Wine and Conversation

Wine and Conversation

Wine and Conversation

While the title of the book makes it sound like a breezy coffee-table book, Wine and Conversation by Adrienne Lehrer is in fact an honest-to-goodness linguistic study of the language of wine critique. Below are my notes from the book.

Theory of word meaning

  1. relationships between words, intralinguistic (synonymy, antonymy, class inclusion)
  2. denotation and reference — how words relate to the world.


There are four (five) basic tastes, 10-100 thousand smells, and a range related to touch [note: that makes life interesting for me!].

Wine drinking is an aesthetic experience, and so the evaluative permeates every other dimension, including descriptive ones.


The dimensions of wine tasting (also perhaps refer to critique in general):

Too much X (negative) » Right amount of X (positive) « Too little X (negative)

SWEETNESS cloying sweet,   dry
ACIDITY sour tart flat
unbalanced balanced unbalanced

(Interaction of balance, acidity, and sweetness).

Other dimensions include age, feel, and body.


Coarse Heavy ( = full-bodied) Light Watery
Strong Big Rich Delicate Thin
Chewy Fat Deep Fragile Weak
Alcoholic Thick Powerful Meager
Solid Forceful Small
Sturdy Robust Flabby
Hearty Round

Mapping dimensions related to body

Also temporal qualities such as foretaste, middle, aftertaste.

Various words are also used for evaluation only (high and low praise or derogatory).

Also examples of wine personality—e.g. Pamela Vandyke Price’s “The Taste of Wine.” She also uses the word “round” and the concept of wine profiles (like a line graph over time with excitement on the y axis).


Model for dealing with relationships in language—the semantic field

serves as a good model for describing lexical structures (i.e. a group of lexemes aka words that bear certain specifiable relationships to each other).

In field theory, the meaning of each lexeme is its relationship to other lexemes in that semantic field.

These relationships include synonymy, antonymy, and scalar order terms.

Interestingly, the relationship between words in a field hold across different domains.

Noted in 2001 a whole range of body-centred words appearing (possibly from the popularisation of body-building?)

Also words from artefacts, notably crafting (though manufactured is derogatory).

Also complexity (one- or multi-dimensional) and balance.

Age has expanded (open, closed, precocious), as personality (e.g. assertive, shy, hedonistic vs intellectual)


Aroma—Noble’s is a wheel (outer not complete)

Ann Noble Aroma Wheel

Leher’s is more culinary and does not attempt to match up categories.


Tests for the mouthfeel wheel were made up of experts.


Later tests showed that experts had more agreement of words, and were able to make such distinctions as between taste and aroma, but surprisingly didn’t do much better than chance at matching their own descriptions back to the wine. However, it was found that when non-experts were able to use expert terms they had significantly better correlation.

Leher finishes her study by making comparison to other disciplines (coffee, beer, music — where she found that a number of terms could be transferred — and even personality).


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