Melvyn Minnaar: When you see shapes but taste wine
By Melvyn Minnaar, 2 September 2023
At the release of her new Seascape wine range with their attractive, standout labels, Trizanne Barnard made short thrift explaining the vivid pictures associated with each wine. “When you drink the wine, you will know exactly the meaning of the image…”, “If you look at the label, you know exactly what’s inside…” Or something to that effect.
In other words, the images on the labels ‘explain’, ‘comment’ or/and drive the esoteric association of what the particular wine is. No need for words to ‘understand’ or ‘describe’ the wine. The picture is the message. From ‘taste’ the sensual jump is to ‘see’ or ‘view’ – the mash-up of the senses in a metaphorical way.
It’s an old trick in the (especially poetry) book. And, quite frankly, in a cynical time when wine judges try their best to write words that explain their floating, exotic (high) scores, and so-called influencers just post “lovely red” or “smashing white” and “get it now” in their remarks about a wine, a little detour of vinous communication may not be a bad idea.
Every one of the seven Seascape wines has a label that visually and vividly differentiates the bottle’s identity. Even on a fleeting encounter one gets an impression that there is something more than decoration to the label’s message. It wants to communicate and entice like classic ‘abstract art’. Except that there seems always also to be a surfer in the picture. (Well, you know Trizanne and her sea passion.) So not quite mysteriously ‘abstract’.
So you look closely, for example, at the label on Trizanne Barnard’s new Hemel-en-Aarde Barbera 2022 the cheerful, colourful playground of abstraction exudes a kind of energy and mystery. And inside the bottle one finds the alchemical pleasure of a wine from an unusual grape from an unusual site (Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge) of which that image says so much more than the typical tannic tangle of barbera and the charm of cherries and cloves, the balanced surge of the fine acidic surf, promising a future. Maybe you’ll even image the timbre of the surfer’s tide.
Yes, all that is what is known in the fancy world of the arts as rhetorical synaesthesia: remixing and repurposing the adjectives and adverbs used in sensual expression for new, witty and unusual ways of getting your creative message across. Beloved by poets, it cracks open language.
(Individual neurological conditions of synaesthesia have occupied scientists of the mind seriously since the English philosopher John Locke wrote about the blind man who ‘saw’ red when a trumpet sounded. It’s known as chromesthesia. The Russian composer Alexander Scriabin even wrote music that employed a clavier à lumières (‘keyboard with lights’ of different colours.)
The rhetorical example often sited is the French poet Arthur Rimbaud’s ‘Voyelles’ (‘Vowels’), a sonnet in which the letters of the alphabet are given colours: “Black A, white E, red I, green U, blue O: you vowels / Some day I’ll tell the tale of where your mystery lies…” (translation by George Dance).
Back to wine. And labels – of which an entire research department can be set up to analyse, philosophise and do market research on.
Overall, the spectrum of wine labels range from the basic (information about content, origin, etc) to a sophisticated scheme to entice, puzzle or bamboozle. On rare occasions there is an air of grandeur and ‘high culture’ when art which previously existed as ‘real paintings’ or not are applied upon expensive paper, embossed, gilded, et al.
(Seascape’s are a delicious mash-up of computer manipulated imagery. The famous Château Mouton Rothschild’s most recent vintage features a ‘real painting’ by the British artist Peter Doig reproduced on the label.)
The message in the bottle, exposed outside, is one that addresses the visual sense. The content inside goes for the taste sense. And somewhere in between the wine drinker’s mind gets involved in the experience. It’s a set-up for the fun park of synaesthesia.
Talking of fun: the Hungarian linguist Ullmann Istvan (also known as Stephen Ullmann) in 1957 formulated the romantic order of our five senses, from low to high (touch, taste, smell, sound, sight) according to the extent of the vocabulary we use describing each. With wine (taste) lower than label (sight), the case for synaesthesia seems made. Trizanne Barnard has it spot on.
- Melvyn Minnaar has written about art and wine for various local and international publications over the years. The creativity that underpins these subjects is an enduring personal passion. He has served on a few “cultural committees”.
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