A Wine That Is “Approachable” is Meaningless

I recently had a pretty intense conversation with a colleague and fellow Somm. It began like this: I said, “It’s starting to bug me when people refer to a wine as ‘approachable’”. We were off and running!

Is this just a current buzz word in the industry? Is it a new, gimmicky sales term? If so, I’m coming out against its continued use. I personally think it’s lazy to use the term “approachable.” I don’t like the false dichotomy that it sets up when the term is used with one wine versus another, and I don’t think it does a thing to educate the consumer.

The definition of “approachable” on dictionary.com is:

  1. Capable of being approached; accessible.
  2. (of a person) easy to meet, know, talk with, etc.

So, given the definition, when a wine is described as approachable, it really means “it’s easy to drink.” Perhaps not very challenging on the palate. OK, no problem. However, if you have two wines in front of you, to describe only one as “approachable” sets up a dichotomy. If Wine A is described as “approachable” and Wine B is not described that way, what does this really say about the two wines? Something is different about Wine B, but you aren’t saying what it is. An unanswered question is: is Wine B not as good, not as high quality? What about it makes it not “approachable”?

I asked my colleague if he could describe the two wines in front of him that we were discussing using a term other than “approachable”. He did so, although he struggled. He really wanted to use that word! After more discussion, it turns out that he uses the word to mean that a wine is drinkable now, and is balanced. I pushed him to describe Wine B, which was apparently not “approachable.” He described Wine B as “more extracted” and heavier on the palate, needing more time to age in bottle to be truly enjoyable and become more balanced.

As between these two wines, I experienced Wine B as having been aged in barrels with a heavier toast giving the wine a more smoky finish, perhaps with graphite flavors, having bigger tannins, being more layered and complex with a heavier mouthfeel, but also very enjoyable now…just really different than Wine A. Wine A was lighter bodied, less extracted, the fruit was more fresh, and the acidity a bit higher.

What my colleague was essentially saying, by using the word “approachable” for Wine A, was that he would prefer to drink Wine A now, and would store Wine B for a few years before drinking it. It took some real probing on my part to get to this ultimate description of Wine B.

As the discussion progressed and we were as yet no closer to agreement, I asked him how he would describe Wine A in 15 years. He said it could also be “approachable” in 15 years! If a wine is “approachable” upon release, it seems absurd to me that it would also be “approachable” in 15 years. Wine evolves, which is what we love about it. The freshness and fruitiness in a wine which we appreciate upon its release should mature in a span of 15 years. It may be showcasing secondary or tertiary aromas and flavors in 15 years. Why would anyone use the word “approachable” to describe that beautifully aged wine – assuming it did age beautifully? As Somm’sm we can do better.

After the 15 years discussion, I said that given his use of the term “approachable,” it is essentially meaningless. I cannot understand using that word to describe the same wine, when it has 15 years age on it. He disagreed vehemently.

When I told my husband about this discussion, his response was: “Well, there is just so much BS in the wine industry to describe wine, what do you expect?” I took that with a grain of salt, while understanding his point of view.

So there you go! Another day in the life as a wine lover for a passionate wine drinker!