Contextualizing Your Contemplation: It's Not All About Wine


Look at this photo. That's right. Eyes up here ^^^.


Like, really look at it. Study it. If this is challenging for you, let's analyze it together by asking a few questions. This relates to wine, I promise. Just hear me out.


What is the primary subject of this photo?


OK. Let's break this down. It's possible that if you do not analyze photographs on a regular basis, that even this question might be confusing to you. That is totally cool. We'll take a step back even further.


Is there a row of muscle cars lined up in this photo?


The answer, if, like me, your only stimulant at the moment is coffee, is no. At this point, I'd expect you to be saying to yourself something like this, "Well, I didn't know what he meant by the subject of the photo, but a prominent part of this photo is definitely not a row of muscle cars. It is a row of bicycles."


Good. Pointing out the obvious. It's amazing how much of wine tasting and analysis is just pointing out the obvious. Let's continue. I'm going to re-insert the photo so you don't have to keep scrolling up.

Let's talk about a technical part of the photo. First, let's point out the obvious. Then, let's discuss how it makes us feel. Or, at least how it makes me feel. I'll leave the how it makes you feel part to, you guessed it, you.


Contrast.


Would you say the contrast in this photo is high? Or would you say the contrast is low?


By contrast, I am speaking about the range of light present in the photo. If you had to create a spectrum to represent the photo, would your spectrum range from complete darkness to blinding light? Or would your spectrum start and end somewhere in the middle, with tones that are relatively close to each other?


To me, this photo has low contrast. There is almost a transparent quality to it, as if it was see-through. It's like it has a wash of muted orange light over it. No part of it is that dark, no part of it is that bright. It has a small range of light tones, or in other words, low contrast.


That is a technical observation. Now, just because we can, I'm going to mess with the photo a little bit. It's not my photo, for the record. But I am licensed to use it.


I took this photo into Apple Preview™ and cranked up the contrast. If you were having a hard time understanding what I was talking about, observe it now. You can clearly see an increased range in tones. The parts of the building in the right portion of the photo are a bright white. Much of the billboard/marquee/signage above it is very dark. Some of the corners are very dark. There is an increased range.


The brights are brighter. The darks are darker.


And it evokes a different feeling.


The first photo evoked (for me) this kind of overcast, sunshine-through-smog paleness. It's urban. It might be depressing to some, and it may feel hip to others. Feel free to add your own adjectives.


With the increased contrast, the photo almost feels a little seedier, a little grittier. It's more intense. More angular. It's louder. It has more distinctive elements that stand out, and then it also has details that have been completely obscured by the spectrum of tones present as a result of its contrast. It's more dramatic. It feels a little dangerous. A little threatening.


I think of the first photo as someone wearing a plain, neutral-coloured t-shirt and a simple pair of jeans with a pair of beige sneakers. I think of the second photo as someone wearing all black and pair of bright-white platforms.


It's kind of a matter of what you're into. Or rather, it's a matter of whether or not you are able to understand each and appreciate both for what they offer, instead of falling into what I argue to be a basic pattern of preference.


Now, what if we added wine to this conversation? When wine people analyze wine, they move through a series of similar evaluations. They utilize the idea of what a wine is not to help them define what a certain wine is. They observe, evaluate, and file away various characteristics of a wine. At worst, this results in a cold value judgement or a score out of 20 or 100. At its best, it evokes a certain feeling, and that feeling is carefully examined and indulged and eventually, perhaps, contextualized.


What kind of music does this photo or that wine recall? Which emotions drawn from a certain film could complement or come into some form of exploratory conflict with those drawn from a certain wine? Which hike or trail or landscape or body of water does this wine call up? What is the contrast level of this wine?


For me, when we get exclusively invested in nothing but the wine, we get lost. We become isolated from relating to anybody other than wine people. We limit our ability to share the beauty of wine with those who are not even aware of its existence, yet who might be consuming copious amounts of it anyway.


If wine is a language that enthusiasts and professionals of its trade use to add value to the world of casual consumers or eager students or just anyone with a gullet, then that language must be translated in some way. It's like me in France. I can't always get enough French out, and sometimes, the citizen I'm dealing with can't get enough English out. But sometimes we settle on getting 50% of what each of us is saying in Spanish and favouring it over the 10% we're getting from our native tongues and subsequent attempts at the other's.


And sometimes we just sitting there moving our mouths, flapping our hands, and drawing pictures on napkins.


We sometimes become paralyzed by the thing that we are so incessantly pursuing. We forget how to speak any language but wine. We become extreme, like the photo with the high contrast. I'm all for specialization, but specialization fails us so many times in a discipline that by definition is meant to be shared with non-specialists in the hope of creating enjoyment. When we go to the doctor or the auto mechanic, the goal is not joy. The goal is function. We accept the fact that our doctor or mechanic is not necessarily personable or compassionate or able to make us feel comfortable with what's going on with our body or our car. We just want a fix to a problem we know nothing about. Git it up, git it in, git it out, don't mess my hair-dooooooo...


With wine, we're explicitly seeking joy each time we go for a sip. I assume. In my mind, it is the administrator's responsibility to try to aid in this process if possible, and that requires a certain generalist's touch. In fact, I'll argue that extreme specialization in wine service is far less important than it might be in say, aviation or medicine. If we agree that we cannot ever understand exactly what another person is tasting, then we must agree as a result that the technical theory of tasting based on the science and specialization of wine is limited. It leads us to a place where we might focus more on the psychological effect we have on the consumer to inflict joy than the science.


If I give you an Advil™, it will in some way, reduce inflammation. You don't care who you bought it from.


If I give you a Wild Ferment Syrah™, however, and create a situation where you feel comfortable and are primed to enjoy it, you're going to talk about me later when you tell your friends about it.


Did you ever rave to your friends about the aloof cashier who sold you that Advil™ that eliminated your hangover?


It's not all about wine. We've got to remember that. On every level. We can learn as much about the process of wine tasting and appreciation by simply checking our process through analyzing a photograph.


Wine gets lonely when it has to hang out with you and you only.


Put a record on. Play a classic film. Read a book. Put on the game. Open a photo album.


Pick up the phone.


Let the wine play with its new friends.


You can supervise.

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