Shaping a Taste Landscape

Rachel E. Black

Here is a summary of a recent talk I gave at the College of the Atlantic on the anthropology of wine and the concept of the taste landscape that I am developing in relation to the cooperative production of wine in Carema, Italy. Read more

Taste Memory: Coherence, tradition & the politics of memory in wine

I will be giving a talk on wine & memory at Boston University’s Anthropology Department next week. This will be a dry run of the paper I am presenting in November at the American Anthropological Association meeting in Montreal.

Graduate Lunch Series Talk

Friday, November 4,    12:00

Anthropology Seminar Room, 232 Bay State Road, Boston, MA

Wine offers a unique opportunity to explore the concept of taste memory. Based on ethnographic research conducted in Piedmont, Italy, this paper will present two taste memory projects that articulate some of the theoretical questions underlying taste and time. The first example is the Banca del Vino in Pollenzo, Italy. The driving motivation behind this special cellar is twofold: first, wines are aged longer than the usual release time so that consumers can enjoy them once they near what is deemed their maximum potential. Second, there is an extensive collection of old wines in this bank that is intended to help preserve taste memory. These wines will help young winemakers and those in the wine trade understand the taste of wine over the longue durée. One complication in this project is that wine is organic and continues to evolve over time. Like human memory, wine’s sensory elements fade as it ages. The second ethnographic example is the “infernöt” that holds the wine memories of small wine producers, which often consist of bottles dating back to the beginning of the family’s production history. These collections are important for reminding the current winemaker of the main sensory themes of the wines and they help in giving the wines a consistent style. This paper will explore the ways in which wine banks and private family collections can be used as historical ‘documents’ that require a unique cultural interpretation involving the senses.

A light lunch will be served.  RSVP to

I have never been to Africa


I am a cultural anthropologist and I have never been to Africa. I have to admit that this has always caused me to feel inadequate as far as being an anthropologist goes. I have no stories of terrifying plane rides, recurring malarial symptoms nor do I have a wall full of tribal masks gifted to me by important chiefs. You have to understand that these are the standard trappings and tales that all of my Africanist friends have acquired. At anthropology cocktails parties, I am often the odd woman out. Perhaps only the North Americanists who don’t study Native Americans have it worse than me.

You see, I study Italy and France. No, this wasn’t a ploy to find a way to travel and live in two countries with amazing food and wine. Really, I have always been drawn to Italy and France and food and wine have been in my blood (figuratively) forever. While my work is interesting and gratifying, I often feel guilty because I am not helping save the world like many of my colleagues. I used to think that they were drawn to Africa because   of its exoticism, because Africa is the field par excellence.

Lately, I can’t shake the feeling that Africa is calling my name, and, no, my name sounds nothing like Florence Nightingale. Africa is seductively whispering to me: it is telling me to come and face myself, to figure out who I really am in relation to the world. You have to understand that part of my motivation for becoming an anthropologist (not just studying the academic discipline) was to face all the awkward, uncomfortable social situations I could possibly encounter. I have a feeling that going to Africa will cause me to lose myself and question my points of reference. Through this process I think I will gain a better understanding of my place in the world.

Now, I just have to find a way to get to Africa and do something useful there.