Thursday 13 June 2019

A lexicon for wine today

Just take a look at this wine, Lion And The Lily. So called because it’s “Bold like a lion, elegant like a lily”. Obviously.

The wine is described as “chic”, a characteristic which rarely finds its way into tasting notes; and some eyebrows may be raised by this rosé’s claim to be “The perfect wine to pair with Hamburgers”. But what particularly intrigues me is the use on its label of the verb, “to vint”. It says that it is “Grown & Vinted in France”. Which is a new one on me.

Does “vinted” refer to its harvesting, making, blending, marketing or selling? Does the term “vinted” refer to anything specific? Or could it be that the creation of a contemporary wine, with all of the commercial, industrial and branding processes involved, requires a new word in order to describe that operation attractively – and “concocted” doesn’t quite work?

Perhaps we do need new terms to keep up with modern wine culture. Not that “vinted” is new as such – Trollope referred to “the best wine that ever was vinted”, although it’s still not clear what that actually means – so perhaps some older terms could be similarly reclaimed. But whether it’s to describe the wines themselves, or the ways in which we now drink them, perhaps we could use some more words and phrases which simply weren’t needed in the days of the butt and the tappit hen.

Belfer – a very cheap wine, probably supermarket. “Wow, that’s a bit of a belfer”. Derivation: “bottom shelf”. Like the wine.

Spence – A household space for storing boxes of wine, eg understairs, which cannot really be called a cellar. “Is there another bottle in the spence?” (cf Chaucer, The Summoner’s Tale, “Al vinolent as Botel in the spence”)

Needle – a modest portion of wine, akin to a tasting sample delivered via a Coravin – “Try a needle of this one…”

Lefty – A bottle of wine brought by a guest, whose quality cannot be vouched for by the host. “Do you mind if I open a lefty?” Derivation: disputed: 1. such a wine is “left” by a visitor; 2. it tends to get opened when there’s nothing else “left”; 3. a lefty is never quite…right.

Spoonstander – a strong, syrupy red wine, esp. Shiraz

Smite – That modest amount of wine left in a bottle which isn’t enough to be worth saving for a following evening, and so might as well be drunk now, even if it’s just a bit more than you actually intended to drink. “Oh, look, there’s only a smite left, I’ll finish it off tonight” (cf Milton, Areopagitica, ‘It smites us into darkness’)

Greeted – “The wine was greeted in Bristol in 2018” – an attractive way to describe the moment when the bulk shipping container’s sluices were opened.

Undertop – to refill somebody’s glass with as little wine as you can get away with. “Can you undertop James next time, darling, he’s getting a bit loud.”

Mulberried – to have one’s teeth stained with red wine

Pumped – a wine which has been properly vac-u-vin’d, as opposed to someone having shoved the rubber bung back in without pumping the air out as you discover to your annoyance several days later. “Is this one actually pumped, darling?”

Sixer – a supermarket offer of a 25% discount when buying six bottles. “Hey, there’s a sixer on at Waitrose next week!”

Turn tail – to finish a bottle of white and upend it in an ice bucket, raising the issue of whether another is required. “Oh, have we turned its tail, then?”



  1. Message: the results of a home winemaking session, as in 'What on earth can we do with the message?' Thought to be a corruption of the Biblical mess of pottage, which in Mediaeval winemaking monasteries became a pot of message.

    1. Thank you and well yes, although I think one very clear "message" has already emerged from our home winemaking session…

  2. Excellent, dare I say vineologisms, here. Many of which I expect to be reading in the wine press or using at al frescos this summer.
    On a wider point, your service to the development of the English language deserves wider recognition. It can only be a matter of time before the honours roll inn

    1. Ah, that remains a perpetual possibility only in a world of speculation.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.