Tuesday, November 29, 2022

What Is A ‘Wine-oji’? How Emojis (!) Are Taking The Guesswork Out Of Wine

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If you’ve ever stood in the wine aisle overwhelmed by choice, we hear you. Sarah Lang discovers an excellent shortcut, thanks to some inventive Kiwi wine experts and their invention of the Wine-oji

If you’re a wine drinker, you may have a ‘go-to’ variety of wine (pinot noir is mine in winter, rosé in summer, and I also like a sav blanc). But unless you’re a ‘one-brand’ girl or a vinophile, you’ve no doubt stood, like me, in the supermarket or liquor store surveying numerous rows of wines, suffering paralysis of choice. We want to spend our precious time drinking it, not buying it! People who prefer to buy wine online also face a dizzying array of choices, and should they start looking up wines, they might be on their laptops for hours.

However we buy our wine, what do we base our choice on? For many people, price, at least in part. That was certainly the main criteria in my student days (I’m looking at you, Bernadino and Aquila). Now, I usually buy wine priced in what I call the ‘mid-range’ – not barrel-scrapingly bad, but not budget-blowing.

Price aside, what else helps us decide? We might consult the description on the bottle’s label, but sometimes these assortments of adjectives don’t tell us much or even confuse us. Ideally, small taster amounts would be available through a pipette. That dream likely won’t come true, but there’s now a fun, accessible way to help you choose a bottle of wine.

Jessica Wood, Maciej Zimny and Josh Pointon – sommeliers from Wellington’s Noble Rot Wine Bar – had time to kill during Lockdowns, and had an idea. Enter ‘Wine-oji®’: the world’s first ‘visual wine-tasting language’. The image-based guide describes how a wine may taste and smell – using not regular emojis, but uniquely designed ‘Wine-oji’ images including lemons, lollipops, toffee and coffee.

“We came up with a modern, pictorial language to help people discover wine’s complexities in a simple, engaging way, rather than relying on random adjectives to make it accessible,” says Jessica, Noble Rot’s general manager/head sommelier, and Wine-oji’s ‘Chief Wine-olojist’.

At participating outlets, you’ll see a QR code (called a ‘Wine-oji Shelf Talker’) beside a bottle of wine. “We have Shelf Talkers in several Foodstuffs stores including New Worlds, Liquorlands and Pak’n’Saves, and some small wine stores including Martinborough Wine Merchants, and Henry’s in Cromwell,” Jess says. Scan the QR code, which takes you to the wine’s profile entry on wineoji.com.

The ‘profile card’ is based on the five ‘core structures’ of wine. An image of a lemon represents acidity, a stick figure represents body, a lollipop represents sweetness, a barrel represents ‘oak’, and a clock represents ‘finish’. A card might, for example, have three out of five lemon wine-ojis coloured (with two remaining shaded), which demonstrates a fairly high level of acidity. If none of the five lollipop wine-ojis are coloured, that wine (like many) is dry, not sweet. Other rows have wine-ojis for that wine’s various aromas (e.g. honeycomb), flavours (e.g. walnut), and even suggested food matches.

Prefer to buy wine online or to find a wine online before going out to buy it? Wineoji.com will match you with a wine from the 203 profiled so far. You can select variety and/or vintage – and choose from drop-down menus for Producer/Winery, Country, and Region (you can leave any or all blank). Use keywords to search for aromas, flavours, or even food matches (roast lamb yields six matches).

It’s a ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ story, but with a guaranteed happy ending. For instance, I choose chardonnay as a variety; 21 hits. Then I click on Hawke’s Bay as a region; 10 hits. Next, I click on a ‘2021’ vintage; six hits. Finally, I click on Church Road Chardonnay. It has “aromas of yellow flowers, yellow apple, toffee apple, biscuit and walnut. On the palate [flavour], peach, mango, corn and vanilla.” It has 3.5 out of 5 lemons for ‘acidity’, 3.5 stick figures for ‘body’, zero lollipops for ‘sweetness’, 1.5 ‘barrels’ for oak and 3 ‘clocks’ for ‘finish’. Recommended food matches? Creamy Pasta, Snapper Pie, Lemon & Rosemary Chicken (or Cured Meats if you’re feeling less ambitious).

One fun way to polish your palette is purchasing the ‘Wine-oji Library’: a poster that resembles a wine menu, but with Wine-oji images instead of words. Who knew there were so very many ‘primary aromas’? These include herbal aromas (24), floral (20), vegetal (15) orchard fruit (12), tropical fruit (9), citrus fruit (8)), red fruit (7), black fruit (6), stone fruit (6), blue fruit (2), and ‘earth/others’ (26).

There are also 40-plus secondary and tertiary aromas and characteristics – which primarily come from the wine-making process, oak ageing, oxidation and/or bottle ageing. These range from bubble-gum and pannacotta to tar and tennis ball (yes, really.)

Perhaps pick up a pack of Wine-oji cards: Classic Wine Styles of New Zealand, and/or Classic Wine Styles of the World. The cards use the same format as Wine-oji’s online-profile entries (including the 0 to 5 system), except that it’s for a wine style not an individual bottle.You could ponder subtle differences between Syrahs from Waiheke Island and from Hawke’s Bay? Party games (responsible ones, ha) come to mind.

My friend Mel and I used the Wine-oji Library poster during a blind tasting at Noble Rot (ah yes, the things you do for ‘work purposes’). Jess brought out glasses of three very different-tasting wines that each represented one style of wine described in the Classic Wine Styles of the World cards. Taking sips, we used the ‘Library’ to guess aromas and flavours. For one, I guessed ‘lemon (correct). For another, my friend guessed ‘liquorice’ (correct). We failed with the third, but TBH we were a little tipsy by then.

Noble Rot is the only establishment offering blind tastings with the Wine-oji Library and cards. Some wineries are already using the library and cards at tastings and trade shows, using Shelf Talkers with QR codes. And the Wine-oji team envisages eventually partnering with hospitality establishments to use Wine-ojis in their wine lists.

Recently, Gourmet Traveller WINE named Noble Rot as one of the 50 Best Places to Drink Wine in New Zealand and Australia. I’ll be back – hopefully with a slightly more polished palate.

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