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Sommelier Speak

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"Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things, and small people talk about wine."
Fran Lebowitz

(Note that the first word in the trope name is pronounced "suhm-uh-lyay.")

In fiction and satire, if someone is called upon to describe the flavor of a wine, they will begin speaking in a kind of Purple Prose which may include any of the following:

  • Sesquipedalianly loquacious gushing or ranting.
  • Elaborate, perhaps mixed, metaphors, sometimes even incorporating Faux Symbolism to give more gravitas to the wine tasting.
  • Personification of the wine, ascribing to it personality traits, moods, and even moral agency.
  • Tastes Like Feet, except not necessarily negative: even an admirable wine may be compared to metal, cat pee, gasoline, or the like.
  • Stock phrases, "A good year" being especially common.
  • Using the traditional names for sizes of wine bottles derived from the names of figures from The Bible: e.g. a "Methuselah" for a 6 liter bottle, a "Nebuchadnezzar" for a 15 liter, and a "Melchizedek" for a 30 liter.

A variant combines this with Alien Lunch or I Ate WHAT?! — another substance is mistaken for, or passed off as, wine, and the unwitting drinker describes it in similar terms. And see also Expensive Glass of Crap.

Partial Truth in Television, as detailed in this article. Wine is complex (often several flavour notes will be in the same one, and the combinations can sound discordant, like black cherry/pepper/tobacco) and volatile (the lingering taste in the drinker's mouth, called the "finish," can be different than the initial sensations), and chemical analysis of wine shows that the descriptors fairly consistently refer to the same flavor/aroma compounds. It is also important to note that the terms used to describe wine flavors, like "black cherry" or "plum," do not necessarily mean that the wine tastes like those things — rather, these are agreed-upon terms for specific but hard-to-articulate flavors; The Other Wiki has a glossary.


Basically, wine critics are wrestling with the same problem as the makers of perfume commercials, i.e. attempting to describe the characteristics of something in a medium ill-suited for the job. (See also It Tastes Like Feet for the Evil Twin to this.) Not surprisingly, the end results are similar.

Similar to Hash House Lingo, which also involves a particular jargon for culinary concepts. See also Wine Is Classy.


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  • There was an advert for Gordon's Gin in the UK where a very pretentious guy at a garden party was going on about a glass of wine having aromas of things like wood pigeon and pebbles in the rain and being mocked by two nearby gin and tonic drinkers.
  • A commercial plays on this, with an older Italian man and his assistant tapping a cask. The man holds the glass up to the light, "Muddy." He takes a sniff, "Pungent." He takes a sip and immediately spits it out, "Sour." Then he smiles and says, "It's Perfect." The narrator then lets the audience know this is a commercial for Balsamic vinegar. (Yes, they do do this. The standards for aceto balsamico tradizionale—the Real Thing when it comes to balsamic vinegar—are extremely exacting, and even the higher-end stuff among the non-tradizionale is treated with care and tasted for grading purposes before distribution.)
  • Bud Light had a commercial where snooty mead connoisseurs keep telling the king how he's supposed to enjoy the mead they brought without ever allowing him to actually taste it. Eventually the king gets sick of it, tosses the snobs in the dungeon, and orders a beer.

    Anime & Manga 
  • The Drops of God is a manga about wine tasting and serving that is memetic for trying too hard to make being a sommelier sound awesome, and naturally is drowning in this, with the protagonist having LSD-like visions from the wine flavors. He is on a quest to find twelve wines that are described by comparing their flavors to Jesus' apostles.
  • Subverted in One Piece where Marine Lieutenant Fullbody has a restaurant deliver a specific kind of wine to him and his date so he can impress her by pretending to identify it in this manner. Unfortunately for him, his waiter happens to be Sanji, who gives him a completely different wine instead and causes him to humiliate himself.
  • This is how Cilan talks about Pokémon. That's because he is a "Pokémon Sommelier" (or, in the dub, "Pokémon Connoisseur").

    Comic Books 
  • "The Real Ale Twats" from Viz will often describe beer as "redolent" of something bizarre, its (usually high) abv as 'feisty' or 'formidable', and it will invariably remind them of something they tried years before at a beer festival, and the specific odd behavior resulting from overindulging on it.

    Comic Strips 
  • A classic James Thurber cartoon from The New Yorker: "It's a naive domestic Burgundy without any breeding, but I think you'll be amused by its presumption."
  • In one Peanuts strip, when Charlie Brown is going out to buy Sally an ice-cream cone, she asks for chocolate and vanilla, with chocolate on the top.
    Charlie Brown: What difference does that make?
    Sally: It makes all the difference in the world. If the vanilla is on the bottom it leaves a better aftertaste.
    Charlie Brown: Little did I know that in our own home we had a connoisseur of ice-cream cones.

    Films — Animation 
  • Played with in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, when Esmerelda uses wine as an antiseptic, and Phoebus identifies the vintage by the way it stings in his wound.
    Phoebus: Agh! Feels like a 1470 Burgundy. Not a good year.
  • In The Boxtrolls, the citizens of Cheesebridge speak this way in regards to fine cheese.
  • In The Batman vs. Dracula, the Joker pauses in his blood drinking to admire the flavour:
    A bold finish of wild cherries with a hint of oak.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Miles, the protagonist of the film Sideways, is a wine enthusiast who often uses metaphors like these.
  • The French movie The Wing or the Thigh uses this when the main character has been challenged to prove his culinary expertise by identifying a wine on TV. Unbeknownst to the audience (but not to the bad guy), he has lost his sense of taste, and must rely on other descriptors like color, transparency and viscosity to pull it off, spouting all the usual phrases.
  • Ralphy in A Christmas Story is the kind of boy who regularly gets his mouth washed out with soap, and briefly talks like this when describing how a specific brand tastes.
    "I found Palmolive had a nice, piquant, after-dinner flavor. Heady, but with a touch of mellow smoothness. Lifebuoy, on the other hand..."
  • The Sommelier in John Wick: Chapter 2 describes the guns he sells exactly the same way he would describe wines.
    "I know of your past fondness for the German varietals, but I can wholeheartedly endorse the new breed of Austrians: Glock 34 and 26."
  • Spy: In a scene where the protagonist Susan Cooper is dining at a fancy restaurant with the sophisticated crime boss Rayna Boyanova, Susan attempts to impress Rayna by asking for wine in a needlessly vague and flowery way that she thinks makes it seem like she's a big wine connoisseur, but it only causes Rayna and the waiter to look at each other in confusion.
  • The Parent Trap (1998): The twins' father owns a vineyard which means Hallie, who lives with him, has picked up a lot of wine-tasting lingo. While posing as Annie she asks for a sip of her mother's wine and almost blows her cover by giving a thorough review of the taste and comparing it to other grapes. Hallie attempts to cover by claiming she picked up the knowledge while at summer camp.

  • In the Roald Dahl story "Taste," the villain does this as part of a drawn-out display of identifying a wine. Earlier in the story, it is noted that this is an idiosyncrasy of his:
    ... when discussing a wine, he had a curious, rather droll habit of referring to it as though it were a living being. "A prudent wine," he would say, "rather diffident and evasive, but quite prudent." Or, "A good-humoured wine, benevolent and cheerful — slightly obscene, perhaps, but none the less good-humoured."
  • Dave Barry has mocked this a few times. In particular, when he attended a sommelier competition (as described in this column), he had this to say:
    The people at my table, on the other hand, leaned more toward the slosh-and-sniff approach, where you don't so much drink the wine as you frown and make a thoughtful remark about it such as you might make about a job applicant ("I find it ambitious, but somewhat strident." Or: "It's lucid, yes, but almost Episcopalian in its predictability.") As it happened, I was sitting next to a French person named Mary, and I asked her if people in France carry on this way about wine. "No," she said, "they just drink it. They're more used to it."
  • A Dorothy L. Sayers short story "The Bibulous Business of a Matter of Taste" has three men all claiming to be Lord Peter Wimsey. Who is the real one is determined by a wine taste-off.
  • Vlad Taltos slips into this as he's waxing poetical about Valabar's cuisine and wine selections in Dzur.
  • Averted in the Dragonriders of Pern series with wine enthusist Masterharper Robinton. He tends to describe wines in terms of "Benden White" and "not Benden White."
  • The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror features a kid who likes parroting Sommelier Speak to flummox adults. Unfortunately the guy he learned it from doubled as Sir Swears-a-Lot, so flummoxed his parents a bit more than he bargained for when he called something a "tenacious little Country Matters of a red".

    Live-Action TV 
  • Go On: Ryan enjoys going to wine country and trolling the wine connoisseurs by picking a theme with which to discuss the wine. In the one episode we see it, he describes wine using the names of dwarfs.
  • Also, note the sheer number of Frasier episodes where Frasier and Niles talk wine — the episodes where they are competing against each other in tasting competitions, for instance. In one episode Frasier prepares a lengthy review for a new segment of his radio show, going into specific detail about the vanilla taste of the wine in question, and asks his father if it's "too subtle".
    Martin: No, it's not too subtle. Unless you want them to know what the hell you're talking about.
    Frasier: Well, you don't think it's clear I enjoyed the wine?
    Martin: I don't think it's clear you're talking about wine.
  • Oz and James pairs renowned wine critic Oz Clarke with car reviewer James May, the former attempting to teach the latter how to do this. The reluctant James often lampshades it by introducing and referring to Oz as Oz "Woody High-Notes" Clarke on this show and other series the two have done together...
  • Speaking of which, James May's Man Lab had Oz attempt to assist hapless researcher Rory into bluffing his way through a wine tasting using Sommelier Speak, via earpiece. While Rory (and Oz) guess all of the red wines correctly, they also fail to identify any of the white wines.
  • In an infamous lost sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus a man brings his friend down to his wine cellar for a private tasting. After the visitor describes the various flavors and textures he notices, the man tells him it's "wee-wee." All the wine is wee-wee.
  • Blackadder II: After sailing around the Cape of Good Horn Blackadder returns to the Queen, who insists that he give her, Melchett and Sir Walter Raleigh gifts from his trip or she'll chop his head off. Thinking quickly, he produces a bottle of Baldrick's urine (the group had been forced to drink their own urine to keep from dying of thirst) for Melchett and Sir Walter. Sir Walter describes it having "plenty of nose" and Melchett says it smells "familiar."
  • An episode of CSI: NY is based around the premise that some rare wine has been expertly faked (that is, cheap wine has been carefully flavored by an expert so it tastes like rare vintages). This trope happens a lot (mostly played for laughs, although the actual experts get some respect).
  • The Office (US): In the episode "Pool Party," Oscar mistakenly thinks Toby is a wine connoisseur. Toby tries to keep up the charade:
    Oscar: What's compelling about this is the note of persimmon. Right?
    Toby: Note? It's...a symphony.
  • Black Books:
    • In an episode where Bernard and Manny accidentally drink a ridiculously expensive bottle of wine belonging to a friend they're house-sitting for, Bernard consults the buyers' guide and takes an excessively literal approach to reproducing the flavors in a bottle of cheap plonk. For example, when the guide mentions "hints of oak", in go some twigs from the garden. In an epilogue, the finished product is eventually presented as a gift to the Pope, and it kills him.
    • Dylan Moran, the star of Black Books himself mercilessly mocks Sommelier Speak in this comedy routine.
  • Parks and Recreation: Tom takes most of the department to a sommelier competition in the "Flu Season 2" episode so he can recruit the winner for his new restaurant. Craig joins the competition after revealing that he has a passion for wine tasting and April joins to Troll the judges.
    Craig: Pumpkin, undertones of lavender. Medium-plus body. It's mostly pumpkin. There's so much pumpkin, it's like a Charlie Brown Halloween special!
    April: I'm getting notes of dried robin's blood, old dirty cashews, and just a hint of a robot's bathwater.
  • In an episode of White Collar, beer-drinking Straight Man Peter is forced to go undercover as a wine lover and must produce some Sommelier Speak. High-class, wine-loving Neal tries to cover for him, sure that it'll be a disaster... and then Peter plays his part perfectly, with excellent Sommelier Speak. (Turns out, Peter knows wine — as well he should, given that his wife works in the wine-crazy art world — he just isn't obsessed with it.)

  • Lampooned in "The Wine Song", written by Grant Baynham, and later covered by Martin Pearson and Mike Agranoff.
    They waste their time describing what they ought to be imbibing, which is wine of course, although you'd never think it.
    'Cos they use words like "Young but promising ". "Precocious," "Full of fun"; You'd have thought they were going to adopt the stuff, not drink it

  • From the Thrilling Adventure Hour episode "A Beyond Belief Valentines Day":
    Frank Doyle: I seek a wine with structure — and stability — and backbone. Something brooding, but which won't tell me what's on its mind. A wine that's superior, haughty, withholding. I want a wine so fickle and baffling I'll wake up at three in the morning with my fingers already fumbling on the dial of my phone to ask it what I've done wrong. I want a wine that disapproves of me and every choice I've made. Bring me a wine that insults me to my face and makes me like it!
    Maitre d': Ah! A French wine, then.

  • In A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum(a comedy set during the Roman Empire), when Marcus Lycus offers Pseudolus some wine, Pseudolus looks at the bottle and asks, "Was 1 a good year?"
  • In the Canadian one man show Work, the protagonist recounts his brief stint as a sewer worker, in which his more senior colleagues talked this way about the stench coming out of an open manhole.

    Video Games 
  • Parodied by Kingdom of Loathing with the "bottle of wine" item. When you drink it, the Lemony Narrator describes it as such:
  • The Infernal Sommelier in Fallen London can be pretty unnerving when he does this, as he also talks about the taste of souls as well as wine, bringing up a slow slide into utter depression like it was a subtle taste of strawberry.
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, during a mead inspection, the head of Honningbrew Meadery tells the captain of the city guard that this particular brew is his finest yet and the captain will find it pleasing to the palate. The captain calls him out on this, saying "it's mead, not some wine to be sipped and savored."
  • Whenever you buy a fancy drink in a bar in the Yakuza series, the bartender will give you elaborate descriptions about your drink.

    Web Comics 
  • Questionable Content:
  • Used with craft beer in Dominic Deegan. During the "Vacation" arc, Luna revealed she had turned to Drowning My Sorrows at one point in her life, and learned to appreciate beer as more than just a vehicle for alcohol.
  • A Sarah's Scribbles strip presents a "There Are Two Kinds of People in the World "joke like this, with a snob going on and on about how good the wine is, and Sarah herself saying "Hmm yes, this wine tastes like wine."
  • The Order of the Stick: The succubus Sabine sometimes taunts her enemies in combat by describing the tasting notes of the Life Energy she's draining off them.
    • Later on, one of the vampires working under the High Priest of Hel talks in a similar fashion about the taste of the Orders' blood, whom they'd defeated in combat.
    Vampire: [drinking Elan's blood] Mmmmm! A simple but crisp, bold flavor, perfect for relaxing with friends. Delicious! Are the rest this tasty?
    Vampire: [now drinking from Haley] Oh wow. Subtle, but with so many complex undertones. Seriously, Boss, I can't believe you ate this well on the flight up.

    Web Original 
  • The Silly Tasting Notes Generator produces a short random instance of the style, in "Normal-silly" or "Extra-silly" flavors. The template is derived from actual Wine Spectator notes.
  • This blog post by fantasy author/commentator Brian Stavely talks about descriptors of wine that don't really match up with any perception by the senses of the drinker — it's used as a metaphor for fantasy novels doing the same with language (i.e. saying a character is "dumb as a smeerp" has no real meaning for the audience, since smeerps don't exist).
  • Parodied at The Onion: "Potato Chip Connoisseur Detects Notes of Sour Cream, Onion"
  • Used for comedic effect at the end of Zero Punctuation's double review of Fortnite and DUSK, to emphasise how slim the pickings were in terms of concurrent games to review:
    Yahtzee: What else am I going to review? The smell of my dog's farts? Two stars: bold and earthy, with subtle notes of toilet water.
  • Downplayed in The Whiskey Vault. In each episode, hosts Daniel and Rex go into detail about the odors and flavors they get out of the whiskeys they're sampling, along with some of the more intricate aspects such as finish and front or end notes. However, they're very down-to-earth and straightforward, and the pretentiousness and Purple Prose that's usually associated with the trope is nowhere to be found.

    Western Animation 
  • Bob's Burgers: The B-plot of "The Kids Rob a Train" has Bob and Linda meet a wine connoisseur on a wine-tasting train-ride. Bob hates him for his condescending attitude regarding Bob's tastes, but when he challenges Bob to a wine identifying contest he realizes the guy isn't just blowing smoke. Bob is only able to beat him when Linda brings in a "special" wine that the sommelier never had before but Bob had: the various types of wine that were in one of the train's spittoons.
  • The Pinky and the Brain episode "Around the World in 80 Narfs" has a waiter introduce a wine as "An amusing vintage with an excellent nose." "It also seems to have ears and a tail," replies the diner — as Pinky and the Brain have been bottled into the wine.
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy: In "Shoo Ed", Rolf smells Jonny's stinky breath and notes "Anchovy paste, 1952. A fine year!".

    Real Life 
  • TV wine pundit Jilly Goolden mastered this art — she either described wines to a high degree of fluency and vinocultured literacy, or else she spoke a lot of utter bollocks about plonk. Here's an example of her flowery speech, along with a touch of Food Porn.
  • Tea experts will speak in the same way

Alternative Title(s): Wine Talk


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