We finished the tasting with some of the local honeys that she used, which was great–not only because they were delicious, but because you could really taste how much the nuances in the honey affected the taste of the wine.

If you’re interested in learning more, visiting, or throwing caution to the wind and just buying a bottle, contact Stephanie and tell her what you like.  I’m quite confident she will find you something you’ll truly enjoy and give you suggestions on pairings to help you enjoy it more!  She even has a cocktail section that encourages you to “bee inspired and mix it up!”

It was a great way to spend a couple of hours–and I think that if you find yourself smack dab in the middle of the Pacific on a tiny island named Kauai, you should go visit Stephanie and try her meads.  I’m not going to say that meads are now my favorite type of wine, but I did walk away with a better appreciation for just how versatile a wine made from honey can be.  And after all, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Aloha!