The Art of Visual Wine Tasting Notes.

Vinthropology is the blog of my internet friend Danell Nelson, an American sommelier living in Italy. Danell is the perfect example of how real friendships can be made over the internet, we email, text and have even video chatted with each other as she designed artwork for my upcoming wine book, It’s Not About The Wine. It went further with Danell collaborating on the chapter Wine with Art as she gave me insights into paintings by Renoir, Caravaggio and the technique of cubism.

Her own interest connecting wine with art on her blog is focused on using images she creates from sketches to describe the aromas and flavours of a particular wine to compliment her own tasting notes, and we use some of these in the book as examples. Here’s a few from her blog:

Some of my followers are authors and you might be interested in her posts on cubism in which she compared how cubist painters transformed how we look at things with the way that Virginia Woolf changed how we read things and think about literature. So, a cubist painter and a cubist writer feed us fragments of an image or of a character in a book, all from different angles or perspectives, and then challenge/allow us to determine “the whole” for ourselves. In both cases we are given sensory inputs from the external environment which we then process through our brain pathways, the internal mind, forming a picture or making sense of the painting or the person/event described in the book. This is what Danell explains and shows us in her first of two posts Cubism and Mrs Darroway.

In the follow up post Danell applies such a cubist approach, through an image AND words to tasting a wine. So, her written tasting notes comprise fragments of aromas and flavours, but also contain further cognitive input such as childhood memories, knowledge of the place where the vines grew and the wine was made, it’s history and specific events. These notes are accompanied by her artwork as to how she perceived the wine created in the cubist style. Here’s an example:

Ruby red: a royal colour, a cardinal gem. Saturated, concentrated, glimmering colour; so many of them likened to gemstones: sapphire, garnet, emerald, and turquoise. Colour, cut, clarity and caret. Cranberries, cherries, raspberries, and juniper berries from these small, concentrated clusters of grapes- little fruit, big flavour. Big, black, spicy pepper. Here, in the delta, the Native Americans peacefully picking berries when the Spanish came with their big boats and jewel crested armor and velvet cloaks. Explorers and missionaries and colonists, and then the Gold Rush, and then the Stockton Ship Channel, and then agriculture, and then irrigation, and then houseboats and water sports. Maybe these old vines could tell the story, twisted and gnarly. Saturated in colour, saturated in flavour: zippy, shimmering, glistening acidity; plush, velvet, tannins- balance. Balsamic berry blast to finish, a crimson crush. Colour, cut, clarity and caret.”

So, what do you think, what are you sensing as you look at Danell’s image, do the words in the tasting note express the wine and it’s characteristics or do you gain more from the image? This is quite an important issue in explaining wine tasting and the extent to which our sensory equipment detects individual elements of aroma and flavour, or is it our cognition in terms of past knowledge and experience that constructs an opinion on a wine we are tasting? And ….. to put the cat amongst the pigeons, how would someone describe this wine who has never tasted cranberries, cherries or raspberries? What do you think?

I will follow up this post in a few days with a few notes on “how we think about wine” and the extent to whether our experience and perception of the wine is a psychological or a philosophical construct. And …… it’s not about the wine!

Categories: Wine

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7 replies

  1. Lovely blog yyou have here

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great! And ….. absolutely repost 🙏

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sorry, I didn’t see your comment until now. Yes, and experiment would be amazing! It’s difficult to organise now with my region being in the red zone, but once we’re in the yellow zone I think we can have up to 10 people together, and there’s always virtual tastings. Let’s do it! Also, can I repost this on my blog?


  4. I think we agree that there is a difference between tasting the wine oneself and “seeing” a representation of that taste from someone else, whether that representation is visual, verbal or written. What I DO know is the impact your images have on my understanding of a wine I haven’t tasted compared to the words. We need an experiment with a number of subjects, maybe your next wine club event? I’d help with experiment design?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve been thinking about the cover so much I nearly forgot about the art chapter 😅 You ask some interesting questions, and looking at the cubist “experiment” from an outside perspective, I’m curious as to whether the image and the words work together or separately. I think one does have to make the distinction between what we experience when we taste wine and what we experience when we look at an image or read words describing a wine. I guess this is my attempt to meld the two. Looking forward to your next post! 🥂



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