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Most people who read about wine choose to; they opt in, as it were, they enter the country-of-wine-writing. But some people encounter such writing in other contexts, such as the occasional (and fast-vanishing) newspaper column. In some of those cases, wine writing may be off putting to those who aren’t jiggy with its lingua franca.

I saw a dramatic example recently, and winced for the author. I know the writer, I like the writer, I respect the writer’s ability to work within really pitiless limitations and somehow remain cheerful. But when I read this particular tasting note, all I could feel was “This kind of thing does wine no good at all.”

There’s no reason to identify the writer, nor reason to identify the wine. The writer is not at fault for an incoherently twee tasting note; the system is to blame, for imposing such appalling word limits. (A corollary benefit of wine blogging is to give thought all the space it needs to develop itself, though the thinning of that particular blogger herd is probably not a bad thing….)

Here is some of the note in question, along with my observations.

“Brilliant salmon in hue, this peppy rosé expresses scents of nectarine, strawberry, and wet river stones.” Um, okay. Here’s something that irks me; who wrote the rule that tasting notes needed to be in complete sentences? It amounts to a colossal waste of words, a verbal spew that does nothing to communicate to the reader, and in this case – with a severe word-limit in play – it adds insult to injury by squandering precious words. Can’t “in hue” be replaced by “color?” Do we need to read “this peppy rosé expresses…” We already know it’s a rosé from the reference to color, and “expresses” is a leaf too many in the word salad.

And I fear we’ll have to engage with “wet river stones,” because this is exactly the kind of phrase that convinces “civilians” that wine people are affected snoots parading their superiority over the rest of us by esoteric and indemonstrable locutions that seem “sophisticated” but that no sensible person comprehends. And yet this problem is easily solved for the writer, if that writer is free of editorial constraints. Try this: a scent that made me think of wet river stones. That makes sense. I might not know exactly what you mean, but I know how it is to grope for a word to describe a fragrance.

It continues: “Bright, tart and dry, the palate offers pink grapefruit and crunchy peach…” I can do without “the palate offers” because it’s a waste of words, words that might have been better deployed squaring the circle of “crunchy peach.” Drop the three useless words “the palate offers” and redeploy them explaining crunchy texture and peachy fruit. That makes sense.

A few closing thoughts, if I may. One, you can’t compress wine writing into your measly 475 words (or whatever) and expect it to carry its weight. Either give it a reasonable amount of column-inches so that it’s something more than a mingy little chaos, or don’t do us any favors. Two, a tasting note does not have to consist of complete sentences. In fact it should not do so. The taster’s impressions are fragmentary, ephemeral; they rush along, and language ought to reflect that. There’s a tea vendor I use who publishes tasting notes for their teas, much of whose content is ad-speak – “A superb tea, sure to please the discriminating Ceylon tea enthusiast…” or words to that effect. This isn’t even word salad any more (I like salad!); it’s just a spew of word-goobers, and if you look around the world of wine reviewing you’ll see it again and again. I’m not saying that tasting notes must be written in fragments; I’m saying that it’s natural for them to be, and that they should be accepted in this context. The best notes go back and forth, some sentences, some fragments, and this is right and proper.

We are following the squirmings of an animated mind attempting to grope with the limitations of languages and with kinetic information that moves faster than it can be apprehended. Wine doesn’t stay still on the palate! In fact the moment it enters the palate it starts to mingle with the taster’s saliva, and if the damn thing could just be inert for a second you might be able to say how it tastes. But it doesn’t work that way.

Our writer was ill-served by inadequate space and editorial judgments that did damage to the text.

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While I agree in theory with much of what you've said here, the nose/palate thing can be defended (if such a thing is in need of defense) by saying that differentiating between aroma and flavor can be helpful for many consumers, and is certainly taught at the wine certification level (another topic entirely, and worthy of one of your incredible musings here!). And wet river stones speaks to me (perhaps it's my NH upbringing) of not only a certain experience but sensation as well. The "That made me think of" phrase, in addition to being wordy, could antagonize some readers as it's drawing attention to the fact that your wet river stones might be her alpine stream. However, I d…

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"ordinary working of sensory imagination" Now THAT sounds like your next blog post! Word counts certainly have plagued writers since Dickens and before. It's a horribly rudimentary and limiting tool for those of us who and die by the quill. Thank you for bringing the subject into the public sphere!

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