07 January 2010

The donkey show

[sagrada familia]Commenters who ask good questions are so irritating.

For example, here’s “The Wine Mule” in response to my plea for a little more mystery in our wine:

If the didactic is off limits, and we know that tasting notes are useful only to that portion of the population who experience aroma and flavor the same way we do, what's left?

First up: I don’t believe that tasting notes are only useful to those with identical sensory and associative tools. I do think that assigning external authority (or worse, objectivity) to tasting notes is the first step on a very slippery slope to nowhere. But as part of a growing body of collaborative communication on the subject of wine, an adjective-ridden fruit salad of collective knowledge and emergent consensus (or, just as frequently, its opposite), I think they have a value that transcends the merely personal.

Second: the didactic is not off-limits, but it cannot define the limits. There’s a lot more to wine than the rote acquisition of knowledge. Even the most rigorous non-university wine education examinations in the world – those required for the Master of Wine and the Master Sommelier – don’t limit themselves to multiple-choice tests, but require both tasting and the proven ability to communicate wine knowledge in something more than bullet point form. (In fact, it turns out that a major reason that many fail the former is that, despite breathtaking knowledge and supreme tasting skills, they cannot do this.) When I ask for more mystery and less Wine Talk for People Too Dumb for Wine for Dummies, I don’t mean that we should abandon the helpful factlet or the mnemonic primer, merely that we’re reducing wine to its least interesting elements. Nothing that’s compelling about wine is told in a fatigued “match the grape to its appellation” rehash, much less the annual “sparkling wines (not from Champagne) for New Year’s Eve” article and its increasingly tiresome brethren.

So when our sterile donkey commenter worries:

It's true that not long ago I compared a bottle of freisa to Caterina Sforza, and while I may have felt inspired, I also felt a bit ridiculous, because anyone would think I was being both precious and pretentious, and not providing much practical information about the wine.

…I’m moved to ask two questions.

First, who’s the audience? If it’s the sort that will voluntarily read a wine blog with paragraphs and multi-syllabic words, the kind that will understand that Sherry doesn’t mean the stuff from New York, then I suspect that it’s adult and inquisitive enough to satiate its wonder either through independent research, the magic of emailing the author, or via consultation with The Great Oracle of All Knowledge. If the Mule is still worried, and seeks to provide guidance while preserving narrative flow…well, that’s why Gore God Ted Nelson invented the hyperlink.

And second, what’s the alternative? Because it has to be said: to the hypothetical blank-slated reader about which the Mule is worried, I doubt “freisa” is much more evocative than “Caterina Sforza,” and thus the best way to avoid all possible confusion is to mention neither. Shall we never rise above chardonnay and Paula Abdul comparisons in the future, then? I think not, and I doubt the Mule wishes so either.

Finally, his comment finishes with a gentle remonstrance:

And anyway, I'm not sold on the idea that a lot of people really do know that Beaujolais is gamay.

I’m quite sure most potential buyers of Beaujolais don’t know it’s gamay. A good portion of them probably don’t even know it’s from France, much less that it comes in other colors, or that there’s a difference between Nouveau and Chiroubles, or who the “Gang of Four” is, or why they should care about the divergent influences of Jules Chauvet and Georges Dubœuf. But many an article on Beaujolais will slog through some percentage of those answers, thinking it has done something useful for the advancement of wine knowledge. That article will be mistaken. Albeit intriguingly anthropomorphized.


Kevin Kuybus said...

Wine is the best drink that has medical abilities to cure many health related problems

The Wine Mule said...

That does it. No more references to Renaissance Ladies in tasting notes!