THERE IS certainly no lack of descriptive words to use in wine talk, from simple and precise to exotic and fanciful.Nevertheless, the result is too often mumbo-jumbo. That is fine for those in their own little world of grape nuts. But with the country now full of wine enthusiasts who know little yet are eager to learn, the communication gap is particularly sad.
"What we want," one observer said, "is a sort of Esperanto. It should be small and simple enough to be quickly learned, precise enough to communicate, yet large enough so that all important ideas could be easily and well described."
The accompanying chart is one attempt at a solution.The principal characteristics of a wine that might feature in non-professional conversation: Type, color, age, bouquet (over "aroma" or the slang term "nose"), body, flavor and after-taste in the order they would normally be considered.
The next move was to collect words used in speaking or writing about wine, then associate each one with one of the seven characteristics. Redundancies and technical terms were discarded.
Types boil down to three non-controversial words: Still, crackling and sparkling , all of them easily identified in the mouth. For color, red, white and even a novice may find it easy to be more precise, a few variants have been included in parenthesis.
For a professional, "age" has meaning at the begining of a tasting since it bears on what to expect. But for the inexperienced, the vintage date will have little significance before tasting. At that point, youthfulness may be recognized with some certainty. But other distinctions come harder, because the life-span of a wine depends a lot on grape type, which can vary from source to source and harvest to harvest. A wine "old" in years may actually be much younger in character than of another of recent vintage.
Next come the four words to describe the more controversial characteristics: bouquet, body, flavor and after-taste.All four can be made more wxplicit with an indication of intensity. Hence seven new words, raising the total of 16.
Finally, on the right of the intensity column is a spectrum of general personality choices associated with any degree of intensity. Taken together, a total of 28 everyday words should provide a well-organized word picture of most wines. Qualifying the descriptions with words from the "specific personality" column will produce a more precise picture. Of course, there will always be more subjective judgments, some of which may prove quite controversial.
The last grouping, "fun words," will probably do more to impress (or confuse) than to communicate. They can produce descriptions like: "An evocative little bottle with a vestige of virginal shyness, which may have been due to neurosis, but was definitely not relaxed."
Two warnings: First, don't be surprised at a sharp contrast between bouquet and flavor. On one jury there was a Beaujolas with such a horrendous bouquet my colleagues refused to let me near it. But it turned out to be as pleasant in the mouth as any in the group of 30.
Second, even recognized authorities can be pretty slipshod when tossing off wine descriptions. For instance here, in rapid succession, is what one authority throws at his hapless readers to identify wine from four different areas: "no. 1 - wine that is in general fine, soft, velvety, bright and lively, but not too overpowering and with delicate shades of taste. No. 2 - full bodied, generous, fragrant and fruity. No. 3 - big and full with mellowness, breeding and fine aroma. And No. 4 - exceptional finesse, softness and elegance with a fragrant bouquet."
Another writer's prose is more accurate: "Golden, medium to full bodied, rich flavor and flowery bouquet, and ranges from dry to sweet."
Logically, the words should follow the sequence in which they would normally come to mind when tasting a wine: "Golden color with flowery bouquet, medium to full body with a rich flavor, varying from dry to sweet." In this form, or in the form suggested by the chart, almost anyone should quickly get a feel for the wine being described. CAPTION: Chart, A Glossary of Wine Terms, By Alice Kresse - The Washington Post