Descriptors on the mind


Descriptors on the mind

Describing wine in words is quite a difficult task. It’s certainly one of the challenges for wine writers.

Just listing descriptors isn’t all that helpful.

No matter how exotic they seem.

Metaphors are useful, but they can easily sound contrived. At least, though, they treat the wine as a whole, which is the way we experience it.

I try to make my tasting notes as straightforward and useful as I can, but I’m not sure they are all that good. One thing I find is that I often have descriptors on my mind, just as you might have a tune going round your head that you can’t seem to shake.

When I rewrite tasting notes from a particular day, I find some descriptors appearing with higher than expected frequency. Had I been carrying these around with me, ready to use? Were they just the most accessible terms when I came to describe the wine? Sometimes I think this is the case.

A while back, Frédéric Brochet did an interesting series of psychological studies in which he showed that the way we produce tasting notes is ‘prototypical’. That is, we first decide what sort of wine it is, and then marshal those descriptors which we have learned to associate with that wine. So some of our note is no doubt based in what we are actually getting from the wine, but in part it is a psychological construction.

4 Comments on Descriptors on the mind
wine journalist and flavour obsessive

4 thoughts on “Descriptors on the mind

  1. I have no doubt notes are written by prototype. For a given region or varietal, I definitely have a subset of descriptors in mind. It seems to be a form of anchoring. My notes would be far more exciting if I tasted blind! But the funny thing is readers are conditioned to expect a note to reflect the prototype. If critics started finding garrigue in Bordeaux and pipe tobacco in Cotes du Rhone, readers would be mighty confused. Not that those descriptors would be especially common, but the associations are so tight that there would be a certain dissonance.

  2. It would be interesting to see a ‘tag cloud’ composed of the descriptors you use for tasting notes. So, for instance, if I like peppery notes in my wines, then I can bring up a list of wines that feature that as a key descriptor. It is, however, a pretty reductive way of choosing wines.

  3. This doesn’t really surprise me Jamie, but very honest of you to mention it. I mean, how difficult is a totally blind tasting? I’m pretty sure almost everyone would mix up their Chenins with their Chardonnays and their £10 with their £40 wines if there were no clues at all. It’s almost like you need to know in advance to do justice to a tasting………….but then doesn’t that just mean that we’re mostly rubbish at it?

  4. I must do this to someone at some point: go buy 6 wines of all the same grape variety, vintage and region, serve 3 totally blind and 3 totally exposed to someone and ask them to write their own tasting notes on each wine. I wonder if the descriptors would be similar for the blind and exposed wines?

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