Shelf Talker Stupor.

Chapter One, Part One.
Shelf Talker Stupor 1The ink was still wet on my Wine & Spirit Education Trust final exam when I opened the doors to my new wine store so you can imagine my frustration when the first customers didn’t march in and ask me about trellis systems or microclimates.

It didn’t bother me that my customers didn’t care about things like yeast autolysis (the removal of unsightly facial hair from yeast organisms). What bothered me was that I had just spent a small fortune on a superfluous wine education.

I soon learned that most people are only marginally interested in wine. The average wine drinker doesn’t age or decant wine before they drink it. When they buy a bottle of wine, it ages on the way home and breathes on the way down.

I’ve found people are looking for something better than the mediocre plonk served at the company picnic, but simply don’t have the time to study the subject. That’s why they come to me, I am their wine consultant. I taste thousands of mediocre wines every year so they won’t have to. These people put their palates in my hands every day. Not literally mind you, I love my customers but I draw the line at root canal.

Shelf Talker Stupor 2Most of my clientele appreciate the tasting notes or wine reviews on shelf talkers, but those less versed in wine terminology are sometimes put off by the lingo. I’ve seen the look a thousand times. Someone stops to read a shelf talker and soon their stare glazes over. “Shelf-talker stupor” may be the leading cause of beer drinking in America. Symptoms include a dazed, confused look as victims try to decipher the shelf talker wine jargon. Eventually they throw up their hands and decide it’s Miller time.

One day I spotted a couple of familiar faces trying to make sense of the shelf talkers. As it turns out, the two guys were Sylvester Stallone and Andy Rooney.

Andy cocked a bushy eyebrow and said, “Hey Sly, did you ever notice how these wine reviews don’t really sound like wine at all? Here’s one that says this wine ‘offers a bouquet of new saddle leather.’ That doesn’t really sound like wine now does it Sly? Why is that? Why don’t they just write that it smells like wine?”

“I dunno Andy. But I know sumthin’ ‘bout leather, ya know what I mean? Just take a loogadiss jacket.”

“And here’s another one Sly. How can a wine have ‘voluptuous texture?’ I ask you Sly, can a wine feel voluptuous? Can it really? I thought women could be voluptuous, but wine, I just don’t know.”

“Let me astcha somthin’ Andy. Yous knew some women back in the day?”

“Oh you betcha Sly. Now Betsy Ross, she was voluptuous. Did you ever notice that about Betsy Ross Sly?”

“Yo, absolutely Andy. She was like yous said, voluminous.”

“And did you ever notice how these descriptions say things like ‘this wine has impeccable pedigree.’ My goodness Sly, what does that mean anyway?”

“Yeah, it’s like they put these here wines up on a pedicure or sumthin’.”

“Why don’t they just write that it tastes like wine Sly? Why is that?”

“Fuggedaboudit Andy.”

Shelf Talker Stupor 3Andy may not know his Alsace from his elbow, but you probably have a good idea about what type of wine you prefer. Perhaps you favor Merlot over Pinot Noir, Italian wines over California wines, or bottled Chablis from Burgundy over bag-in-a-box Chablis from California. I can almost hear Andy closing a segment on 60 Minutes with, “Did you ever wonder why they put wine in a box that looks like a milk carton? Don’t you just hate it when you get confused and pour milk on your cornflakes?”

The reason you prefer one type of wine over the other is because the different grape varieties used in wine production smell, taste and feel different from one another. Wine critics have learned how to recognize and describe the different aromas, flavors, and textures of wine, and this blog will help you to recognize and describe these attributes just like a pro. In no time at all you can become the pretentious, know-it-all “wine expert” you previously despised.



  1. Leigh
    Feb 19, 2014

    I still think just a few words would help such as for whites ..Buttery and Oaky or you could just say swill. For reds full rich smooth or say cherry cough syrup . Would make it sooo much easier!

    • Don Carter
      Feb 19, 2014

      I had an idea that I never acted on that I’m going to pass along to the new Wine Seller owners. Shelf talkers featuring reviews from regular customers! They would include a little picture of the guest reviewer and a heading like “Recommended by Leigh.” What do you think?

      • Barbara
        Feb 19, 2014

        What a great idea.
        I’ll look for those at the shop!!!

  2. GF
    Feb 19, 2014

    Where can I buy the wines described in the photos?

    • Don Carter
      Feb 19, 2014

      Sorry. I sold out when it scored 96.378 points, but if it will make you feel any better I’ll have you over for an evening of “week-old sushi” and “extraordinary flatulence”. BTW did you recognize Ed in the pictures?

      • Jeff Carter
        Feb 19, 2014

        I’m afraid I have had enough of extraordinay flatulence, oh I’ll have to finish this later someone is knocking at the door.

  3. Mark Garrity
    Mar 18, 2014

    I like the idea of locals writing the shelf talkers. But getting some clues from pros like whether the wine is ready to drink now, should sit a few years or conversely probably turned by now is helpful.

    • Don Carter
      Mar 18, 2014

      Here are some lines from my reviews. I’d love to see these show up on a shelf talker.

      “The palate was entirely ready to drink, which was a good thing because so was I.”
      “The palate was as fat and fleshy as Kim Kardashian’s tookus but showed none of the barnyard qualities.”
      “It showed pleasing herbal scents of oregano and hemp, but I suspect that might have come from the glassy-eyed taster to my left.”
      “The nose was a funky mix of earthy barnyard and wet leather, reminiscent of an X-rated Dukes of Hazard.”
      “This wine spends time in contact with the lees, or dead yeast cells, which sounds a lot like a M. Night Shyamalan movie.”
      “Last vintage this wine displayed almond characteristics that aren’t apparent in the new release. With time maybe this too will grow some nuts.”
      “I found this to be a great value by Burgundy standards, which is kind of like saying that’s great sex for an octogenarian.”

      Maybe I should just collect these and put them in a blog where people might actually read them.