LINGUIST List 31.1813

Mon Jun 01 2020

Review: Cognitive Science; Discourse Analysis; Pragmatics; Psycholinguistics; Semantics: Caballero, Suárez-Toste, Paradis (2019)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 31-Mar-2020
From: Peter Backhaus <>
Subject: Representing Wine – Sensory Perceptions, Communication and Cultures
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Rosario Caballero
AUTHOR: Ernesto Suárez-Toste
AUTHOR: Carita Paradis
TITLE: Representing Wine – Sensory Perceptions, Communication and Cultures
SERIES TITLE: Converging Evidence in Language and Communication Research 21
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2019

REVIEWER: Peter Backhaus, Waseda University


“Representing Wine” by Rosario Caballero, Ernesto Suárez-Toste and Carita Paradis deals with the various ways in which the consumption of wine and the perceptions involved are communicated through language. As described in the Preface, the study presented is based on the three authors’ long-time research on the topic. Simply put, the main focus is on “how speakers manage to convey what they want to convey about wine” (xi).

Chapter 1 introduces the term ''winespeak'' and the key notion of ''recontextualization,'' here understood as ''the transfer of knowledge from people's experiences in and with the world into language and across various modes of expression'' (2). It also identifies two ''pillars'' to be taken into consideration when discussing the language of wine: the macro-level of genre and an overall ''culture of wine,'' complemented by the micro-level of linguistic utterances and constructions.

Chapter 2 presents the methods and theories that guide the analysis: cognitive linguistics, particularly the Lexical Meaning as Ontologies and Construals framework as developed by one of the authors (Paradis 2005), and discourse analysis, specifically the subfield of genre analysis. The chapter also introduces the databases, which include both textual corpora (most notably, tasting notes) and multimodal material (wine labels, advertisements, film documentaries) in two languages, English and Spanish.

Chapter 3 paves the way for the subsequent chapters by sketching the sensory experiences during the tasting event and how they become transformed into language. In order to do so, two well-known analytical schemas are discussed that offer differing approaches for putting wine into words: the German Aroma Wheel and the Wine and Spirit Education Trust system. The second part of the chapter introduces the genre of the tasting note, which is the most important text type to be dealt with.

Chapter 4, titled ''Descriptors of wine across the senses,'' starts with an impressive list of the many words for wine used in the tasting notes corpus, from ''brew'' and ''baby'' to ''triumph'' and ''work of art.'' The main aim of the chapter is to introduce the key concepts for describing the different sensory perceptions during the tasting event, most notably metonymy and synesthesia.

Chapter 5 follows up on this by examining the important work done by metaphors. An overall distinction is made between process-focused metaphors (e.g. wines as part-whole entities) and product-focused metaphors (e.g. wines as living organisms with “nose,” “body,” etc.). The analysis also identifies a few inconsistencies with common metaphor theory. Most strikingly, metaphors in wine language do not necessarily involve a mapping of concrete onto abstract notions but often seem to be doing just the opposite, given that wine language habitually attempts to capture concrete experiences such as smell and taste by likening them to more abstract concepts. A second linguistic characteristic of tasting notes is motion language, particularly verbs that help “reconstruct and recontextualize the tasting event” and “describe the sensory experiences afforded by wine” (92).

The topic of Chapter 6 is the description of the presence of certain substances in wine, including interrelated notions such as quantity, range/scope, salience, and a number of others. Here, too, the important function of sensory, metaphorical, and metonymical language is explored, as is the role of motion verbs. The authors also show that statistical data, such as exact percentages of certain ingredients or substances, are considered largely irrelevant and therefore ''conspicuously absent in most T[asting] N[ote]s'' (101).

Chapter 7 uses a larger subcorpus of reviews by world-famous wine critic Robert Parker to examine the rhetorical strategies used to achieve credibility in wine assessment. It identifies the main components in Parker’s writing and their overall structure, thereby applying many of the findings from the previous chapters.

Chapter 8 moves away from the textual analysis of tasting notes to explore the marketing of wine as observable in wine names and packaging. With respect to the former, a distinction is made between literal naming strategies, most commonly toponyms, and metaphorical naming strategies that appeal to some specific quality of the wine. A most basic issue in packaging is wine bottle design, where the “male” Bourdeaux type is juxtaposed with the “female” Burgundy type. Also of interest is labeling, including the rule of thumb that high quality wine normally comes with a very simple design. This equation, however, is easily manipulated for promoting cheaper wines, too. The analysis as a whole reveals a great deal of creativity in both naming and packaging, exemplified by a number of truly impressive examples.

Chapter 9 continues the discussion from the previous chapter by looking at wine advertising in specialized magazines. It identifies similar metaphors and instances of synesthesia as in tasting notes, though in advertisements these can be delivered in a multimodal way. For instance, depicting a person in an ad makes use of the metaphor of wine as a human being. However, in quantitative terms the results show that “the immense majority of wine adverts do little more than present bottles and/or labels in artsy ways,” (160) which points to a considerably conservative attitude in advertising wine.

Chapter 10 deals with an entirely different type of data: three wine documentaries about famous French (Burgundy and Champagne) and Spanish (Jerez de la Frontera) wine regions. For each location, the authors identify particular strategies to promote the specific wine portrayed, such as the “festive” image of Champagne, where “in fact, throughout the entire documentary, opening champagne bottles to celebrate Wednesdays or sunshine looks like a perfectly spontaneous and desirable thing” (188). The main stylistic device focused on is, again, metaphor, used in various mono- and multimodal ways.

Chapter 11 gives a review of the previous chapters, summarizing that “winespeak may be limited, imprecise, built on the terminologization of a general-purpose lexicon unspecific to wine, and largely resting on figurative language, but it is also reasonably effective and decidedly intriguing in verbal creativity, and that makes it a very interesting field for linguistic inquiry” (210). The book concludes with a few more points for thought that have not been dealt with in the main part, such as the factor of subjectivity and personal taste, the role of stemware in the appreciation of wine (''If the glass determines the experience to such an extent, we must conclude there is no such thing as _wine_,'' 213), and expert vs. layman perceptions and how they are attended to by a growing market of wine literature for non-specialists. The authors' advice on this last point: Don’t try to use shortcuts.


When first seeing the three names on the book's cover, one may be tempted to assume that this is an edited volume. It is not, and it is to the credit of the authors that it does not read as one either. In fact, Caballero, Suárez-Toste and Paradis do a great job in delivering a text that mostly works as a logically structured, coherent whole. Taken together, the chapters provide a well-informed discussion and critical appreciation of the language of wine in its various forms and functions.

One thing I found somewhat problematic is the strong focus on metaphor and metonymy, which at times seem to eclipse all other aspects that might be worthwhile analyzing in wine language, such as different types of speech acts, narrative voice, lexical collocations, or the large number of semiotic features outlined in the seminal paper by Graddol (1996), which is strangely missing in the references. In the same vein, there is some redundancy in Chapters 4, 5 and 6, which use different data to ''find'' the same linguistic phenomena over and over again. These chapters also tend to be a bit too descriptive, with ample presentation of examples and long lists of vocabulary items that sometimes make it difficult to see the point.

Another point I found somewhat disappointing is that the differences between the English and the Spanish data were not explored in more detail. There are a few passages where this is done, for instance when discussing differences in naming strategies (Chapter 4). However, a more systematic comparison of the two languages might have provided some deeper insights into how winespeak ''sounds'' in different languages.

An unnecessarily high number of mistakes sometimes distracts from following the argument. These include typos (e.g. ''Bourdaux,'' 127) and punctuation (e.g. defining vs. non-defining relative clauses, 137), ill-formed sentences (e.g. “This is applies to patterns such as…,'' 116), and mistaken contents (e.g. wrong reference to an example sentence, 136). In addition, I really hate to say that some of the illustrations were somewhat reminiscent of prototypical corporate slides. Thus, many of the purple arrows don't seem to make much sense (e.g. Figures 3, 6, 8) and were in fact more confusing than helpful.

These points of criticism notwithstanding, “Representing Wine” is an interesting piece of research that certainly holds a great number of insights into wine language, metaphor theory, and how the process of drinking is put into words.


Graddol, David. 1996. The semiotic construction of a wine label. In Sharon Goodman and David Graddol (eds), Redesigning English: New Texts, New Identities, 73-80. London, Routledge.

Paradis, Carita. 2005. Ontologies and construals in lexical semantics. Axiomathes 15. 541-573.


Peter Backhaus is Professor at the Department of English Language and Literature at Waseda University, Tokyo. Major publications include Linguistic Landscapes: A Comparative Study of Urban Multilingualism in Tokyo (Multilingual Matters, 2007) and Care Communication: Making a Home in a Japanese Eldercare Facility (Routledge 2017). His present research interests are in pragmatics and stylistics.

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