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Notas Basalmicos? It’s not what you think…

Rosemary

The Spanish have very few adjectives when it comes to taste and smell. Really, it’s true! Going to tastings, I always find the descriptions to be somewhat narrow and simple compared to some of the more outlandish ones I hear when tasting wine back home. That’s not to say that there aren’t very precise tasting notes out there; but for example, in Spanish you have the word acidez, which in English translates to sour, tart and acidic. Now, while these are all in the same ballpark, they are by no means the same in feeling. Each one has its own way it can be used and its own connotations.

That said, there is one tasting note descriptor that I ALWAYS hear used to a point that I sometimes roll my eyes and laugh thinking that every wine needs to be labeled with it. The word is Basalmico. “Notas Basalmicos” is what I frequently hear, and although I have agreed on many occasions, there are times when I simply have to bite my tongue thinking the winemaker is off his rocker. Well, I now know it wasn’t their lack of vocabulary that was the issue. It was my lack of understanding.

I’m the victim of what foreign language learners call, False Friends. In any language, there are words that while they look and sound alike, actually have nothing to do with one other. These are words that we only discover when trying to sound more fluent than we really are, but adding a Spanish accent to what appears to be a Latin based word. Examples include:

    Assitir – which instead of meaning to assist actually means to be present or to attend.
    Billón – does not logically mean a billion in English, but instead, a trillion. This could seriously mess with anyone’s accounting!
    Embarazada – Not embarassed, but rather, pregnant (a lot of exchange students get pregnant when they make a mistake speaking Spanish! ;)
    My favorite: Constipación – Not constipated as one might assume, but actually to have a stuffed up nose! Think of the fun when this one is mis-used!

So what is Basalmico? It really is describing balsam like aromas: rosemary, thyme, and rough herbs, very broad and wide scope of flavors/aromas. In English/French, the word Garrigue has similar meaning, though not really used very much outside of the wine geek hardcore! As most of you have already guessed by now, what I assumed “basalmico” to mean was Balsamic vinegar aromas which typically convey a dark deep almost molasses like flavor, is not accurate. Both of which I find in many wines as I taste my way through Spain.

Anyways, I now have a new adjective that I can better use as I travel around Spain tasting wine; although I do wonder what other false friends I might be using without knowing it!

Cheers,

Ryan Opaz

  • RichardA

    Now this was very informative to me. Thanks Ryan for the info. I would have assumed the same, that balsamico referred to Balsamic vinegar. I have a further question though. Do you know why the Spanish have very few adjectives when it comes to taste and smell?

  • Ryan

    Not sure Richard, but I've been told this time and time again. I don't think it's limited to food and wine either though I really don't talk about much else! ;) I'll see if I can find someone to answer that for you…

  • ben and marina

    Hmm, well to be honest Marina and I have no idea about this… Do they really have far less than in English? It would surprise me considering how much they love talking about food!!

  • http://passionatefoodie.blogspot.com/ RichardA

    Now this was very informative to me. Thanks Ryan for the info. I would have assumed the same, that balsamico referred to Balsamic vinegar.

    I have a further question though. Do you know why the Spanish have very few adjectives when it comes to taste and smell?

  • http://www.catavino.net Ryan

    Not sure Richard, but I’ve been told this time and time again. I don’t think it’s limited to food and wine either though I really don’t talk about much else! ;) I’ll see if I can find someone to answer that for you…

  • http://www.notesfromspain.com ben and marina

    Hmm, well to be honest Marina and I have no idea about this… Do they really have far less than in English? It would surprise me considering how much they love talking about food!!

  • Tom Clarke

    Nice post! I think that it's well established that the Spanish vocabulary is generally much smaller than the English lexicon. So I guess it's not that surprising that this also applies to food and wine.

  • http://www.thebadrash.com/ Tom Clarke

    Nice post! I think that it’s well established that the Spanish vocabulary is generally much smaller than the English lexicon. So I guess it’s not that surprising that this also applies to food and wine.

  • bbennett

    Ryan, How would "Wet Slate" be translated? :-) BB

  • bbennett

    Ryan,

    How would “Wet Slate” be translated? :-)

    BB

  • janel

    Hi all, I haven't tasted wine in Spanish too often but that was my general impression as well. Maybe in this area English speakers are more open to what kinds of words they find acceptable to use for talking about flavors As for number of words: English tecnically has almost double the words of Spanish (its a fact) but any given persons working vocabulary is similar in both languages. I dont know about actual words used (or accepted for use) when describing food and wine. But in some areas of Spanish, they have a much richer vocabulary than in English, take swear words for example. I wont go farther to explain but they have quite a few more expressions than we do in English. And anyone who has done translations knows that they usually come out shorter in English. To bbennett: wet slate could be translated as "pizarra mojada" but im wondering if that would be used here for a "flavor". :)

  • http://www.tapastalk.com janel

    Hi all,
    I haven’t tasted wine in Spanish too often but that was my general impression as well. Maybe in this area English speakers are more open to what kinds of words they find acceptable to use for talking about flavors
    As for number of words: English tecnically has almost double the words of Spanish (its a fact) but any given persons working vocabulary is similar in both languages. I dont know about actual words used (or accepted for use) when describing food and wine.
    But in some areas of Spanish, they have a much richer vocabulary than in English, take swear words for example. I wont go farther to explain but they have quite a few more expressions than we do in English. And anyone who has done translations knows that they usually come out shorter in English.
    To bbennett: wet slate could be translated as “pizarra mojada” but im wondering if that would be used here for a “flavor”. :)

  • bbennett

    Janel, Thank you for the translation. It's an inside joke. Ryan used the term in some tasting notes awhile back and I asked him how he knew what wet slate tasted like and he said it was from being on the North Shore (of Lake Superior) with his dad and licking the rocks. I was on the North Shore last week, licking rocks, and there wasn't much taste. So, I told Ryan that in the future I would assume that any wine with wet slate characteristics should be avoided as basically tasteless. BB

  • bbennett

    Janel,

    Thank you for the translation. It’s an inside joke. Ryan used the term in some tasting notes awhile back and I asked him how he knew what wet slate tasted like and he said it was from being on the North Shore (of Lake Superior) with his dad and licking the rocks. I was on the North Shore last week, licking rocks, and there wasn’t much taste. So, I told Ryan that in the future I would assume that any wine with wet slate characteristics should be avoided as basically tasteless.

    BB

  • Cornell

    Bill, Bill, Bill – you just don't appreciate subtle differences and nuances of the many different styles and varieties of rocks that exist. I am sure you just picked up any old rock and took a big lick and said that's nice but didn't take the time or effort to allow the rock's flavors and aroma to come alive on your tongue. Did you give it a chance to warm if it was in a cold lake – or cool down if in the hot sun? All of these affect the taste and the pleasure you get from a good rock. Also, where the rock has aged makes a huge difference – in a pond bordered by oak tree will make a real difference I agree that a plain old piece of slate can be less than thrilling and it does take a true rock affectionado to appreciate it's fine, subtle taste, but give me a good agate – either Lake Superior or moss agate – and the flavors come alive in your mouth. Quartz brings a little more spice and you begin to taste the tannins and chalk. I could go on and on but just remember it's a big rocky world and you really should give it another try – you will be amazzed at what you will find!! "The Dad"

  • Cornell

    Bill, Bill, Bill – you just don’t appreciate subtle differences and nuances of the many different styles and varieties of rocks that exist. I am sure you just picked up any old rock and took a big lick and said that’s nice but didn’t take the time or effort to allow the rock’s flavors and aroma to come alive on your tongue. Did you give it a chance to warm if it was in a cold lake – or cool down if in the hot sun? All of these affect the taste and the pleasure you get from a good rock. Also, where the rock has aged makes a huge difference – in a pond bordered by oak tree will make a real difference

    I agree that a plain old piece of slate can be less than thrilling and it does take a true rock affectionado to appreciate it’s fine, subtle taste, but give me a good agate – either Lake Superior or moss agate – and the flavors come alive in your mouth. Quartz brings a little more spice and you begin to taste the tannins and chalk.

    I could go on and on but just remember it’s a big rocky world and you really should give it another try – you will be amazzed at what you will find!!

    “The Dad”

  • bbennett

    Cornell, I am humbled in the presence of one with such a discriminating palette. It is now completely clear to me where Ryan acquired his discerning tongue, and I can assure you that I meant no disrespect to Anderson clan! I'll remember what you said the next time we go up North. Getting more pleasure out of anything is positive. Bill

  • bbennett

    Cornell,

    I am humbled in the presence of one with such a discriminating palette. It is now completely clear to me where Ryan acquired his discerning tongue, and I can assure you that I meant no disrespect to Anderson clan!

    I’ll remember what you said the next time we go up North. Getting more pleasure out of anything is positive.

    Bill

  • Ryan

    Ok so now for the BIG annoucement. CATAROCKS.Com is coming to a place near you… We'll host blind tasting of the worlds most famous minerals. Topics to look for in the future: *How to deal with calluses on the tongue! *Learn to lick, and to tell agate from slate. *When not to lick! *Dining with Stone We look forward to helping you in the near future!

  • http://www.catavino.net Ryan

    Ok so now for the BIG annoucement. CATAROCKS.Com is coming to a place near you… We’ll host blind tasting of the worlds most famous minerals. Topics to look for in the future:
    *How to deal with calluses on the tongue!
    *Learn to lick, and to tell agate from slate.
    *When not to lick!
    *Dining with Stone

    We look forward to helping you in the near future!

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