Earlier this week, I was part of a twitter discussion about the use of figurative language in wine writing sparked by Alder Yarrow's description of wines as being "honest, soulful." What is an honest wine, you ask? Well, of course it is a wine that doesn't try to be something it isn't. Is describing wine in that way really useful? The honesty of a wine is purely subjective, but then again any description of a wine is subjective. Even the most objective part of a review, the numerical score, is subjective bullshit. Do you know what 93 points tastes like? I don't.
Now, I'm not saying that tasting notes are bullshit, but some of the words you may find in them are. Take honest, for example. David White took Alder's description as meaning "a bit flawed." Others might take "honest, soulful" to mean a pure expression of terroir. Me, it means nothing, but it makes me think about it. Is a mass-produced wine honest? Sure. Lots of mass-produced wines don't pretend to me artisanal. Is a 16.5% 2007 Châteauneuf-du-Pape dishonest because it is pretending to be wine when it is actually a liqueur? Or does it honestly taste like 100 points?
I get the reason why writers try to write colorfully about wine. There are only so many things that wine tastes like. You can only read about mocha, currants and tobacco in cabernet sauvignon so many times before you tune out. And consumers don't really want to read about methoxypyrazine, monoterpenes or ketones. pH and titratable acidity only matter to a small group of nerds like me (and probably you). Numbers just taste bland. Do abstract terms have real meaning. No. But, bullshit terms like honest and soulful actually make people discuss wine. And that is a good thing.