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It is a regular occurrence, even for the most accomplished wine aficionado: a loss of words to describe exactly what’s going on in the glass. Try as we might, the language of wine will always be a tricky landscape to navigate. But, as educators and students of wine, it is a necessity. Whether scratched into a notepad or typed into a report, tasting notes help us commit our experience to memory, and serve as a vital avenue for sensory translation.

Nonetheless, issues abound when it comes to finding a common understanding of these experiences. 

In this edition of our Great Debate series, Andrew Jefford — wine writer and the Wine Scholar Guild’s Academic Advisor — is joined by William Kelley, wine critic for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, to discuss a host of issues facing the language of wine and its primary vehicle of communication: the celebrated (or maligned, depending on your point of view) tasting note.

“A good tasting note should communicate as relatably and usefully as possible the character and perceived quality of the wine,” notes Kelley, who reviews roughly 5,000 wines annually from Burgundy and Champagne for his publication. However, he cautions, “it is a very limiting genre.”

By and large, Jefford agrees, but he also calls for “an equivalent of the ‘natural wine’ movement for wine writing” to refresh the possibilities and broaden the perspectives of wine language worldwide. 

In the end, this debate is a fascinating look into the process of crafting tasting notes from two of the industry’s most accomplished practitioners. But both admit that there remains plenty of open area for discussion on how to best utilize language to communicate the magic (or lack thereof) in the glass.

Published in Blog

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  • What are the main tasting methods and what are their key characteristics? 
  • How do different cultures, languages and sensibilities impact how wine tasting is approached? 
  • Can we envision a more overarching and universal tasting method? 

These are some of the questions we will be addressing in this Meeting of the Minds panel discussion.

Wine Scholar Guild Academic Advisor Andrew Jefford, speaking from France, will be bringing together a panel of key thinkers, educators, writers and experts in four countries to discuss a world of tasting methods. UK-based Professor Barry Smith not only directs the Institute of Philosophy at the School of Advanced Study at London University, but is also founding director of the Centre for the Study of the Senses/CenSes, which pioneers collaborative research between philosophers, psychologists and neuroscientists. He is himself a philosopher of language and mind. Sommelière (and former philosophy student) Pascaline Lepeltier MS, speaking from New York, grew up and studied in the French tradition of wine appreciation but has spent much of her working life talking about wine to Anglophones. UK-based Matthew Stubbs MW is one of the wine world’s most experienced and popular educators, and has taught both on his own behalf and for WSET and IMW around the world. Finally, speaking from Nanning in China, comes Julien Boulard MW, one of the most brilliant of recent MW graduates and a wine educator in China whose mastery of Mandarin sees him regularly appearing on Chinese media.

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