Wine: a fruity description too far?

2 March 2012

A couple of weeks ago, a link was passed around on Twitter to a random wine review generator that came up with spoof descriptions such as "narcotic strawberry midtones with a grimy espresso aroma" and a "sadistic chocolate finish with raucous flouride elements". It's easy to laugh, but are the descriptions wine writers use actually that much more helpful? According to wine research company, it turns out few words used to describe wine, particularly comparisons to individual fruits, mean much to the average wine buyer. We wine writers may think gooseberry is an apt description for the flavours in a New Zealand sauvignon blanc, but a lot of consumers wouldn't get gooseberry, or even like gooseberries at all.

Instead, words that are favoured by consumers include light, crisp and refreshing for whites, and smooth, fruity and full-bodied for reds. But since so many wines fall into those categories, how do you then distinguish between them?

Let's try with a very reasonably priced, if unpronounceable, Hungarian wine I tried last week called Hilltop Cserszegi Füszeres 2011 (£5.25, The Wine Society), a cross of irsai oliver and gewürztraminer. I found it intensely citrussy (lemon and grapefruit peel on the nose, fresh lemon juice on the palate), but since citrus doesn't apparently resonate much with the public, let's just say it's fresh and zesty, with a flowery twist, and should go well with Chinese seafood and veg dishes. And it's only 11% abv.

Kaiken Malbec Bonarda Limited Selection 2009 (£9.99, or £7.49 if you buy two or more bottles, Majestic; 14.5% abv), a lush, Argentine red made by a Chilean winemaker, comes into the smooth, full-bodied category (though I would add that it's plummy). But it might be more useful to let you know how it's pronounced – ky-ken – that it's named after a goose that migrates over the Andes, and that it would be a cracking with steak.

Or, if you're a fan of lighter, fruity reds, try The Crater Rim 2010 Pinot Noir (£12.95, Lea & Sandeman; 14% abv), from the cool-climate Canterbury region of New Zealand, which is as good a pinot noir as I've tasted for the price. It has lovely, pure fruit (I might have mentioned red berries), but isn't excessively jammy. A dead ringer for seared tuna or duck.

So what do you reckon? Fruity descriptions, or steer clear of the fruit? I still think specific fruits have their place, but tell me what you think, either by commenting online or by emailing

Photographs: Full Stop Photography © Guardian News and Media 2012

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