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This Survey Says That No One Really Understands What Sommeliers Are Talking About

A new survey of 2,000 drinkers has compiled a list of the top ten wine terms people have the most trouble understanding, with “herbaceous” and “terroir” coming out on top.
Phoebe Hurst
London, GB
Photo via Flickr user Image Catalog

Is there a more worrisome figure than the looming sommelier with a leather-bound wine list? Or that old school friend who considers herself "a bit of a wine snob" now?

With their flavour profiles and summers spent in Tuscan vineyards, they can spot your underdeveloped palate a mile off. They know that the phrase "mouth feel" makes you giggle like a schoolchild. They can sense how many glasses of cornershop plonk you merrily put away on a Friday night.


What's worse is the weird language they suddenly slip into when discussing a perfectly innocuous bottle of Merlot. Since when was "bouquet" used to describe anything other than flowers? Do I really have to "quaff" that glass of riesling? Can't I just drink it?

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You're probably not the only one puzzled by tasting notes and wine lexicology. According to a new survey commissioned by online wine service taste4, 25 percent of people find shopping for wine an intimidating experience and 45 percent tend to stick to the same trusty Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay when choosing a bottle.

Questioning 2,000 wine drinkers, the survey also compiled a list of the top ten wine terms people have the most trouble understanding.

It makes for a pretty impenetrable read, with "vegetal," "hollow," and "herbaceous" taking the top three slots. Researchers found that less than 5 percent of people would use these terms to talk about wine—not surprising when they all sound like words better suited to describing your slimy ex-boyfriend/gran's flowerbeds.

Not far behind was "terroir," with 7 percent believing the word referred to a "terrible aftertaste" and 6 percent a mass-produced wine that damages the market (props to those guys for the creative thinking). Just 23 percent of people correctly identified terroir as the natural environment in which a wine is produced. Duh.

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Also making the rogue's dictionary were "nose," "legs," and "tart" which—kinda understandably—11 percent of those surveyed thought referred to "cheap, brash wine unsuitable for respectable company."

According to Tom Laithwaite of taste4, the confusion surrounding such wine terminology is all down to the industry's refusal to adapt. He said: "The way we drink wine has become more casual, informal, and leisurely, but the language wrapped around it hasn't moved with the times. People want to learn more about wine and discover new tastes without being confused or awkward when buying it or talking about it with their friends."

Less confused? Banning the use of the word "legs" when describing objects without limbs might be a good place to start.