Riders of the Purple Prose

I plead guilty to terminal naiveté. I keep thinking that wine writing is getting better, that the now decades-old campaign to de-mystify wine drinking and de-snobbify wine writing is actually taking hold. And then I read something like what follows, appearing originally in a prestigious wine review publication and forwarded to me by an appalled colleague and friend:

Featured New Arrival
Jacques Lassaigne Millesime Brut Nature 2006 750ML ($119.95) $99 special
Wine Advocate 93 points. “Sourced from Le Cotet, La Grande Cote and Les Paluets – which last-named is southeast-facing and arguably the top site in Montgueux, opines Lassaigne – his 2006 Brut Nature is intriguingly and alluringly scented with fresh lemon and apricot, peony and narcissus, rowan and pistachio, along with sea breeze intimations and a pungency of struck flint. Startlingly silken and creamy, yet focused and vibrantly juicy, this adds a sort of shimmering, crystalline sense of stoniness to an almost kaleidoscopically interactive finish. It ought to merit following for 6-8 years. Incidentally, Lassaigne believes that a purer expression of vintage character will always be achieved by maturing this cuvee in tank.” DS

There’s more: It goes on from here, but I already don’t know where to start on this stylistic and logical atrocity. Any teacher of Freshman English would cut it to ribbons for verbosity, pomposity, and redundancy, not to mention near-fatal infatuation with adverbs. “Intriguingly and alluringly”? What’s the difference, pray tell? Startlingly, vibrantly, kaleidoscopically? A light show for sure. This Champagne is credited with smelling of six not particularly compatible floral and vegetal scents, plus sea breeze (“intimations” thereof) and “struck flint” – struck, mind you, not merely inert – (“a pungency” thereof). Those last two amount to Manzanilla plus Chablis, while the former six are a whole farmer’s market. And we haven’t even gotten to what the wine tastes like. Can anyone tell me what a “kaleidoscopically interactive finish” means, much less tastes like? And what, please, is the “this” that adds the “sort of shimmering, crystalline sense of stoniness” to that finish?

You see why I inveigh so often about the uselessness of tasting notes? The only thing a farrago like this wants to accomplish is establish the exquisite sensitivity of the writer’s palate – that, and make every reader who has never perceived any of those components in a wine feel hopelessly inadequate and desperately in need of expert guidance. Members of the jury, we seem to have made no progress at all from the days when gentlemen reviewers (there were all gentlemen back then) would solemnly tell us that wine A reminded them of Mozart, while wine B suggested Beethoven.

Until consumers work up their gumption to denounce such purple prose for the impressionistic twaddle it is, we seem to be fated to endure it. I don’t think what Truman Capote said — “That’s not writing, it’s typing” — was true of Jack Kerouac’s prose, but I sure think it fits here. It appalls me to think that subscribers to any publication shell out good money to be so swanked, but apparently the con works. As one of P.T. Barnum’s critics remarked, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

And, by the way, this inconceivably fabulous bottle is available elsewhere for $20 less than the “special” price quoted above.



11 Responses to “Riders of the Purple Prose”

  1. Dennis Mitchell Says:

    I’d nominate this bit of creative writing for a bunch of sick descriptors:

    “In the glass: Ramon Bilbao Albarino is a bright fine citrine-yellow color with a star-bright core going out into a faint yellow to glass-clear meniscus (rim definition) and medium-high viscosity.

    On the nose: The aromatics of this wine is like nothing else in the world of white wines. It is intense and pungent with crushed Japanese gooseberries, also known as physalis, then pear sparkler, apple cider, pomelo fruit segments, water chestnuts, Key lime pie made with kaffir limes, tangerine rind and oodles of fresh minerality. It’s just a beautifully scented wine with immense freshness emanating from the glass.

    On the palate: This explosively delicious white wine coats the palate with a plethora of interesting white fruit characteristics, including, but not limited to, citrus rind, lemon drops, Granny Smith apples, white peach skins, apricot jam, honeysuckle and zesty minerals, coming through because the wine has no oak. The balance and the verve of this wine clearly defies its classification, and the finish is absolutely lovely and sharp as a tack.”

  2. Linda Says:

    I was your student 40 years ago and remember your beautifully clear and insightful lectures and your dislike of pretension. I’m glad that you are still campaigning against people who have no respect for the English language.

  3. Jennifer Says:

    I’m convinced that the quoted paragraph has to be a put-on, a satire of the worst of wine writing. The author could not have been serious . . .?!

  4. Jonathan Levine Says:

    Great piece Tom or should I say that your eloquent elequency has reached Alpinian heights

  5. Tablewine Says:

    Euphuism, or what my dad would call “verbal onanism,” at its worst. Sounds like Parker on steroids.

  6. Charles Scicolone Says:

    Ciao Tom, I agree, way over the top!

  7. John Wion Says:


  8. Wine Curmudgeon Says:

    Great minds think alike — bit.ly/1Ne9nnQ

    We still have a long way to go to get wine writing in English.

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