lenses, Machine Learning, Tasting, Tools, Wine Words
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Chocolate and Fennel?

This is Models vs. Reality, Part 2.

I looked at what our tool has to say about chocolate as a wine descriptor and I was a bit surprised by the result.

Top 10 chocolate related descriptors in critic wine notes

  1. cocoa
  2. coffee
  3. pepper
  4. tar
  5. mocha
  6. licorice
  7. truffle
  8. fennel
  9. vanilla
  10. espresso

I would never have made an association between chocolate and fennel.

It turns out that only a few writers make this connection. You can verify this yourself. For example on jancisrobinson.com you find that there are only six tasting notes including fennel and chocolate. Out of these, five are written by Tamlyn Currin and one is by Richard Hemming.

None of these notes are in our dataset, so it’s a good test to look at them in a bit more detail. Chocolate and fennel, really?

Richard Hemming’s description of an Alvaro Palacios Priorat (65% Carignan) features “leather and fennel aromas” with “chocolate-covered cherry”.

Tamlyn Currin describes a “delicious mouthful of sweet red pepper and dried herbs, liquorice and chocolate” followed by a long finish with “a thrill of fennel and aniseed” in a review of a 2004 Barolo by Mascarello.

The order is reversed in  her review of a 2002 Pravis ( Trento Cabernet / Merlot mix) – see link for a more recent version. “A seductive nose… with fennel and cumin…” later a finish that “teasingly suggests dark chocolate”.

Most intriguing perhaps is a joint Tamlyn Currin / Michael Schmidt review of a Becker-Steinhauer Mosel Riesling Auslese (2011). They said you could “smell the botrytis… dusty aromas with a hint of fennel and tea leaf and caramelised stone fruit and dark chocolate”.

This is only a sanity check. The algorithm isn’t just looking for the joint-occurence of chocolate and fennel in a tasting note. It is finding words that are deployed in a chocolatey vein. The words don’t have to appear in the same notes to flag up.

Nevertheless, I feel somewhat re-assured. Who am I to be unhappy with the chocolate-fennel link when the Queen of the jancisrobinson.com wine-note database has used it to good effect?

So what do the pictures say? Let’s look through two lenses. First, here’s chocolate through the PCA lens. Apart from the chocolate descriptors mentioned above, I put in a couple of other words I though might reasonably be related, what do you think? Shall we put in some others?



Espresso and truffle get a bit close in the picture! I find that a bit surprising as well. Perhaps that’s a story for next time.

This perspective does a good job at seperating descriptors thematically. There’s the chocolate theme, which moves into the general structure/gut-feel theme (smooth, terrific, intensity) to the right. Up above chocolate we get into sweeter, fragrant oaky notes then it goes nuts at the top. (Botrytis was a late addition inspired by the Michael Schmidt / Tamlyn Currin Mosel Riesling Auslese note, which is clearly special!)

(Note to PCA fanatics: 22%, 14%, 7%.)

So then I wondered whether a different lens might mix things up a bit more. What I like about the MDS lens is that chocolate moves a bit closer to terrific.

Which do you prefer?





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