The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

On Sexy Wines

Posted on | January 14, 2011 | Written by Janice Cable | 2 Comments

Yesterday, wine writer Meg Houston Maker tweeted, “Wine writers who compare a wine to sex are probably having the wrong kind of sex.” This tweet was pretty popular among the wine Twitter world; it was retweeted, or replicated in other people’s Twitter streams, at least eighteen times. Apparently, a lot of people agree. I, however, do not.

My disagreement stems from a couple different places. First, I take umbrage at the concept implicit in Ms Maker’s tweet that there are two kinds of sex: the wrong kind (the kind being enjoyed by wine lovers who do liken wine to sex) and the right kind (the kind being enjoyed by everyone else). However, I realize I might just be splitting hairs in that umbrage. It’s likely that what Ms Maker actually meant was “good” and “bad,” and presumably those of us who understand wine in sexual terms are simply missing out. The point being, I suppose, that sex is so much better than wine that if we understand wine in terms of sex, our sexual experiences are sad at best, bad at worst, and we are to be pitied.

Certainly, were I to strip the two experiences of drinking wine and making love of all hyperbole and render them in cold, hard, purely literal cognitive terms, there’s no question that having sex is often superlative to drinking wine. I have, as most consenting adults will admit to having had themselves, had both good and bad sex. I have also had both good and bad wine. At least bad wine is less memorable. So while good sex is to my mind unquestionably better than even the most amazing wine, bad wine is absolutely preferable to bad sex. Which probably says a lot more about the importance of sex to the human psyche than it says about wine.

And this, actually, is what’s really important about the discussion of sex and wine. Ms Maker is not alone—in my travels of wine writing, I recall stumbling across a few blog posts that denigrate the use of erotic terms like “sexy,” “seductive” and “racy” in wine descriptions. Unfortunately, despite searching, I can’t find them, but there seems to be a movement afoot that descries unabashedly sensual terms when applied to wine. From what I can tell, people who dislike this kind of metaphorical language also often dislike it when wine writers use other figurative analogies—likening, for example, wines to specific people, places and experiences. I suspect these are people who find it most helpful when wine writers provide a clear analogical list of tastes, flavors and aromatics. (Ms Maker’s own wine reviews seem to hew closely to this style, for example.)

People who are familiar with my own writing for IWM know that I take my cue from our founder, Sergio Esposito, a man who is not shy about suggesting a wine is like a hug from a woman, a bolt of sunshine in the gut, a song by Ella Fitzgerald, or a rocket ship. He has no compunction calling a wine sexy or discussing the way it seduces a drinker. The problem, which I’ve written about before, is that when you’re trying to render a purely sensual experience in words, things get lost. The distance between flesh and reason is never greater than when you need to express sensation. And that, really, is one of the reasons why we rely on analogy, metaphor and figurative language. Wine might taste like berries in Balsamic vinegar or feel like a summer day in the park with your boyfriend; either way it’s a metaphor.

In his wine-writing book, A Hedonists in the Cellar, Jay McInerney says, “Wine is as serious or as frivolous as we choose to make it. Like sex, it has far too often been shrouded in mystery, hemmed in by taboo, obfuscated by technical blather, and assailed by puritans, although its enjoyment is, or should be, simple, accessible, and entertaining.” In this sentiment, McInerney deftly sums up my belief about wine writing: it should be interesting, pleasurable, and enlightening. Like sex. Or drinking. You know, activities we do best, most fruitfully, and most joyously, with people we care about.


2 Responses to “On Sexy Wines”

  1. Christy Canterbury
    January 14th, 2011 @ 7:15 pm

    Agree whole-heartedly that tasting notes can’t fully communicate wine, especially when its aim is to communicate experience. When training at Smith & Wollensky & Culinary Concepts by Jean-Georges, I always encouraged staff to tell stories. That almost always draws a connection to the wine if the nuts & bolts tasting description can’t. Besides, if you say “strawberries” and I don’t like them or I’m allergic to them or what have you…I’m already disconnecting with you on a wine I might love. Salute!

  2. Janice Cable
    January 18th, 2011 @ 2:18 pm

    Oh, good point, Christy. I never even thought about how people might forego wine described by taste associations they don’t like. Much thanks.

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