Do you have the experience of when, at a good restaurant or while browsing a wine shop and asking for information about a good red wine, perhaps from Tuscany or Abruzzo, the sommelier, or whoever is there, hands you the bottle and starts describing it: “it’s an excellent red wine, with a bright ruby color tending to garnet, whose aromas recall ripe red fruits, cherry and plum and tertiary aromas of tobacco and earth. The taste is dry, savory and tannic, tending, over time, to a soft velvety texture”?
Well, this article arises from my personal feeling that the communication of wine can be different, more original, and, why not, better than this.
Let me make it clear that I am not a wine expert, even though I work every day with wine and wine tourism thanks to the Enonautilus and Nemo projects. However, in this case, I believe that not being an expert is by far better because it guarantees me a privileged point of view on the world of wine communication and, at the same time, prevents me from falling into one of the most insidious “traps” into which experts of all kinds sooner or later… stumble.
The pitfall in question is called “collateral technicality.”
To explain: Professor Luca Serianni in his book “Un treno di sintomi” (A Train of Symptoms), dedicated to medical language, defines collateral technicalities as “a special language made up of characteristic vocabulary from a certain sectorial field, which, however, are not related to actual communicative needs but to the opportunity to use a high register, distinct from ordinary language.” In this type of technicality, the deviation from ordinary language is evident: the patient says “he feels a strong pain in the stomach,” while the doctor writes “the patient reports (or complains of) a sharp pain in the epigastric region.” Therefore, a language that serves a self-celebratory function but, in reality, is useless.
Well, the use of collateral technicalities by sommeliers, some winemakers, and, above all, wine influencers has convinced us that wine can only be described through its organoleptic analysis, a system of codified adjectives that describe its aroma, color, and taste. This has led to a generalized flattening of how wines are told.
But is there a different way? Can a wine be described as angry, cynical, romantic, or funny?
In search of answers to my questions that somehow provided me with greater clarity on the subject, I began to verify how other products, other taste experiences were told, expanding the research radius more and more until, almost at the end of my journey, I met Antonio Paolucci, and a new world opened up in front of me. While browsing YouTube, I came across some videos in which Professor Antonio Paolucci tells the story of the Pietà, the David, and other works by Michelangelo. In his long monologues, it is incredible how this art historian (who was also the former Minister of Cultural and Environmental Heritage) focuses on the perceptual aspects related to the work without ever talking about the realization technique, materials, or anything else. Thus, I began to wonder why a wine should be described for how it is made or presented, and a superb work of art narrated for what it makes us feel inside?
Professor Paolucci recounts that Vasari, on a visit to Rome, gave an absolutely extraordinary description of Michelangelo’s Pietà: “It is a miracle”.
Although now I fear being accused of blasphemy and consequently being burned at the stake on a pyre sprinkled with a good red wine (obviously with hints of ripe red fruits), I remember that if a work of art can be defined as a miracle, why not a wine? A wine, in my opinion, can be very well described for the sensations it creates in us, leaving aside every technical aspect. They may not be universal terms, they may not be standardized, but they convey something that “hints of ripe red fruits” can never do: stimulate the imagination of those who read that post or description or review in order to create the desire to taste that wine.
Let me give you an example. Personally, I love soft wines and can’t stand astringent ones; so it’s normal for me to associate the concept of serenity and peace with soft wines and violence and aggressiveness with astringent wines: based on this approach, can I describe a wine as violent? And why should the fact that “violent” is not a standardized term be a problem? Where is it written that describing Francisco Goya’s painting “Saturn Devouring His Son” as violent is fine, but describing a Sagrantino di Montefalco as violent is not? For me, it is so and I am pretty sure it is also the case for all those people who, faced with a post that talks about a particularly “tannic” wine, are forced to check its meaning in the dictionary.
Telling a sensation is an extremely intimate act and this also goes against the hyper-technical approach taken by sommeliers and wine influencers, but it is absolutely revolutionary: telling how a wine reminds us of our mother for her sweetness, our father for his severity, or the first kiss because it seems to remain forever on our lips is different, it is captivating and above all, it is suitable for everyone.
True storytelling is about feeling, passion, emotion, and so on; perfect nouns (these last ones), by the way, to describe a wine. That’s why, in conclusion, I believe it is necessary to take a step back and approach the story of wine in a less technical, more emotional and people-oriented way; in two words, more closely related to what that wine makes us feel and not to what it objectively is.