Interesting SXSW Panels about words and wine and more

I want to present at SXSW in Austin next year on the topic of non-verbal wine communication.  I think there’s a great deal to be said about visual storytelling, infographics, and non verbal ways of describing certain subjects (especially inherently sensory experiences like food and wine).

As I researched my first few posts about the words we use to describe wine, I worried that my topic was too weird and esoteric.  But SXSW has just revealed the full list of 3,266 panel proposals and an astounding number are about similar topics of non-verbal communication!

So I’ve rounded up some panels that look very interesting and talk about a similar topic of post-verbal or non-verbal data.  I hope to get in touch with all these presenters eventually because I think we have a lot to discuss.

Live Visual Blogging – Realtime Social Drawing

A presentation about live visual annotation of lectures/speeches/etc.  One can also imagine this being applied to wine tastings and tutored tastings?  Imagine live tasting notes being drawn by the audience as they learn about wines of Languedoc and our sunshine, winds and mountains.  The final result could be more interesting than any list of words!

Culture, Crowdsourcing & Creating New Wine Words

This is crazy.  Another wine guy actually proposed a panel about semantics and language just like I did!  This group in South Africa has banned a list of the silliest words that turn up in tasting notes and is crowdsourcing wine reviews to develop a new language to describe wine.  Pretty cool idea.

The Power of Visual Storytelling

This is probably the most straightforward panel.  A group of content creators talking about individual cases of creating visual content.

Text.Snap.Capture.Record : Create with Mobile

Cell phones are reshaping how people think about content creation.  Oftentimes, a quick snap or video recording on the fly made at the moment will be more important than a well-written article that takes hours and hours of research and editing.

Visualize This! Data and the Future of Research

A more academic look at how visualization can affect research and data sharing amongst professionals.

Shut up & DRAW! A Non-Artist Way to Think Visually

It’s great that everybody’s excited about visual presentation, unless you suck at art. This panel will offer ways for non-artists to employ  visualization techniques.

Data Visualization for Social Change

Can data visualization be refined to help change minds and create social change?  Examples of current visualization strategies include abortion statistics and unintended pregnancy infographics

Beyond Chart Porn: Data Vis for Action

This duo is worried that visual data presentation is so sexy and slick that people are overusing it.  The panel will look at ways to keep data visualization meaningful.

Lend Me Your Earballs: Sound + Interaction Design

This panel aims to look at audio design.  It’s true that we’re veeery visual. And we tend to hate any kind of audio in webdesign.  So is there a future for well-crafted audio?

Maps of Time: Big Data as Narrative

An interesting and ambitious panel that wants to visualize data over time and “change the way we do data visualization forever”.  I’ve often considered writing a blog aggregator for winemakers that just scrapes all of our photos and posts them on a timeline.  And maybe then doing a sort by hue if photos land on the same date.  I expect this would create a sort of wave that moves from green to red/brown over the course of the calendar year (assuming we stick to all northern hemisphere or all southern hemisphere vineyards).

Visualizing Social Media for Educational Use

This presentation proposal seems a bit vague at first, promising to deliver social media tools that educators can use to assist visual learning.  The powerpoint attached has a lot more detail, including a list of simple tools like wordle, many eyes, twitterfall, and so on.  Potentially an interesting topic.

Data is Sexier than Sex… And I’ll Prove It

I wanted to mention this for the title alone.

As some of you know, I’ve been doing semantic analyses of wine reviews we receive online.  Mostly, I’ve used this data to make silly computer-generated wine reviews.  But today I’m going to use the data to talk a bit about word clouds and word frequency.

the most used words in 100 point parker rated wines, compiled by tom wark of fermentation blogRobert Parker’s most used words

Robert Parker is one of the most influential wine critics on earth and he popularized a one hundred point rating scale which dominates the US wine market.  An American named Tom Wark did some data gathering about Robert Parker’s perfect scored wines.  Basically, he looked at the 224 wines that had received a perfect score of 100 from Robert Parker.

Wark published the list of words that appear the most in tasting notes for 100 point wines.  This should give us some insight into what sort of characteristics appear in wines that Parker thought of as perfect.

For words like “Elegan” or “Intens”, the reason they cut off like that is because Wark grouped Intense, intensely, intensity, and other nearly identical words into one word group labeled simply “Intens”.  Fair enough!

What we get is that Parker uses the word rich a ton when he tastes a wine that merits 100 points out of 100.  Intensity, concentration and spiciness also come up a lot.  Minerality, massiveness, balance, complexity and length are also in there.

I think this is a really fun idea.  Because I’m a data nerd.

Customer comments – Tastes Like Wine

So Parker often describes “perfect” wines as rich, intense and concentrated.  What words do my customers use most?

wine tasting notes word cloud compiled by wordleYes, rather hilariously, the most used words are Taste Like Wine.  Not together mind you.

So I did an analysis of customer comments regarding Trah Lah Lah 2008 on Naked Wines, an online wine retailer that represents and promotes us in the UK.   The word cloud above is a graphical representation of the words used most frequently in reviews, and the most common words appear in larger font size.  I generated the word cloud above using wordle, although I did move some of the words around in a graphic program later on to emphasize the tastes like wine joke. But the size of the words is accurate!  I just moved them to the top of the cloud. Wordle also automatically removes definite articles, personal pronouns, possessive adjectives and certain other words that are more about syntax than meaning.

Now, there is a huge difference between what Naked Wines customers say about Trah Lah Lah 2008 and what Robert Parker says about wines he rates as 100 points, namely because very few of the comments wine drinkers left on Naked are in “tasting note” form.  Instead of striving for journalistic, objective tasting notes about richness or spice, people tend to write about their whole wine experience.  It seems pretty normal that the most used words include “taste” “like” and “wine”.  😀   Personal pronouns and possessive adjectives (I, me, our, its) appear much more frequently.

Here is a list of the words that got used most (I think I might have taken out all the definite articles and certain words that only serve syntax) and the number of times that word appeared.

  1. I   94
  2. wine    52
  3. not    32
  4. really    23
  5. bottle    22
  6. we    21
  7. again    20
  8. you    20
  9. good    19
  10. very    18
  11. like    18
  12. some    18
  13. my    18
  14. taste    18
  15. buy    15
  16. french    15
  17. red    14
  18. more    14
  19. me    13
  20. just    13
  21. if    13
  22. well    13
  23. quite    12
  24. one    12
  25. first    12
  26. bit    10
  27. better    10
  28. too    10
  29. all    10
  30. wines    10

Is there a meaningful difference between Parker 100 tasting notes and Naked Wines customer comments?

So there is a huge difference in which words appear the most.  But is this a meaningful difference?  Well, for the most part, this is not a good comparison.  But it is a very fun comparison and it inspires certain ideas.

For one thing, why are tasting notes built the way they are?  Why do wine critics try to objectively describe flavors and odors in wines?

When they do try to refer to the overall experience of the wine, why does their vocabulary focus on richness, depth, complexity and so on? Wine drinkers don’t think this way (at least not according to this small sample from Naked Wines customer reviews of Trah Lah Lah 2008).

Again, this isn’t really a fair comparison because tasting notes aren’t the same as customer comments.  Tasting notes are specifically built to describe the experience of a wine.  Customer comments can be anything.  They can be about an overall experience, they can be about a specific pairing the person tried, they can be simpler statements (eg I liked it, I didn’t like it), they can be congratulatory or simply grateful (eg Thanks!, Good job, guys!).   This means that customer reviews won’t limit themselves to particular vocabulary like tasting note jargon.

Now, even if we limit the analysis of customer comments to only the descriptive words (like rich, intense, etc.) we get a list that’s pretty far from Parker’s. The most common are Really, Very, Good. 😀  Of course the statistics can be a bit misleading since Not is even more common than those!  The first descriptive words that appear on the list which might be described as more precise are “French” and “Red”.  😀

Also, I’m only using the 100 point scores from Parker but I’m using all comments for my Trah Lah Lah 2008 on Naked Wines. One might argue that the reason Trah Lah Lah comments don’t have the word rich is because the wine is not 100 points.  So I will admit right here and now that this is bad science.  This is not a perfect comparison.  However, it still illustrates my notion that wine critics use a vocabulary that is actually somewhat foreign to the average wine drinker.

You can also argue that wine drinkers lack the refinement or courage to say things like “intense and deep” while it’s very easy to say “tastes like good wine”.  But I think that’s my point.  Regular wine drinkers don’t necessarily understand or relate to tasting notes like “unctuous”.  Maybe wine communication should use vocabulary more familiar to wine drinkers.  How would most drinkers react if the back of a bottle said “This is a French red wine and it tastes good and could use some food”?

Apology and shaking my fist at Stephen Colbert

I was going to post these word clouds later with a lot more analysis of Parker’s reviews.. I would also like to do word clouds of Parker’s ediotrial content (instead of straight up tasting notes) and even do some for other critics and journalists.  But Stephen Colbert recently beat me to the punch and I hate it when Stephen Colbert steals my ideas!!! 😀

I promise to talk about all of this in more depth and with more rigor if I get chosen to present at SXSW in Austin next year. The talk I suggested is about data analysis, reinterpretation, visual representation, infographics, and all sorts of other stuff that might help people in non-verbal jobs like wine communicate with the rest of the world online.

“Drank lots and lots of depth, it won’t disappoint”
–computer generated review of O’Vineyards wine

I’m playing with some software that will allow me to analyze all the comments O’Vineyards wines have received online.  One of the sillier, fun applications of this analysis is that my computer can generate comments on its own now.  😀

Some of you might be familiar with the silly tasting note generator or similar sites, but these use slightly different technology.  I’m working with n-gram analyses of the reviews I get from Naked Wines customers.

What is an n gram analysis?

Basically, the computer counts every word and then it counts every word pair and then it counts every word triplet and so on.  This data lets the computer draw some conclusions about what words tend to appear together.  So if I do an n-gram analysis of the phrase “I went to the movies”, the word pairs are:

  • X I
  • I went
  • went to
  • to the
  • the movies
  • movies X

The X’s indicate the start or end of a phrase.

The word triplets in the same phrase would be

  • X I went
  • I went to
  • went to the
  • to the movies
  • the movies X

How does the computer generate new sentences?

The more data you feed into the computer, the more n-grams it collects.  And it can eventually draw some relatively accurate conclusions.  Imagine if I do a larger sentence like “I went to the movies and had to wait in the longest line ever to buy some popcorn”, the program would notice all the previous word pairs as well as the new pair: “to buy”… and the computer might conclude that it’s normal to say “I went to buy some popcorn.” and that is actually correct!  Of course a lot of the time, the computer tries hard but just spouts gibberish.  Like “I went to the longest popcorn ever to buy some movies.”

This differs from the silly tasting note generator mentioned above because that generator works more like a mad lib.  It has long lists of words that are manually categorized as modifiers, nouns, verbs, or other parts of speech, and it uses pre-written sentence structures.  It makes more sense given very little data, but it is limited to what it has been taught.  What I’m working on could eventually be applied to any body of letters (even a language I don’t speak) and generate reviews based on an n gram analysis of that text (so I could do this for Japanese reviews even though I don’t even speak Japanese!)

Gibberish examples

Most of the time, the computer generated reviews are total gibberish.  The syntax can be terribly wrong.  Here are some fun examples of typical gibberish reviews:

This is a very good black-red with onions, sauteed pots with our Les American than Languedoc and complicated, dark fruitiness notes, but this achieved the lower they called it loved it. Even my 81 year when the wine, we had to open the duration is elastic, then essentially the oven as it needs taste when the tasted some mixed cases now decreased to say about to email the sale this bottle

lot of purple. Very floral with the market Place right-hand drive!

Got through fruit and Joe are in the minimum quantity !

Wouldn’t spoil something else on my anatomy. I do buy wine is not in favour of the buyer, and less fun!

I found it was a please passed over the price and my guests both gave it 5 out on it! I really want it?
Big (not one a couple of days when we got back?

Almost there are dark plum tang and can under for anything wrong with Sunday lunch – open the last remnants post-food start to see how this aspect of the price, in recent trip to Carcassonne and price.

If you’re looking to hear your tounge without food and you at the Trah Lah Lah Lah was reminiscent of view it is dashed good! Which we found it interesting last remnants post-food start to show the silly name it’s frigging fantastic price. Remember if it was a 2008 or 2009 vintage) compares to taking decanted, and do under for anything. I was very intense, a good time favourite of the best wishes for a while to get the two, i sense a marketplace (the 2006 is supposed to be missing out of 5 others one not to everyone (that’s just slid down and Joe) may be more than a Merlot) Cabernet blend, or from her tasting and it was subtle and give the producer an enjoyed this is due to financial constraints, and you are missing out of 5 others one changing to see how those 5’s ! :)”

It’s clear that the words are related to wine (and the computer does manage to group brand names like Trah Lah Lah, and mention my region, vintages, and other things that make this sound like a tasting note). So it sounds like English. But then when you actually look at the whole paragraph, there’s no sense at all! 😀

Computer-generated wisdom

Sometimes though, the gibberish words line up just right and there’s a strange sort of wisdom in the computer’s misuse of the English language.

Hi Sandy, you get what you pay for what does she know ha ha ha.

Swirl it intense, a good with the yanks in men, what I had, but the wine, but not quite quick). This wine front of her, was an open it was quite French.

I have bid? – I thinking wine. Rich and can understand the base proposition of those tannin heavy so a good with food… Lamb medallions, sauteed pots with onions, snow peas, and body from naked wines and as we worked our way throughout our stay. Ryan and dirty with food… Lamb medallions, sauteed pots with the seller can extending that basis I have order, you wanted us to the extra years in the vineyard and as always the sale this remarkable wine in the front of parma violets are they used to make a lot of purple. Very floral smell of Lilies and lots of flavour packed the grapes and Edinburgh and less fun!

Ya, I still need to work on it.

Totally unrelated to wine

Sometimes, the reviews seem totally unrelated to wine!

I found as always the last night.

Big (not one a couple of days when we got back?

I’d been toying it!

Why the heck am I doing this?

If you know me at all, you really should get used to me doing strange stuff all the time.  But there is actually a reason for this.  It’s raining outside and the paint is drying in B&B room #3 (codename: the Cabardes Room).  So it’s a perfect opportunity to further my research in data visualization and analysis.  I’m going to try to broach this subject with my technical audiences much more often in 2012 (including but not limited to a potential SxSW talk on data analysis for non-verbal experiences like wine drinking).

How to find us

Domaine O’Vineyards, located in the North Arrondissement of Carcassonne, is just minutes from the Carcassonne train station, the Medieval City, and the Carcassonne Airport.
GPS coordinates: 43.259622, 2.340387

Wine, Dine, Relax at our Boutique Vineyard
Unique thing to do in Carcassonne
Wine Cellar. Winery Visits. Wine Tasting.
Wine & Food Pairing

North Arrondissement of Carcassonne
885 Avenue de la Montagne Noire
11620 Villemoustaussou, France
Tel: +33(0) 630 189 910

  1. Best by GPS.
    Follow the signs to Mazamet/ Villemoustaussou using the D118. At the end of the last straight part of D118, you will come to a roundabout with the Dyneff gas station.
  2. Take the exit towards Pennautier. Continue 500m to a small roundabout and go straight over.
  3. Look out for the second road on your right, Avenue des Cévennes which curves up hill (about 1km) to Avenue de la Montagne Noire on the left.
  4. At the last juction, bear left. the road sign “Ave de la Montagne Noire” (confusing as it seems to show a right turn)
  5. After another 500m you will see our red brick color building in the middle of the vines.