Redux: Wet Cement

We’ve stumbled into a big, beautiful world, boys and girls. Or maybe we’ve just crossed into The Twilight Zone.

There is a fifth dimension,
beyond that which is known to man.
It is a dimension as vast as space
and as timeless as infinity.
It is the middle ground between light and shadow,
between science and superstition.
Rod Serling

You remember, I’m sure, the wine whose tasting notes said it tasted of wet cement. I mean, how could you forget? We’re all probably marked forever. Anyway, one reader suggested that it was a mistranslation of something that presumably made sense in the presumed original Spanish. I decided to check out that possibility.

Nope. Wet cement it is. Wet cement it was meant to be.

From apparently reputable, non-parody sites, here’s more talk about that wet-cement flavour (emphasis added).

Minerally: This is the flavour profile used to describe wines that are non-fruit, non-herb and non-spice based. Imagine the smell of forged iron, or the salty aroma of oysters, or the smell of wet cement – they have a distinct tang.
Wine Investment; How to describe wine like a pro

Wet stone in wine is used interchangeably with Minerality to describe a particular aroma or flavour. Think of crushed stones, rocks or wet cement. These aromas are sometimes used to describe wine, although aren’t always easy to explain, and are often not a common taste. However, they are usually used to positively describe a wine and tend to be coupled with high acidity.
The Cheeky Vino; Wet stone in wine explained

Wet gravel You probably know what wet gravel smells like, or wet concrete anyway, depending on where you live. It’s a flinty kind of smell. But “flinty” is a word used to describe white wines, while “wet gravel” is more likely found in descriptions of red wines, especially ones made with Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon. It actually has some overlap with the smell described as “green pepper.” Did you ever notice how green peppers can smell a bit like wet gravel? With the help of wine, you have now discovered they do!
The Week; 17 disgusting descriptions for delicious wines

So. It’s a Thing.

With its nod to Jerry Maguire (definitely not my favourite movie), here’s my favourite description.

Although I admit wet concrete is a pretty snobbish description, it is a fancy way of saying stone/rock. Next time you are near a river that has rocks, grab a handful, and take a smell. Rocks/concrete/flint/stone aromas are awesome in wine. As is “wet earth,” especially in a pinot noir. [emphasis added]
Reddit; You had me at “wet concrete”

Snobbish? “Wet concrete” is snobbish? Fancier than saying”wet stone”? The world of wine description baffles me.

Maybe it’s snobbish because it’s obscure. Unexpected. Startling, even. Not the sort of thing a regular wine drinker would say. But that seems to apply to many wine descriptors: barnyard, cat pee, cigar box, nettles, pencil shavings, petrol, rancio (yes, with the same root as rancid).

But wait, what’s this? There’s an entirely different take on wet cement.

When we talk about a wine that is “corky” or “corked,” that means it is suffering from a chemical compound called 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, or TCA. As you noted, the primary symptom is a musty odor, which sometimes reminds me of the smell of old books, wet cement or cardboard, or a dank basement. [emphasis added]
Wine Spectator; What are the most common indicators of a faulty wine?

So, where does this leave us? Standing with Rod Serling somewhere between science and superstition, I think. Or somewhere between sniffing the next green pepper that pops up and eschewing tasting notes altogether. The proof of the pudding, after all, is in the eating, not in the reading about it.

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16 Responses to Redux: Wet Cement

  1. John Whitman says:

    Isabel: So to paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld’s “Soup Nazi”, “No case of free wine for you!”

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      John – 🙂 Sadly, no. But it’s a good idea – using my editor’s eye for material advantage. So far, no one has offered me anything, though. I’m more likely to get “a look” and a response like this: “Are you an English teacher?”

      • John Whitman says:

        Isabel – Thank you for broadening my knowledge base with respect to “wet cement” being a descriptor on wine labels. As an engineer I obviously don’t spend enough time reading wine labels before buying.

        Being a civil engineer and having had some association with cement and concrete during my working career I of course have more questions.

        #1: Does “wet cement” on that wine label really mean cement or does it mean concrete? As you know, cement is the powder that gets mixed with water and varying sizes of gravel and small crushed rock to produce concrete. Once “cement” gets damp it forms clumps and if it gets wet, it sets as a solid clump and is pretty much useless for making concrete. Contractors and DIYers try very hard to keep their cement from getting damp or even worse, wet.

        #2: Does the cement produced in Chile smell the same as cement produced in other parts of the world if it gets wet?

        BTW. #1 and #2 are just errant musings, and I don’t plan to investigate further. I have also concluded that wine snobs don’t know much about the fine points related to “cement”.

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          John – I’m about positive that they mean “wet concrete”. Maybe they should have stuck with “wet stone/gravel”. 🙂 But your question raises another – why do we call them “cement trucks” when the sludge being turned over in them is concrete, no?

          • John Whitman says:

            I generally call them ready-mix trucks. Short for ready’mix concrete trucks.
            I guess it depends on whether or not you have or have had an involvement in the construction industry that uses concrete in large quantities.

          • Isabel Gibson says:

            John – Ah, I’ve never heard that usage. Interesting.

  2. Jim Robertson says:

    After all those descriptions etc, I think I’ll ignore them all and just go with a wine that tastes good to me.

  3. Thank you for resurrecting in its entirety the much misquoted aphorism regarding the proof of the quality of pudding, and of anything with which it can be compared, with the actual tasting of that quality, not to be deceived by its outward appearance, reputation, recipe, or other distraction. I have heard “The proof is in the pudding,” so often that I have wished to have a quantity of it and the proximity to the speakers, to arrange a tasting for the makers of meaningless metaphors.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – This comment was another victim of an over-eager spam filter. I guess the proof of the filter is in the checking the reject pile. Or something. 🙂 We have a collective tendency to shorten almost everything from names to quotes. That latter one is sometimes a good thing (taking them from long-winded, if nuanced, to incisive, if a tad simplistic). Sometimes it’s a unreservedly bad thing (changing or even mangling their meaning).

  4. Tom Watson says:

    So you mean to tell me that all this time I’ve been slurping wet cement?
    Tom

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – Well, maybe and maybe not. I can’t say that I’ve ever discerned that tangy, minerally taste. Maybe I don’t drink fine-enough wines!

  5. barbara carlson says:

    John and I were invited to a swank wine tasting one night at the Chateau Laurier (years ago). We knew nothing… so when John was offered a taste of a red wine, the wine merchant stared eagerly at John to get his reaction. John sipped and said, “Ummm! Flat.” The wine merchant’s face fell… until John continued with, “… like a polished ballroom floor.” Hardly an approbation, but the merchant took it with good grace.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – That John – always good on his feet! I expect this is a case where it’s impossible to over-praise…

  6. Judith Umbach says:

    Sheesh! Better guess than read these descriptions.

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