Just imagine: it’s Friday night, a couple of friends have just turned up unexpectedly for dinner, armed with two bottles of wine, one red, one white, from the same winemaker. Delighted, you have a look at the notes on the bottle of red wine to have an idea what it’s like and what to cook to go with it, when disaster strikes. The notes are in French and English and completely contradict each other!
English note: A smooth Merlot that perfectly combines plummy, herby flavours with smoky cedar wood. A fruity wine with a full well-structured texture and soft tannins.
A great match to lightly spiced red meats and mature cheeses.
French note: Un Merlot qui combine parfaitement prunes et mûres noires, avec des notes fumées d’herbe et de graphite. Un vin fruité, à la texture riche qui tapisse le palais, bien structuré et avec des tanins soyeux.
À déguster avec des pâtes, des plats à base de poulet, du jambon, un risotto, des fromages légers et des mets mexicains.
My bad translation (I’m not a specialist!): A Merlot that perfectly combines plum and black mulberry flavours with smoky herbs and graphite. A fruity wine with a full well-structured texture and soft tannins.
To eat with pasta, chicken dishes, ham, risotto, light cheeses and Mexican dishes.
How confusing is that? A translation tragedy if ever I saw one. What am I supposed to cook?
But that’s not all. I read the notes on the white wine, and this is what they say:
English note: A crisp Chardonnay packed with tropical fruit flavours and subtle hints of vanilla. Medium bodied with good balance and a fresh finish.
Great with fish and seafood and creamy pasta dishes.
French note: Un Chardonnay aux notes fruitées de papaye et de pêche, avec des touches de vanille et de noisettes grillées. Avec une belle struture complexe et savoureux, il s’agit d’un vin équilibré avec une finale fraîche.
S’accorde avec les fruits de mer cuits et les poissons tels que le saumon, le maigre et le congre, ainsi qu’avec les pâtes avec une sauce blanche.
My bad translation: A fruity Chardonnay with papaya and peach flavours and hints of vanilla and grilled hazelnuts. Medium bodied, full of flavour, with good balance and a fresh finish.
To eat with cooked seafood and fish such as salmon, meagre and conger, as well as creamy pasta dishes.
A slightly more accurate translation, but still with marked differences. This consistency in delivering conflicting advice according to the different languages puzzles me. Whereas the first example could be explained by a simple mistake made by the people in charge of producing the labels, the fact that both labels contain some odd translation choices makes me wonder whether they might be not straight-forward translations, but localised texts. In other words, the wine makers aren’t providing an unbiased assessment of the wine, but rather adapting their description to the taste buds they wish to attract. Do the French and the English expect different things from wine (this is assuming that the wine is marketed only in France and England)? But then, tastes and expectations can’t be that different that one nationality will detect "grilled hazelnuts" in a wine, but not the other.
So I’m very perplexed. I know there are a couple of wine lovers who read this blog on a fairly regular basis, including a translator specialised in oenology, and I would love to hear what they think about this.