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04 April 2006

Briar: What's it mean?

PinkbriarReader Jane chimes in on the least palatable wine words:

"Maybe one of you can help me understand what "briar" is in wine. I read that all the time but don't have any idea what that flavor is."

Jane asks a valid question.  What does briar in wine actually mean.  And, come to think of it, this word doesn't strike me as particularly palatable.  In fact, telling someone there is briar in a glass of wine, could trigger a floatie search posse.

When I hear briar used to describe a wine's scent, I think of semi-wild brush & herbs (i.e. not your typical kitchen herbs).  I also think of the bitter parts that accompany 'furry' berries such as raspberry and strawberry.  But that's not really briar, is it?  I'm confused.  Can anyone explain the adjective 'briar' to me and Jane?

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Erwin Dink

Anyone that uses the word "briar" to describe a wine isn't worth listening to (or reading). Descriptors are supposed to help communicate something about a wine. When they obfuscate, their use is likely saying more about the taster than the wine.


E.D. - Gulp, does that include the word 'brambly?'

Actually, while some probably use terms like briar to sound erudite, I think others, like myself, use these words as we grasp at adjectives to adequately describe what we're sniffing.

That's the beauty of wine - it's an abstract sensory experience. Yet, we could all do a much better job of explaining it.

Erwin Dink

You make a good point and so I'll concede that I may have been unfair in my characterization. The truth is that I would never disregard someone based solely on their vocabulary but instead I would have to consider context which, for me, makes an exercise in evaluating words lacking context moot.

Also, the notion of palatability must be considered to be subjective. Some people may think it odd that I like the aroma of old leather in a beverage.


E.D. -
I think wine writers/critics should be aware of the apprehension and intimidation many wine lovers experience w/r/t wine descriptions. That said, I heartily agree with you that context is everything.

I often find myself throwing wine geek words around when I'm lazy. It does take more effort to be clear and down-to-earth.

And hazzah! for you and old leather. Some find it monstrous that I enjoy a little funk in my wine.

Erwin Dink

Perhaps another interesting thread would be a collection of the most unusual or bizarre descriptors used in wine tasting notes...


A little funk in the wine and a little funk in the music while I'm sipping are, to me, complementary. Occasionally, though, I find I must reach for my (leather-bound) Funk & Wagnall's to determine why certain oenophiles use the terms they use. Makes me wonder about the influence of their day jobs.

I once heard a cabernet described as having "unresolved tannins" ...head-shrink, maybe?

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