Sunday, April 17, 2011

When heavily medicated for allergies...

...IT'S NO USE. I can't really taste anything. It's like there's a hole in my palate; things that are strongly acidic, spicy, or salty come through, but that's all. Mouthfeel is all I really have left--an inordinate sensitivity to temperature and texture.

So it seems like a good moment to make tiny comments on two scientific essays that involve the wine world. They come from the seemingly antipodal realms of linguistics and biology. I read academic essays all the time, so perhaps this is one small way to contribute to the gargantuan conversation online about wine.

I've mentioned elsewhere the results of the first paper, "The Taste of Carbonation," by Chandrashekar, et al (Science 326, 16 Oct 2009), sent to me by an overeducated reader. Carbonation in beverages tastes sour, they conclude, after a battery of quite convincing tests, checking to see if it tasted more salty, more sweet, and so on. There are stories about folks in China, a rapidly expanding wine market, putting Coke or Sprite into wine; this study suggests that they're not just making it sweeter, but rather, something more complex might be going on. And recall that the Greeks mixed water and wine, before ye judge the Chinese!

The second paper, Michael Silverstein's "Old Wine, New Ethnographic Lexicography" (Annual Review of Anthropology 35, 2006, 481-96), was suggested by an equally overeducated friend who ought to be reading this blog, if he knows what's good for him. This article was less useful. Coining the term oinoglossia, meaning "wine talk," the article discusses how learning the insider lingo of the wine world helps you signal yourself as being part of the wine-interested community. It uses wine talk as an example of how linguistic anthropologists need to understand how language divides up groups in culture.

But Silverstein insists that we have to understand both the words people use and the grammar in which they're used--even what I would call a cultural grammar, of using certain constructions or words in certain situations where you know you're being judged in some way, or want to win someone over and convince them you're in the "in" crowd. You don't just use certain words when you're trying to convince your boss you know what you're talking about--you talk in a certain way.

This is good, so far as it goes, but I didn't learn anything at all about the wine world from this article. It doesn't actually cite any examples! It's like linguistic anthropology without any actual drinking human beings.

In short: if I were out drinking some bubbly, which is about the only thing I can taste right now, I'd probably rather do it with Jayaram Chandrashekar, et al (there are seven authors on the paper, so you'd need a couple of bottles at least) than Silverstein. But the more the merrier!