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!