The Devil’s Dictionary

August 5, 2011

(With apologies to Ambrose Bierce.)

Alcohol, n. A product of fermentation, the degree of which in wine is seen as roughly proportionate to its ability to intoxicate a person and directly proportionate to its ability to intoxicate a critic.

Auction, n. The process by which one seeks to obtain a bargain on a wine by paying more for it than anyone else on the planet was willing to pay.

Beer, n. A beverage essential to the production of wine.

Bordeaux, n. An investment vehicle not regulated by the Securities Act of 1933 or the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 which does not mature until thirty years after liquidation.

Bordeaux Superieur, n. Bordeaux inferieur.

Brunello di Montalcino, n. [1.] A wine made from Brunello grapes grown in the hills of Montalcino. [2.] A wine made from grapes other than Brunello grown in locations other than the hills of Montalcino.

Bubble, n. An economic cycle in which greed for supranormal returns results in the inflation of asset prices far above their intrinsic value and which is recognized always to end in a panic and crash unless the asset is wine.

Bubble bubble, n. Krug Clos d’Ambonnay.

Cellar, n. A place where wine and self-control are stored for future use.

Chardonnay, n. The grape variety used in Burgundy for the production of sherry.

My Burgundy’s hue is nothing like the sun;
Last night’s leftover tuna smells more fresh.
If wine is life, well, then this life is done.
To find its fruit would take a mighty stretch.
I’ve tasted chardonnays both lean and luscious,
But there is something odder in this glass.
To call it tired wouldn’t do it justice;
I should have drank it in the distant past.
I yearned to taste this juice, yet now I know
That Two-Buck Chuck’s a far more pleasing drink;
For fifteen years I held this fine Meursault,
And now I pour it down the kitchen sink.
No more of this for me. I’m done. Screw it.
Next time I’ll buy myself a case of Huet.

Closed, adj. A wine that does not taste as good as its label or price indicated.

Connoisseur, n. A person who prides himself on his ability to discern minute gradations of quality and excellence and who distinguishes himself from an elitist by his firm conviction that all such discernments are subjective and illusory.

Cooper, n. A winemaker with a bigger œuvre than most care to admit.

Cork, n. The only non-grape substance permitted to contaminate a natural wine.

Critic, n. An instrument used for the detection of points in wine.

Double-blind, adj. Of or pertaining to a wine whose identity is unknown to the person or persons tasting it, universally recognized as the only method of service capable of eliciting praise of inexpensive wines or of domestic wines from states other than California, Oregon, and Washington, and consequently the only method by which such wines are ever served in the company of connoisseurs.

Drinking window, n. Two numbers separated by a hyphen and dispensed with a shovel.

Finish, n. An alleged attribute of wine, often subjected by critics to measurement by stopwatch, which has the same relation to wine consumption as the appendix does to the human anatomy, and the same utility.

Grenache, n. A variety of grape used for the production of wine in climates unsuitable for the cultivation of grapes.

Großes Gewächs, n. A marketing strategy intended to highlight the uniqueness of Germany’s greatest vineyard sites by ensuring that they all taste identically brutal.

Hedonistic, adj. Of or having qualities which inspire a taster to hold a glass of wine to the light to assess its depth of color, swirl the glass to take note of the multiplicity of aromatic compounds, partake a measured sip constrained by the wine’s dense concentration, gurgle air into the mouth, expectorate the wine into a sink or bucket, and assign the wine a quantum of points no fewer than 96, presumably so called because of the obvious similarity of such routines to the hedonistic lifestyle of antiquity associated with such figures as the Roman Emperor Caligula.

Hipster, n. The species of wine consumer who buys his clothes in a thrift shop and his Große Gewächse by the case.

Kabinett, adj. Spätlese.

Mailing list, n. The means by which a wine producer in California renders his wine coveted by those who are not allowed to buy it and resold by those who are.

Off-bottle, n. Any wine you liked less than I did.

I’m sorry to hear that you hated that wine.
When I drank it last, it seemed mighty fine.
Could be that you happened to have an off-bottle,
Or one that the mailman could better have coddled.

Perhaps it was closed, perhaps slightly corked.
Or maybe it would have shown better with pork.
How long did you let it sit in the decanter?
Not enough air time! That could be the answer.

Unless!—if it happened to breathe for too long,
And it shut down before you could hear its sweet song.
Maybe you served it too cold to stay fruity?
Maybe you served it so warm it got soupy?

And haven’t you heard about sickness in transit?
How long did you give it to sit since they shipped it?
Yes, all of a number of things could have happened
To make your wine taste like a cow went and crapped in.

Once, in a night of extravagant dalliance,
My bottle of wine got abducted by aliens.
They probed for the points but somehow erased them.
How else could mine differ from Parker’s huge rating?

Others tell tales about changelings and elves
Who sneak into your cellar and ransack your shelves.
Sometimes, they leave you some bland chardonnay
In a bottle that’s labeled Grand Cru Montrachet.

You see, there’s so much that can gang oft aglee,
So the source of your problem’s no real mystery.
Go and choose whatever fault comes along.
The one thing I’m sure of, I can’t have been wrong!

Point, n. A unit of measurement used by critics to indicate the degree to which a Bordeaux resembles a California cabernet, a Burgundy resembles a Rhône, a Rhône resembles a shiraz, and a shiraz resembles crude oil.

Shelf talker, n. A cardstock measuring roughly two inches by three inches posted next to a bottle of wine in a retail store containing a tasting note and point rating for a different bottle of wine.

Snob, n. One who surveys the available wines, then resigns himself to beer.

Sulfur dioxide, n. A chemical compound consisting of one part sulfur and two parts oxygen, used to protect a wine from spoilage or from consumption by hipsters.

Spätlese, adj. Auslese.

Tasting, n. An assembly of people and wine at which either a large quantity of wine is tasted and none drank or a large quantity of wine is drank and none tasted.

Tasting note, n. A genre of prose which customarily attempts to describe the experience of drinking a wine in terms never used to describe any experience worth having.

Varietal, n. A shibboleth for the irritation of grammarians.

Well-made, adj. Being made according to accepted standards of commercial merchantability and having no evident flaws other than the inability to deliver pleasure or satisfaction of any kind.

Wine list, n. A collection of wines curated by a sommelier and sold by an extortionist.

24 Responses to “The Devil’s Dictionary”

  1. Charlie Carnes said

    Pretty hilarious! We’re not talking Lord Alfred Tennyson or John Keats… but they would certainly chuckle… and agree, if they got ‘religion’, if you know what I mean. Always a pleasure to read your posts Keith.

  2. Ryan C said

    love it!

  3. King Krak swirled this post too much…if only he could hold a wine glass at the base like the other hipster-wanabees.

  4. Oh, this is so, so good.

  5. Haha….Excellent work that man!

  6. I do hereby promise to steal these definitions on a regular basis and use them in conversations with connoisseurs, consumers and critics without giving due credit.
    Keith, this is terrific!
    Best, Jim

  7. Great work! Laughed out loud several times.

  8. Larry Stein said

    To use a much-overused word (and here, it’s fully warranted), this is awesome.

  9. Seth said


  10. FiloBianco said


  11. Brilliant. So good, I think I’m going to remove the ‘Bordeaux Supérieur’ tag on my label and put ‘Bordeaux’.

    Courtesy of @wineyields btw.

  12. Great post – very clever. I quite like Ambrose Bierce’s definition of a critic too 😉

  13. So well written it transcends the sublime ~ enjoyed reading every word !

  14. Bill Warriner said

    Trockenbeerenauslese –
    Aus over the hill,
    Aus after the frost,
    Ein hangover wert
    A hundred bucks lost.

  15. espy geissler said

    good grief

  16. TONY ZAMIR said

    Brilliant! And WS himself would have laughed aloud at this version of CXXX. Bravo!

  17. […] som återfinns på bloggen Cellarbok är hysteriskt rolig och mitt i prick. Åtminstone om man är en insnöad vinnörd. Ju mer jag […]

  18. […] The Devil’s Dictionary « Cellar-Book // a fortnightly wine commentary by Keith Levenberg. […]

  19. Thank you, thank you – we need more wine humor – it’s great to LOL (considering all the anxiety that masquerades for wine discussion.)

  20. Gideon Beinstock said

    Love it! Rated & posted it on my facebook page.

  21. I read this backwards, i.e., from bottom to top. I loved it.

  22. Super clever! I think you could get a more acerbic one for snobs. I’m not a huge fan, personally!

    I like your blog — similar sentiment to my blog ( and podcast (on iTunes) but less dorky. Glad to have found you! Look forward to reading more!

    Elizabeth/Wine For Normal People

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