The Idea of Wine

wine and philosophyThis post by From Vinho Verde to Barolo With Love got me thinking, once again, about why wine is fascinating.

It seems that often those who love wine, also love food, and also love to travel. Because wine and food are associated with particular regions, they become a way of travelling, visiting a country, a culture, a people, learning their likes, their climates, their daily joys from a dish and a glass.

That surely is one reason. Matt Kramer’s recent essay in the Wine Spectator adds another dimension to that thought.

Kramer argues that we live in very interesting times because the world of wine is undergoing another revolution. The previous revolution, when Mondavi, Peynaud and Baron de Rothschild, came on the scene was about using new technologies to ramp up wine quality and mass produce consistent, clean, polished wine. Today’s revolution is not about technology but about “mentality”, a word invented by the Annales school of history that means roughly a shared way of looking at the world that governs the everyday lives of a people. According to Kramer, the “mentality” driving the wine world forward today is exemplified by biodynamic winemaking and natural wines. Both minimize technological interventions in the making of wine and both pay homage to the earth and flavors that exhibit a sense of place. Kramer writes:

This is not just a matter of fashion or “changing taste.” Rather, it’s reflective of an emerging cultural shift, a rethinking of wine beauty itself. What is it that makes a fine wine original? And not least, profound?

I don’t think Kramer’s thesis is about natural winemaking or bio-dynamics in particular. In terms of sheer numbers, grapes grown biodynamically are a fraction of the total, and wines made without the addition of SO2 or commercial yeast are even less prominent. I think what Kramer is getting at is that, along with the farm to table/slow food/and heritage movements in the food world, there is increased interest in locality, artisanal products that maintain a connection to their origins in a community. Small production, artisanal, family wines fit this ethos. Of course, small production, hands-on wineries have always been around, but Kramer is suggesting, I think, that instead of being an exception or afterthought, artisanal methods are defining our concept of beauty, setting the standard for what wine should ultimately be.

I’m not sure how persistent this shift will be or even how widespread it is. But what I find interesting about Kramer’s thesis is his view that developments in the wine world are driven by ideals of goodness and beauty, the same ideals that have inspired great works of art and literature throughout history.

Wine is interesting because unlike most other consumables it engages the mind. It’s not just a matter of taste, but taste shaped by imagination and reason that can express a way of life and cause us to create new ways of living.

That is a heavy burden for a glass of fermented grape juice.


  1. Dwight–

    Matt Kramer is indeed very knowledgeable, but he is not a thinker and you are.

    He makes up for his lack of depth by being an extrovert. He is also quite a lightweight writer, even for the Spectator.

    You don’t have to compete with him. Bring more of your experience in the philosphy of art and beauty to discussion.

    Jim Ruxin

    1. Thanks Jim. I don’t think we can expect more than “lightweight” from the Spectator. But I do find Kramer consistently thoughtful if not deep.

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