Wine’s Weasel Words

Over on Slate, wine economist and MIT Media Lab denizen Coco Krumme (best byline ever? this writer votes "yes") does something simple yet brilliant: she breaks down precisely why a large swath of wine writing is mostly useless.

"Using descriptions of 3,000 bottles, ranging from $5 to $200 in price from an online aggregator of reviews, I first derived a weight for every word, based on the frequency with which it appeared on cheap versus expensive bottles," she writes. "I then looked at the combination of words used for each bottle, and calculated the probability that the wine would fall into a given price range."

The result? Fancy, ultra-specific descriptors ("tobacco," "focused cassis," "boysenberry") cling overwhelmingly to expensive bottles while more general and pedestrian words are used for the lesser (priced) wines.

Moreover: the fancy descriptors are rarely reproducible from taster to taster and often bewilderingly specific, in contrast to simpler terms. Her conclusion: "words like full, sweet, fruity, and dry are, unlike camphor, genuinely helpful. In an earnest effort to nix subjectivity from reviews, critics have gone too far, leaving us with a bag of adjectives that say a lot about price, and almost nothing about flavor." Maybe two-word wine reviews would be better?

Image source: Flickr member gcfairch under Creative Commons

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