Vinonsense (or ‘Ugly Wine Words’): Part Two

Read Part One HERE


Consultants of swing?

Bespoke Service, or “service” as it should be called, is offered by consultants to differentiate their efforts from those of others. It implies that the elevated service in question is personal (as opposed to??) and specifically tailored to the requirements of the client (as opposed to??).

Which leads us inexorably to wine consultants.


Digression concerning wine consultants…

A consultant, in theory, is an individual who possesses special knowledge or skills and provides that expertise to a client for a fee. Consultants help all sorts of businesses, find and implement solutions to a wide variety of problems, including those related to business start-up, marketing, manufacturing, strategy, organization structure, environmental compliance, health and safety, technology, and communications. In the restaurant trade wine consultants tend to compile wine lists, put together and instigate training programmes and occasionally assist in operational matters. They can inject a dose of healthy realism into what are essentially vanity projects and guide the restaurateurs through the tricky early stages of opening a business. Good wine consultants are constantly on the job; they have the restless desire to improve the offering. They take ownership of the project and they bequeath knowledge and passion.

Training is not simply about giving tools. What use are manuals and technical notes unless the members of staff actually learn how to taste and enjoy wine and feel comfortable talking about it? A consultant also exists to create a dynamic wine culture (another buzz term). Senior managers and head chefs must engage in the process and set a clear example, for unless the training is morally and practically supported by the restaurant itself, it will inevitably lack follow through and the educational programme will wither and die.

Certain restaurateurs will solicit advice and then reject it for the status quo. Whilst this is their prerogative, consultancy is pointless unless you have a notion what you want the consultant to achieve; those restaurateurs who change their mind according to a passing whim or the last opinion they have heard undermine the very rationale of hiring a consultant.

Whilst there are plenty of good reasons for engaging a wine consultant there are just as many bad ones. A good consultant will save a restaurant money in the long term by creating the milieu in which better wine is sold, which in turn rewards customers and gives them a better time and makes for a more vibrant environment for staff to work in.  For some restaurateurs, however, the notion of consultancy confers a spurious glamour to a project. It is like associating a restaurant with a chef who has never actually cooked (nor will cook) in the kitchen or done anything more than sign off on a menu. It is never who you hire that matters, but what they do and what you allow them to achieve.

One of the main roles of a consultant is to act as a gatekeeper…


Blessèd are the gatekeepers…

There are numerous references to gatekeepers in the bible, from those who protected real gates of real cities to those who guarded the spiritual gates of heaven.  Back on the third rock from the sun “gatekeeper” has become a fallen-arch cod-business term referring to the one who screens your calls, who doesn’t return your e-mails and deprecates contact until it suits them. This gatekeeper is the custodian of the heavy padlock and key. When the gate is eventually opened it is generally with a resistant squeak ensuring the path through the gate is blocked to all but the chosen few. Some gatekeepers are active buyers (in modern parlance they would be the “enablers”) rather than obstructive guardians and these enlightened souls open their portals to more-or-less continuous traffic.

The Beverage Report

The ungainly word beverage leads by extension to the still-ungainlier beverage managers. See also gatekeepers. Those who are unable to pierce the adamantine defence of aforementioned managers are said to suffer from Bev-rage. The levelling down of all wine to the base status of beverage to generate gross profit margin means that wine has cost rather than value and robs the distinction between the commercial product and the artisan creation.

Wine Margin Optimiser is a new one on me, being a creepy term for a consultant who takes control wine lists and puts the squeeze on the suppliers to get lower prices. Those suppliers who don’t play the game are terminated with extreme prejudice. As for the appearance of the phrase operating profit uplift in wine trade magazines, that is ample reason to close them down.

Meet the Category Captain 



Not to be confused with a brand ambassador


 But all belong to…

The Sultan of Slanguage


The Wine Industry…

Is a technically productive enterprise. As it grows it feeds off other things. Industrial farming in, industrial winemaking out. The collective wine industry is rooted in a world of commercial certainties; it values (the perception of) inalienable wine truths, product consistency, quantifiable assessment and journalistic imprimatur. It views wine as a product effectively manufactured for a commercial purpose, whether be sold at the most basic level or traded for gain in more rarefied circles. Which leads us to…

…Product for a purpose

A natural wine will allow that two bottles of the same wine may not taste exactly the same, a fearful concept in a world dedicated to homogenous products. Yet since we are content to recognise the possibility of mutability within ourselves why may we not assess wine in the same way? And whilst we would obviously not desire to drink anything unpleasant, nor should we flatten our expectations to look for wines that conform solely to specific flavour profiles (ugly expression) An obscure wine is one where identity and originality are sacrificed in favour of creating a product to appeal to a perceived common goal; product for a purpose, if you like. Obscurity thus arises when wine becomes a means to a commercial end and is thus transformed by marketing legerdemain into something greater than the sum of its inconsiderable parts. The real wine always has a simple tale to tell, the faux-wine, be it cheap, middling or expensive, owes its commercial life to a marketing myth.

If you are opening a restaurant or starting a company you might wish to…

… Create a team – which is the same as hiring people to work together but with solemn overtones of an immaculate conception. Projects have to be commissioned, naturally. Business loves to sound important, so opening a restaurant, for example, is must painting the Sistine Chapel. It is always essential to innovate for, although there is nothing new under the sun, every project is as unique as a snowflake.

Churn rate, when applied to a customer base, refers to the proportion of contractual customers or subscribers who leave a supplier during a given time period. It is a possible indicator of customer dissatisfaction, cheaper and/or better offers from the competition, more successful sales and/or marketing by the competition, or reasons having to do with the customer life cycle. You can reactivate churned customers, which is reassuring. There is also something called buyer churn which is considerably less creamy than butter churn. Not be confused with restaurant churnover.

Bottle Schlock…

You can’t spell iconic without I con…

An icon is a religious work of art, an image or a symbol. It is also the most vapid single piece of jargon in the wine lexicon.

Some definitions.

Icon Wine 1 – A little-bread-and-a-lot-of-circuses-wine. Oenological tropes are used to layer on theoretically-desirable flavours and textures (by means of 100% new oak, micro-oxygenation, spinning cones and various techniques of tannin management) in order to give a more seemly cut to the emperor’s exceedingly bulky new raiment. As mentioned, new oak is often lavishly employed– its presence serves to make the wines more expansive (possibly), by definition, certainly more expensive, conferring pseudo-gravitas in spades to the whole production. Made by, and made for, extracto-philiacs who don’t mind when the maquillage masks the beauty of the terroir and prefer to put their money where the mouthfeel is. Also as in “icon-not afford to drink these wines” and “icon-not ever envisage wanting to do so”.

Icon Wine 2 – A wine that acquires its elevated status not through pure aesthetic appreciation but via a coefficient taking account of cost, potential, aura… The wine is thus set apart, trading on bubble reputation and price. Even the word icon is objectionable – it sets the wine up as a religious curio, its value index-linked to its value, so to speak. On the few happy occasions when I have been privileged to be in the same room genuflecting to the icon wine, I strike my awe, duly suspend my critical judgement, and lubricate my tongue with tiny artificial taste buds in the shape of dollar signs. It doesn’t matter in the least whether the wine looks and tastes like treacle or whether the semblance of fruit peeking out humbly through the interstices between the bars of the noble oak prison that houses it will never see the light of glass.

A spoofy £300 icon wine may exhaust my palate and patience after a single glass. Where’s the value in that – other than I may dine off my chronic iconic disappointment for years to come? The value of the wine is not the label, nor the Parker points, nor the money that has been spent on marketing the estate, but rather the love, care and attention that has been poured into the wine from tending the vines to nurturing the wine through its fermentation.


Flagship wine and even flagship wine grapes are further examples of rhetorical tropes that creep into the language. The meaning has moved away from the lead ship in a flotilla and now serves to mean a wine of any certain reputation. Each estate will want to have a flagship wine or to be associated with a particular grape, which suggests that reputation once acquired is set in stone forever. Time, effort and money are invested in building the image of a single wine – one wine to rule them all…

Mots pressés, mots sensés,
mots qui disent la vérité, mots maudits, mots mentis,
mots qui manquent le fruit d’esprit

–Wordy Rappinghood, The Tom-Tom Club

Smooth operators…

Jargon-mongers love hard-sounding words which seem to offer reassurance complex endeavours are being undertaken. People who have been in the trade for some time are referred to as heavyweights, which may be to do with the number of free meals they’ve had rather than the profundity of their wisdom or perhaps that they exert a greater gravitational pull with age rather like a collapsing star.

Wine merchants don’t just buy and sell wine – they are providers. On-trade operators alliteratively operate (or work) in the trade. Ah, the implication of smooth surgical skills (more alliteration), the suggestion of the wheeler-dealer (assonance), also of a smoothychops sales representative furnished with all the paraphernalia of bullshit. When you put together a proposal for one of your clients you must always stress commitment, and suggest any seller/client relationship is a partnership whereby achievable outcomes may be reached by means of scalability. The language of the wine world is awash with subjunctives and conditionals and verbomania.

If the wine industry positively wallows in happy claptrap, verbal pretention is also apparent in the way experts describe wines and the way professionals sell wines. But that is another gory story.

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