Wine Without Words: Visual Communication

World of Fine Wine 50th Edition

What is without question one of the finest wine magazines in the world, The World of Fine Wine, has just released it’s 50th issue. To celebrate, they created a special anniversary edition with an art piece commissioned specifically for the 50th cover, and devised a themed focus for the feature writing — the art of wine communication.

The feature writing, then, digs into various forms of wine communication with articles by some of the wine world’s thought leaders including philosopher Barry Smith, celebrated importer Terry Thiese, poet Judy O’Kane, and award winning journalist Mike Steinberger. I couldn’t be more thrilled than to have The World of Fine Wine editor, Neil Beckett, ask me to be one of the feature contributors as well.

For the 50th edition, I’ve written a feature considering visual communication of wine looking at examples in various media from across the world of wine including wineries in the United States, tasters in Europe, and my own work as well. The article includes illustrations from photography, painting, graphic design, and my drawings. 

Here’s a sneak peek. 

50th Edition cover World of Fine Wine

Wine Without Words: Visual Communication
Elaine Chukan Brown

For those of us deep in our love of wine, it is easy to forget how cryptic our language for it can be. Discussions of mouthfeel, structure, tannin and acidity can sound like code or a foreign language to the uninitiated. Even quite common aroma and flavor descriptions of wines can sound alien to novices, who find it hard to imagine that a grape-based beverage really can smell like blueberries, olives, and moss, or that such a combination could be appealing. Tasting notes that offer lengthy lists of such descriptions have been repeatedly criticized for their opacity. The challenge of wine communication, then, rests in finding ways to make wine more accessible, not less.

The challenge of wine

What makes it so hard to communicate about wine? Wine itself is a non-verbal experience. It comes to us in aromas, flavors, and texture on the palate. Such sensory experiences sometimes resemble others we’ve had with various fruits and other foods. But we can find it difficult to translate the non-verbal experience of our senses into words. To put that another way, wine’s natural home is in the senses. The words are given after.

To write about a sensory experience is to translate impressions from aroma, taste, and touch into the abstract realm of language. For those of us who are strongly rooted in verbal lives, the translation comes readily. We simply think through words. For those of us who are far less verbal, the distance between that initial sensory experience and its description seems an impassable gulf, one that fails to capture how it feels to love wine. Visual communication of wine offers a unique alternative.

The power of visual communication

Visual representations have only recently begun to appear in the world of wine. Over the past year, owner-winemakers Chris and Sarah Pittenger of Gros Ventre Cellars on California’s North Coast, for example, began to share photographic representations of their Pinot Noir that they call taste plates. Gros Ventre taste plates present a foraged collection of literal descriptors–raspberries, mushrooms, and dried herbs, for example–meant to capture the aroma and flavor profile of a particular Pinot Noir via a photograph. The effect is a photographic expression of a tasting note for their wine. The advantage of the Pittenger’s taste plates rest in their …

To continue reading this article you’ll need to pick up a print or electronic copy of Issue 50, December 2015, of World of Fine Wine.

The cost of subscription is not inexpensive, but the quality of writing you get, the independent reporting and tasting, is comparable to none. It’s a must have subscription for any passionate wine lover, regularly showcasing writing from the finest wine writers in the world including Andrew Jeffords, Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson, Jasper Morris and others. The magazine also strives to seek out and find fresh new voices. Additionally, the magazine reviews fine wine from around the world via a multi-taster panel. The advantage of this rests in its multiple perspectives. The tasting panels print reviews from each of the (usually three or four) tasters so that you can get a more in-depth view of each wine from three differing, respected palates.

To subscribe electronically: https://www.exacteditions.com/read/finewine – from the UK, or
https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/world-fine-wine-magazine/id894045101?mt=8 – from the US

To subscribe in print: http://finewinemag.subscribeonline.co.uk/print-subscriptions/finewine

You can also purchase individual issues singly: http://finewinemag.subscribeonline.co.uk/back-issue

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