Winespeak: scores, music and Brazilians

Eric Asimov had a thoughtful column on Wednesday. If you didn’t get a chance to see it, he interviews a leading violinist and discusses, among other things, the difficulty of describing both wine and music in words. “A great piece of music, and a great wine, holds your attention and has more than you can say in words,” says the musician, David Chan. And somehow “sluicing a mouthful of pebbles” doesn’t quite capture the whole grandeur of a fifteen year old Puligny Montrachet either, Eric says. Indeed.

But one point that Eric does not bring up so I will: if words can’t even cut it, then how on earth can scores even pretend to be satisfactory in evaluating a wine?

I met with a Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger yesterday who is not wild about the thought of reducing a wine to a score. He wondered, how can you say which is better, Brigitte Bardot or Marilyn Monroe? Rembrandt or Renoir? Indeed. He made the point that, in an evening, wine is a part of the whole with his ratio running at 10 percent food, 10 percent wine, and 80 percent company. Three cheers for context!

brazilbeach1 Over the course of the tasting of four of his excellent tetes de cuvee, the superlative blanc de blanc Comtes de Champagne, he offered his tasting notes for the wines. Usually vintners offer cautious notes, if any, but Pierre-Emmanuel’s ebullient side shone through in his notes, which were:

1998: A young Brazilian woman running on the beach (find this wine)
1993: A monk who has led a pure life and suddenly the fruit comes alive and he is running on a beach in Brazil too (find this wine)
1989: Like a beautiful, elegant 55 year-old Italian woman with no “lifting” (find this wine)
1988: Sunlight streaming in a stained glass window, spirits mixed with light, a lot of transparency in the wine mixed with a gentle breeze (find this wine)

Come on, would you really prefer to see those wines with scores?

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13 Responses to “Winespeak: scores, music and Brazilians”


  1. Fantastic notes…I love it! I’ve done this before on my blog (equating a wine with a celebrity and decribing why) but it’s usually a bad thing…I’ll have to remember to try this for the GREAT wines as well. Love the 1989, just wish I could afford it!!


  2. These are some of the hottest tasting notes I have ever heard!

    Bringing Sexy Back to Wine for sure!

    Richard Shaffer


  3. I appreciate the quandary of scores. As long as they are based on personal preferences and enjoyment (which are situational) they are as worthless as these tasting notes. Numbers that have no basis in clear, reproducible criteria are as meaningless as poetic visuals that are personal and subjective associations.

    I mean, really,: “A monk who has led a pure life and suddenly the fruit comes alive and he is running on a beach in Brazil” – is a bit of an absurd visual that does nothing for me. It lacks concretes. Or: “spirits mixed with light” – is this a Biodynamic wine?…

    There are certain wines (typically young reds which have some detectable RS and have been made with heavy-handed uses of oxidative methods) that make me think of a deep smoky amethyst. This has nothing to do with color, the aromas and flavors do this for me – and probably only for me. So I will not use this kind of metaphor in describing wines.

    Concrete terms are more universal and meaningful. They transcend personal preference, the times and culture. Just because someone cannot articulate something in concrete terms, does not mean that it can’t be articulated. Music is a language of its own as much as smell and flavor are. To verbalize those things, takes some work and development of vocabulary and a parlance.

    Individuals understand many things averbally but this does not mean that a verbal understanding of those things cannot be attained.


  4. Arthur – you had to have tasted the wine for them to make sense. ;-)

    Winewench – yes many years left in front of the 89. But the 88–decades!!


  5. Tyler,

    It may be possible that these notes would possibly make sense if I had tasted the wines (which would require me to *buy* them) I cannot say that I would have the same association on drinking the wines. These associations (‘pure monk’, ‘spirits mixed with light’) are so personal and subjective that I would not rely in them to spend serious money.

    If I am looking for information about these wines to substantiate laying the serous cash asked per bottle, I want something concrete and not something that sounds like a commercial.

    They are entertaining notes, no doubt, but they are absolutely useless to a consumer who wants to know if the wine will give them the experience *they* seek in in wine.


  6. 1. I am getting sick of people always trying to compare a wine to a woman, particularly an aging woman who is doing so gracefully. It is not new, read any old bordeaux afficionado’s TN’s and you will see countless references to this.

    2. The brazilian on the beach was better, more original

    3. Numbers. I sometimes find it hard to quantify wine, particularly when I am comparing wines at different price and quality stratum, but at the same time I see the value, not as an exact representation, but as an attempt to point out a spot on an enjoyment continuum and say “Here, this is here”. It isn’t perfect, but it speaks a language all can understand, and I think that too many critics need to stop harping on the scores, obviously most wine drinkers, serious or casual, like the idea of numerical score or it would not succeed as it does. And I don’t just mean in magazines, but also on Cellartracker and other oenophile websites as well.
    In reality, humans use numbers in all types of settings to attempt to express the value or importance or worth of what is essentially an esoteric experience. Even art, such as film and music, is “rated”, in words and in scores. I think it is human to want to do so.
    As a last note, if someone asks me how a wine is, and I say “it tastes like beef blood”, they may get that, or they may not. If I say, “I give it a 94″, then they will probably have a better idea of what I think of the overall experience.


  7. A man who would score wine would score women, and deserves neither.


  8. Could not possibly have been put more eloquently, Bill.


  9. The young Brasilian woman running on the beach sure got my attention although I can’t picture it on the back label of a tetes du cuvee from Taittinger. (My favorite champagne for 25 years) Metaphor when done well is poetry and done poorly awkward. I think there was some French/English translation problem with the Monk’s story but it was still an interesting irony of Dom Perignon chasing a nubile young Brasilian after experiencing the fountain of youth effect of the blanc de blanc.

    Let’s face it nothing has much depth to it anymore in our fast paced world. Sound bites of the day and 5 liners are all we can absorb. Scores are just easier to digest. When teachers make tests the questions that are the easiest to construct involve numbers. There is probably an equation for everything in the universe but my mind keeps drifting back to Buzios beach and instead of the monk it is me asking “coli sensa Senora!” Wine and love have a long history after all.


  10. Bill,
    I’ll pass on the double entendre and assume that you mean “rate” when you say score, but in fact I rate wines, and not women, at least not numerically. To equate the two so unequivocally makes me wonder if you’re not taking your wine too seriously – or your women not seriously enough.


  11. His notes match the philosophy he has toward his product. There are so many reasons beyond the taste of a wine that ultimately leads to its purchase; these reasons are as influential as they are subtle.

    In this case, perhaps people are interested in purchasing this philosophy of wine as art, and, as a result, one experiences the wine not out of expectations, but exploration of one’s own subjectivity.

    I know I may look for the Brasilian woman on the beach, and though I may not find her (as everyone perceives art in their own way), it won’t be for any lack of trying or regret as I ultimately find my own reaction to the wine.


  12. I have only worked retail for a short time, but I am already sick of distributors telling me that “this wine got a (fill in the blank) score from (fill in the blank)” — and of course it’s always a 90 or above. I agree that a number has more potential shorthand meaning than a monk on a beach, but when the numbers are always 90+, collectively they have no meaning.


  13. [...] A commenter on Dr. Vino’s blog got off this Ben Franklinesque aphorism: “A man who would score wine would score women, and deserves neither.” [...]


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