Sun 18 Dec 2011
It may be the Yuletide season, Readers, but I am not inclined to extend generosity to those who mangle the Mother-Tongue and allow way too much wiggle-room in the definition of words. The worst offenders, other than politicians, bureaucrats and sociologists, are advertising copywriters and public relations/marketing interns. Here’s the example that lit a fire under my ire:
The back label of the JCB No 81 Chardonnay 2009, Sonoma Coast, tells us that the wine is “Alluring. Ephemeral. Insatiable.” “JCB” stands for Jean-Charles Boisset, president of Boisset Wine Estates, owner of, among other properties and brands, Buena Vista Winery, DeLoach Vineyard, Lockwood Vineyard, Lyeth Estate, Fog Mountain and Raymond Vineyards in California and Bouchard Aîné & Fils, Domaine de la Vougeraie, J. Moreau & Fils and French Rabbit in France. The JCB line represents the company’s extension into producing fairly limited edition wines from vineyards primarily in Sonoma County. (Image from harrods.com)
Let’s look at these adjectives.
Alluring. I occasionally use “alluring” in reviews to mean that a wine draws the taster in seductively and irresistibly, with a sense of style and glamor; it’s a rather abstract and subjective concept, but one that I think can be employed legitimately and that readers readily grasp. So, O.K. on that.
Ephemeral. I think that the word is incorrect for the wine. According to The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition, Unabridged (1987), ephemeral means “lasting a very short time; short-lived; transitory.” One might apply the word, especially in the realm of “transitory,” to certain wines, say the driest and more delicate rosés or fresh and quaffable white wines such as Vinho Verde or South African chenin blancs. Applied, however, to a Sonoma Coast chardonnay that’s rich and full-bodied and solidly oaked (though nothing out of the ordinary), “ephemeral” would be a negative term; the context is completely wrong.
Insatiable. Here’s a vivid model of incorrect word choice. The RHDEL2 tells us that “insatiable” means “incapable of being satisfied or appeased.” A glutton may be insatiable in his hunger; a sadist may be insatiable in his blood-lust; a dictator may be insatiable in his quest for power. The application of the word to a bottle of wine is nonsensical or, if you prefer, ignorant.
In fact, the marketing device for the JCB wines rests on the three-word trope. For the JCB No 1, a cabernet sauvignon, the figure is “Voluptuous. Opulent. Incorrigible.” For No 22, a pinot noir, the scheme is “Intimate. Tumultuous. Intense.” And, bizarrely, No 8, a pinot noir dry rosé, receives the flamboyant encomium of “Rebellious. Capricious. Seductive.”
While voluptuousness and opulence are virtues in cabernet sauvignon wines in some circles — not usually mine — (and they seem redundant anyway), “incorrigible” is another example of a copywriter simply not knowing what words mean. If a chardonnay truly were “bad beyond correction or reform; impervious to restraints or punishment; willful; unruly; uncontrollable,” I think that I would leave it on the shelf and try something else. “Tumultuous” for a pinot noir? (“full of tumult or riotousness; marked by disturbance and uproar; … disorderly or noisy; … highly agitated”) The last thing I want is a disorderly and highly agitated pinot noir. And how would you feel about a rosé that was insubordinate and erratic?
Friends, this is the Silliness of Vocabulary Overkill, the result of poorly prepared writers trying too hard to sound impressive, a common symptom in the world of public relations and marketing. I say that it’s time to retire the concept of the back-label hard sell and storytelling that dominates in New World wines, especially California and Australia, and let the product speak for itself. Tell me about the wine, if that’s necessary, but keep the copy brief and to the point. And please, keep a dictionary on the desk.