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Alder Yarrow

Alder Yarrow

Inventing The New Language of Wine Reviews

by Tim Elliott on April 3, 2009

French wine and French gastronomy are often en...

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I sat down yesterday to record another Quick Picks podcast but didn’t come up with a usable recording. No, it wasn’t due to some audio setting mishap or lack of a great wine to talk about but something more fundamental.

I didn’t want to read my review.

For some time now I’ve been struggling with this notion of how to make audio wine reviews informative but different than what I write. Too often, I default to the same sort of clinical reviews you see in the Wine Spectator and other wine pubs. Terse notes on color, aromas and flavors topped off with a rating on some scale. For almost 5 years now, that’s been what I’ve been doing. But I’ve had enough.

No, this is not the last post on this blog; far from it. And I will return with a podcast, probably today as I try some new ideas. But there has to be a way to do wine reviews that breaks out from the current print model. Ryan Opaz’ words keep going around in my brain; the internet should be different.

There has been some recent discussion on the subject from wine writers I respect and admire. Eric Asimov addressed this in his talk at the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers. As recounted by Alder Yarrow at Vinography, Mr. Asimov called for the abolition of the tasting note; an extreme departure from what we see now in wine writing and even podcasting. We seem compelled to communicate how a wine looks, smells and tastes. And at some level I think readers and listeners are interested in these impressions but I also think there is room to develop a new language for the wine review.

Both Asimov and Yarrow are correct in their main arguments. Eric calls for a complete rethinking of how to capture a wine in worlds and Alder suggests the addition of context is critically important. But at the end of the day, each writes about how a wine looks, smells and tastes.

There has to be another way.

But if we look at other criticism, we don’t get a lot of deviation from this model. Food critics may write about decor and service but they mainly focus on how the food looks and tastes. Music critics talk about how a song evokes emotion but are equally concerned with performance. Film critics are the only ones who seem to have a gig as tough as wine writers but tend to talk about more technical aspects of a movie: plot, dialogue, pacing, camera work and acting. So I don’t think there is a model to emulate.

Perhaps the answer will be found in the conversation here. But then again, maybe not. Whatever the result, things will be changing in my reviews. Because the internet will be different.

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