Who Needs Wine Experts?

wine-expert I love it when my favorite wine writer goes on a rant especially about one of my favorite topics. The Wine Spectator’s Matt Kramer writes:

When It Comes to Wine, Everyone’s Opinion Is Equally Valid. This is true, but only for you. It’s only true for your judgment about a wine for your palate. But beyond that, no, it’s not true.

This may be a heartbreaker for some, but let me give it to you straight: Some people know more than other people. This seems to be breaking news for those who believe that access to a soapbox—a blog, a Twitter account, a chat board—is tantamount to possessing authority….

Why is this so hard for some wine lovers to accept? “We don’t need no stinkin’ authorities,” they say. Oh, but baby, you do. Because too often, you don’t know anywhere near as much as you fancy you do….

In most areas of life we routinely accept the idea that experience, systematic study, immersion in an activity, and a serious commitment over a long period of time counts for something. We prefer doctors to quacks, mechanics to 16 yr. olds with a subscription to Hot Rod, lawyers trained in the law, etc. Yet, when it comes to wine (or other aesthetic activities) we are too willing to claim there are no standards, no authorities, everything is good if you want it to be.

I suppose it is because, unlike medicine, auto mechanics or the law, the stakes in making a mistake are low. But I think there is something deeper going on that makes radical subjectivism so attractive.

I teach ethics for a living, and among undergraduates, I invariable find at least half the class thinks all ethical matters are subjective (at least until I have the chance to set them straight). And this is hardly an arena in which the stakes are low.

Instead, I think many people are drawn to the idea that adherence to standards, norms, or authorities is a limitation on our freedom and so in those areas of life where standards and authorities are contested or ambiguous they insist on rejecting the whole idea of a standard.

But “contested” or “ambiguous” does not entail radical subjectivity. And the idea that radical subjectivity is necessary for freedom is a profound misunderstanding of freedom.

But that is a topic for another day.

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