X forward

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At a restaurant recently, a waiter was asked about the difference between two pinot noirs available by the glass, and responded by describing one of them as "more fruit forward", while the other was "more reticent".  I'm familiar with fruit forward as a bit of winetalk, but this time it occurred to me to wonder where this particular construction came from, and where it's going.

The OED has no examples of fruit-forward, but glosses fashion-forward (under the lemma fashion) as "adj. designating clothing, a person, etc., at the cutting edge of fashion" with a citation from 1948:

1948 Los Angeles Times 26 July I. 16 (advt.) Our own nylons in our own Bel-Air package..aristocratic, a product of nylon dreams..exclusive and fashion forward.

Courtesy of ProQuest Historical Newspapers, an image of the ad is here. The structure is not entirely clear, but the syntax is no doubt the same as in phrases like "She walks with queenly dignity, shoulders back and chin up" — and fashion forward… (Or, with less queenly dignity, ass backward.)

In 1948, this was presumably a regular (if metaphorical) nonce formation, with the forward part in some amalgam of its normal meanings of "towards the front, in the direction which a person or thing faces", or "in advance, in front, ahead", or "advanced, extreme", or perhaps even "presumptuous, pert; bold, immodest".  But within a few decades, fashion-forward became a common and even cliched modifier. Thus Ron Alexander, "A Shoe-Sandal for Men: Surprise Summer Hit", NYT 8/26/1979:

At Saks, Roots's Canadian versions of the shoe (average price, $50) are selling best in taupe, sand and natural and most of the men buying the style style are described as "the younger, fashion-forward customer."

Or again, Ron Alexander, "The Evening Hours", NYT 1/4/1985:

"It's not a big party, just the immediate family is here," she said, surveying the 100 or so fashion-forward guests, including Ris e Marcade, a bartender, who wore a black leather tunic over her black rubber leggings plus a rather hefty hat of Persian lamb and seal, and a crafts shop owner, Anthony Robinson, who wore a beach towel with a red lobster on it in place of his lost scarf.

The earliest example of winetalk fruit forward that I've been able to find is from 1975 (Nathan Chroman, "Three Classic Examples of Different Wine Styles", LA Times 9/11/1975):

The three wines were classic examples of differing styles. The Heitz wine was rich and round, balanced with fruit and oak. The Parducci wine was completely different, with no aging in oak and with much of the Chardonnay fruit fully forward to the taste and easy to recognize.

The Sterling wine is closer to the Heitz in style, yet is more restrained in oak with good balance and with the fruit forward as well.

As in the case of the 1948 example of fashion forward, this looks like a syntactically and semantically productive construction. The prepositional phrase "with much of the Chardonnay fruit fully forward to the taste" is structurally similar to "with a blue baseball cap backward on his head"; and forward here presumably means that the "fruit"  is metaphorically "front and center", i.e. the characteristic taste of the grape variety reveals itself early and plainly, or in the front of the mouth, or perhaps is "extreme" or "bold".

But again, the collocation caught on as a common and even cliched modifier. The earliest example of fruit forward in the New York Times is accompanied by a negative meta-comment (Frank Prial, "Wine Talk: In Washington, the Renegades of Cabernet", 3/21/2001):

In Washington, the days are longer and the nights are cooler than in California. For the red wines, this translates into higher acidity and tougher tannins. Words like plump and sweet and fruit-forward (oh, execrable term!) are rarely applied to Washington cabernets.

But the execration of fruit-forward seems to have retired in 2005 with Frank Prial, and wine writers in the NYT now join their colleagues in using it freely. Thus Sarah Wildman, "Spain's Quiet Corner", NYT 8/26/2007:

On the banks of the Avia River, Viña Mein has been one of the leaders in the effort to reinvent Galician wines by taking what wine growers in Europe call a New World approach to creating rich, fruit-forward, easy drinking whites, planting only native vines — like savory white-wine grapes, primarily treixadura, godello and albariño.

Or Alice Gabriel, "Tastings Can Help Reduce the Guesswork", NYT 10/28/2007:

He liked his wines big, extracted, fruit forward, and dismissed a particularly elegant French wine as meager, tight and tannic.

Meanwhile, in the world at large, X forward has become a productive construction in winetalk:

An earth forward Cabernet that features red pepper & a spicy note.
A well made Chianti with more earth forward tones.
It's a little tight and acid-forward, though the impression is of a wine that expands into an intense mid-palate.
Crisp and acid forward wine; elegant and subtle.
While dry vermouth is crisp, angular, acidic and herb-forward, Lillet is rounder, featuring prominent orange and honey.
Very grapefruit and green grass forward.
A truly unique Merlot this wine stays fruit and spice forward all the way to the finish.
Very spice forward with heavy dark fruit flavors.
Australian shiraz tends to be more spice-forward.

Also in beertalk:

The taste was hops-forward, to say the least. It’s even hops-middle, and hops-finish, too.
Not a stout-forward imperial stout, and not an oak-forward oak-aged stout. Interesting, and quite complex, but I can't say that I particularly like it.
This is a great beer, but I would have preferred a more vanilla forward beer.
It's simply chocolate-forward without being ridiculous about it.
Anyway, what is your favorite way of getting a beer (stout) that is chocolate forward with minimal roasty bitterness?

And in foodtalk more generally:

He features dozens of herb-forward Italian recipes in his book.
Not every dish succeeds. An herb-forward beet and pomegranate soup fails to find the right balance of flavors; a precarious tower of ricotta and beet ravioli interspersed with scallions tumbles with the effort of cutting through the rubbery grilled onions.
This is the ideological opposite of New York pizza, thick and hearty where New York pushes thin and light, bright with fresh tomato flavor and toppings like spinach and mushroom that explode in your mouth where New York slices are often cheese-forward, bubbling crisp and deliciously greasy enough to have you reaching for a fourth napkin before you're halfway through.
In fact, while we were immersed in working on a sliceable chocolate we completely overlooked the opportunity to make a more chocolate forward ganache and play with chocolate fillings.
Jack's seafood fra dialblo is a spice-forward blend that includes an ocean of gifts from the sea.
It has a peppermint aroma combined with a flavor that is chocolate forward with a peppermint finish.

I haven't seen any similar generalizations in fashion writing — searches for things like "ruffles forward" and "fur forward" don't get me anywhere — but my ignorance of the genre may be at fault here.

Nor do I see any signs of spread to other domains. We wouldn't normally describe an especially exuberant grammarian as being "syntax forward", or an especially expensive government program as being "deficit forward".  Would we?

[From this quick scan of the history, it's not clear to me whether fruit forward developed by analogy to fashion forward, though the dates mean that this is plausible. And it's also possible, in one or both cases, that there was some influence of French "mode en avant" or "fruit en avant", though I suspect that the French terms are calques of the English ones rather than vice versa.]


  1. John said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 10:49 am

    Seems similar to putting one's best foot forward. The wine puts its fruit forward.

    But given the promiscuity with which wine connoisseurs use vocabulary (and their apparent inability to be consistent in blind taste tests), I wouldn't overthink this. :-)

  2. zythophile said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 10:49 am

    I can't see that "fashion forward" is particularly linked with constructions such as "fruit forward" – forward is being used, surely, in two slightly different senses here, "at the front of/prominent in [a movement]" and "at the front of/prominent in [an experience]". The tasting senses of "forward" are all talking about the prominence of a particular flavour component (with the exception, perhaps, of "Not a stout-forward imperial stout", which seems a clumsy and confusing way of saying "the usual characteristics of an imperial stout are not immediately apparent.")

  3. Nicholas Waller said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 10:53 am

    I wonder how "best foot forward" fits in with this (which apparently goes back to 1500 or 1600 as an expression, from a cursory Google – with Shakespeare saying "Nay, but make haste; the better foot before" in King John). Perhaps for fashonable people, their "best foot" is their sense of fashion. (Whereas fruit-forward means more, as you say, that the fruit is more obvious and sooner than a non-fruit-forward wine).

    There was once and will be again in 2010 a slim book called Bluffer's Guide To Wine, which helped non-oenophiles to get a toehold in wine conversation. "Hmm, tramlines" was one profound-sounding-but-meaningless term the author recommended could be dropped in in an emergency, if I remember right (unless it was something my brother once said).

    But as well as being a jokey book it did have genuine info. On the fruit front, it warns that wine is made of fruit and so "to say that a wine is fruity is to suggest that it has gone through all the processes which have transformed it from uninteresting grapes into a miraculous drink, for nothing. 'Fruity' should be the bluffer's last resort."

  4. Jonathan Lundell said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 12:38 pm

    Speaking of Cabs, Chrysler used the term 'cab forward' in the 90s: http://www.allpar.com/corporate/cab-forward.html

    It has a railroad history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cab_forward (though the article doesn't give a history of the term, just the referent).

  5. Ken Grabach said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 12:49 pm

    The fruit flavors of a wine, and the juice it is made from, can be surprisingly different than simply 'grape'. It can taste like cherries (frequent with the Pinot noir that started this post), blackberries, apples, pears, or other fruits we don't think of as 'grape-like'.

    Things happens to grape juice as it ferments (besides becoming alcoholic and killing yeasts). It might be stored for some time in a container of some composition (old wood, new wood with charred staves, steel, concrete vats), of various sizes (large barrels, small barrels, tanks). These add flavor components to the wine. Exposure to air in greater or lesser amounts changes the flavor components. These are all flavors not caused by fruit.

    The skins, and the amount of contact a juice has with them and some other plant parts (stems, seeds) add some non-fruit flavors. Mostly these are tannins, wich give flavors and an astringent quality. This, when associated with fruit, usually comes from unripe tree fruit or berries. When the tannins are not too 'forward', they provide a textural sensation in the mouth called 'structure'. Our mental associations with 'tannic' are not synonymous with 'fruity' or 'fruit-forward'.

    All of these flavors add complexity to a wine. They are flavors and aromas not associated in our taste sense with 'fruit'. To say that a wine is 'fruit-forward' tells me that it is young, not very tannic; it might be simple, rather than complex in flavor (perhaps why a critic might find it execrable, and perhaps why it implies a good quality to many consumers). The term, along with others, might be over-used, but it has meaning and conveys real information. The context of the conversation might add more, but this is quite a bit for a two-word phrase!

    It is interesting to note that there is quite a vocabulary of wine flavors. They might be used in meaningless ways at times, but the terms themselves should not be considered a tool of bluffers only.

  6. majolo said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 12:56 pm

    Note that the first beer example apparently interprets "forward" temporally. I've been puzzling a bit which way is forward in time, but I think this fits. If someone said "My flight got moved forward," I think that means it's earlier, right?

  7. Jonathan Lundell said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 1:20 pm

    majolo: I think there are two senses of forward/backward wrt time, depending roughly on the reference point. The 'forward' in 'my flight got moved forward' has, it seems to me, the sense of movement in time toward the subject/speaker, whereas 'travel forward in time' has more a birds-eye view of the time line. I can't say that I've checked this for consistency, so grain of salt etc.

  8. Catanea said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 1:25 pm

    I thought it was going to turn out that the fruitiness of the wine's flavour blossomed in that part of the mouth where a forward vowel might be found. I'm disappointed.

  9. ken lakritz said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 2:51 pm

    When i read this entry my eggcorn-hunting nose began to twitch at the idea of the phrase 'best fruit forward' mistakenly replacing 'best foot forward.' I see that several commentators have had the same hunch and beat me to it. In any case,'best fruit forward' does appear (try googling it) but isn't used erroneously. There's some idiom blending going on, but it isn't a proper eggcorn.

  10. Arjun said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 4:41 pm

    Many wine-drinkers, myself included, pay attention to the manner in which a wine unfolds as it moves through your mouth. Thus, there is a distinction between wines in which the fruit hits at the front of the mouth, i.e. immediately upon entry, and wines in which the fruit makes itself known only later, perhaps even after the wine has left the taster's mouth. The former wines are fruit-forward, and so "forward" is being used in both a temporal (the fruit hits first) and spatial (the fruit hits at the front of the mouth) sense.

    Also, a wine can be described simply as "forward," leaving the fruit out entirely. In this case, forward is simply the opposite of reticent, and there is a bit of personification at play. This usage is quite old and likely predates "fruit-forward." It is possible that "fruit-forward" evolved therefrom. Note that a wine can also be described as backwards.

    As a side note, the emphasis on specific fruit and other flavors in wine tasting notes is a relatively recent phenomenon and arguably a consequence of Robert Parker's rising influence. In the past, tasting notes emphasized qualities such as balance, body, and character or personality. For example, here is Michael Broadbent on 1962 Cheval Blanc: "Relaxed, open, mature; rich, classic bouquet; 'complete,' good length, dry finish."

  11. Nathan Myers said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 5:50 pm

    So we should contrast "forward" with "finish": "fruit-forward, shoe-sole finish".

  12. john riemann soong said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 6:03 pm

    What these people is a good dose of biochemistry and molecular gastronomy; e.g. I want to see labels that include descriptions like: "a tangy mix of octyl acetate, benzyl cinnamate and pyrogallate esters".

    As for the whole spatio-temporal distribution thing, it could be a whole lot more scientific. Kinda like how philologists might describe a language as "throaty" but then along came along modern phonetics with precisely-defined concepts such as "voice onset time" and "rounded open-mid front vowel" and "slack voice".

  13. john riemann soong said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 6:06 pm

    *what these people need, pardon

  14. ramscar said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 6:15 pm

    i think forward in wine terms developed as a contrastive to backward.

    fruit in young wine can often be hidden by tannin and acid, only to reveal itself as the balance of these change with time — here's a note from the critic Steve Tanzer on a young chablis:

    2006 Domaine Francois Raveneau Chablis Blanchots
    (from the estate's oldest vines) Very ripe aromas of pineapple and grapefruit, with suggestions of exotic fruits; the nose suggests an opulent wine. Then quite backward and dry on the palate, with powerful flavors of pineapple, grapefruit and stone. This is hard to taste today despite its full ripeness, as there's no early sweetness here. Rather austere on the aftertaste. This, too, will require a good seven or eight years of cellaring.

    Raveneau's wines can taste oddly like vinous battery acid when young, but they reliably turn into something delicious with age.

    backward is a helpful and pretty intuitive way of saying "you really don't want to go there… yet" when wines are especially unpleasant young, and are going to need a lot of patience. in contrast, forward would be a sign that it's ok to dive right on in. given that in fashion, designers either reveal the caribou trim or they don't, i think this can also explain the lack of "fashion-forward" (until someone decides to explore this angle, anyway.)

    thanks to the wonders of technology, wines can now be made to taste like cherry mochafrappacino from the get-go, rendering the literal use of these terms and distinctions somewhat obsolete, and encouraging metaphorical extensions. since kids these days [sic.] seem to like wine that tastes like cherry mochafrappacino, in by-the-glass settings, "fruit forward" has become a conventionalized way of guaranteeing this kind of experience.

    how was it?

  15. john riemann soong said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 6:23 pm

    ken grabach: yes, but biochemists have terms for of all these phenomena. We have probably documented all the esters/aldehydes (and the especially potent nitrogeneous and sulfur compounds) responsible for the myriad flavours in a wine (or chocolate) in a chemical database somewhere (they're prolly all readily purchased from Sigma-Aldrich).

    people say, "hints of tea" or "hints of apple" or "caramel finish", what's happening is that a specific biochemical that's associated with tea, apple or caramel has somehow found its way into the wine or whatever's being tasted. but since there are like dozens of allied compounds involved in actual orange flavour, etc. it's only a hint.

    the next layer of complexity is that flavour compounds can have constructive and destructive interference. The simplest examples are how sweet interferes with salty reception and how glutamate (umami) constructively enhances salty reception (so you need less sodium), and for that matter, garlic and cilantro compounds are known to synergise with glutamate to create a perception in unison that none of each compound could individually achieve. Speaking from experience, amyl acetate is a key ester involved in apples and banana flavour, but by itself it tastes like gummy bears (that is, awful!).

    Interference + solubility is probably what is responsible for the "forward/middle/finish" temporal distributions. Some compounds bind with certain receptors with more affinity than the others (receptor competition), so they are tasted first. Another mechanism is that the nerve signals from those receptors inhibit signals from other receptors (as with suppression of Na+ reception when sugar is put into the mouth). These circuits can get quite complex! But if they are pretty water-soluble (or saliva-soluble rather) they wash away quickly. Flavour compounds that prefer to linger around tissues rather than in water stay around longer for the "finish". They may not be tasted first if other flavours initially shut them out.

    I am of the opinion that a molecular approach to food would be much more informative and educational. It would actually *gasp* open up avenues into constructive research into the area. But alas, I think the wine tasting pseudoscience cranks do protest. They would lose their jobs.

  16. Arjun said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 6:38 pm


    As a chemist myself, I find that, when applied to wine, chemistry serves more often to obfuscate than to elucidate.

    To be more specific, while it may seem appealing to describe a wine simply as a list of odorants A, B, C, etc., there are several problems with this approach:

    1. One is restricted to describing those aromas for which a specific chemical has been identified. This is a surprisingly small subset of the total.

    2. The layperson is unlikely to know what A, B, and C smell like.

    3. Perhaps most importantly, it is an established feature of the human olfactory system that odors are not additive. Twice as much A will not necessarily smell twice as strong. B may smell like mint on its own, but be completely masked in the presence of C. And the smell of A, B, and C together may be completely different than the smell of any one of them alone.

    I feel compelled to add that the subtext in these discussions is often that many wine descriptors are simply in the mind of the taster and would not stand up to scientific scrutiny. It is interesting to me that such skepticism appears to be unique to wine. We do not doubt that people are able to distinguish a peach from a nectarine, a lamb chop from a pork chop, or the smell of one's lover from the smell of any other human being. And yet, try to describe these differences in words, and you will quickly find yourself looking foolish.

  17. Geoff Nunberg said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 6:39 pm

    See, now I read "forward" here as "presumptuous."

  18. john riemann soong said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 6:51 pm

    "Perhaps most importantly, it is an established feature of the human olfactory system that odors are not additive."

    yes, it's this which is responsible for a food's unique flavour profile (as described above), and why more chefs and wine tasters should investigate neuroscience. why do wines have "forwards"? why do wines have "finishes"? what is the source of the flavour complexity? These are subjects readily explained by gastronomical neuroscience but not wine critics with no science education.

    furthermore, complex interactions are not new to biochemistry. We deal with them all the time. Take a look at how we tease apart protein-protein interactions or the entrenched DNA-mRNA-protein interaction circuits involved in a circadian rhythm. We're sort of good at describing these things analytically.

    "1. One is restricted to describing those aromas for which a specific chemical has been identified. This is a surprisingly small subset of the total."

    But that is what research is for! If wine tasters didn't obfuscate the public with their bizarre metaphors, there'd be a lot more enthusiastic research into this area. Get random undergrads to analyse the chemical compositions of random wines (HPLC, GC, fractional distillation, etc.) and isolate their constituents.

    (I'm a biochem student frustrated at his big research school. We can synthesise fancy asymmetric catalysts and we even discovered melanopsin but no one here wants to apply neuroscience and chemistry to something as simple as food.)

    "2. The layperson is unlikely to know what A, B, and C smell like."

    Simply because there is no emphasis or excitement over that sort of thing in education. We probably need to come up with more manageable names for various flavour compounds, but if a molecular approach became the norm, the layperson would be more familiar with them.

    Certainly more manageable than "a hint of caramel", whatever that means. There are so many possible types of hints of caramel. What I think critics try to do is find an overlap between two types of distinct flavours — e.g. they are trying to describe a set of flavour compounds uniquely present in both (but they don't know it). But it's so ambiguous. Proper chemical education (made accessible to the laymen) would fix this. I mean, 100 years ago, not many laymen knew what a "trans-fat" or a "omega-3 fatty acid" or an "amino acid" was.

  19. Jake T said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 7:12 pm

    Ha. I saw the headline and assumed this was a post about Linux and X forwarding.

    Imagine my disappointment ;)

  20. Dan Lufkin said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 9:03 pm

    In circumstances that need not detain us here, I once came into possession of a virgin bottle of Hennesy brandy that had spent at least 70 years forgotten in a cave on Guam. You could amuse yourself by sipping a tiny quantity, just a few drops, and tasting a few seconds of,say, intense banana, followed by raspberry, followed by pineapple, followed by cat urine, followed by … you get the idea.

    A chemist friend told me that the higher alcohols and sugars in the original brandy had gradually polymerized into the organic acids that are responsible for fruit (and many other) flavors.Just a few molecules are enough to elicit the taste. The same thing must happen in wine. The difference in the brandy was that there were no longer any competing flavors of grape or tannin left.

  21. danny bloom said,

    March 13, 2010 @ 12:19 am

    check with Eric Asimov, wine guy at NYTimes, who, BTW, is sci fi guy Isaac Asimov's nephew….

  22. Aaron Davies said,

    March 13, 2010 @ 1:01 am

    @dan lufkin: lucky bastard! such things are readily available from hennesy, remy martin, and similar companies, but only for people in a position to spend multiple thousands of dollars on a single bottle.

  23. Aaron Davies said,

    March 13, 2010 @ 1:03 am

    @arjun: it seems to have been reliably demonstrated that wine descriptions can't even stand up to blind taste tests, let alone be transferable from person to person. i've never actually tested myself on a distinguishing beef from lamb, but i'd be willing to lay money on my ability to do so.

  24. Will said,

    March 13, 2010 @ 1:19 am

    I once decided to read a short book for beginners on wine-tasting terminology and methodology (and by short, I mean very short, ~60 pages at most). While I'm now less ignorant, that certainly didn't help my palate, even after diligently following the outlined procedures.

    To me wine does and always has smelled like just wine, and tastes like just wine. Sometimes if it's been sitting out for a couple hours I might describe it as "vinegar-forward". That's about the extent of the wine critic in me.

  25. uberVU - social comments said,

    March 13, 2010 @ 4:25 pm

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by PhilosophyFeeds: Language Log: X forward http://goo.gl/fb/2Eri

  26. Sili said,

    March 14, 2010 @ 8:56 am

    The fashion-forward examples make me think avant garde, but that doesn't transfer to wine.

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