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moths to a flame

We really should not allow journalists to write philosophy. In the Napa Valley Register their wine columnist Allen Balik pontificates on the nature of greatness in wine. After complaining that the word “great” is overused (no doubt) and much rumination on how greatness can’t be measured or quantified (indeed) he spins out this pearl of wisdom:

True greatness cannot be expressed by a high price tag or a critic’s score but rather must be based on our own experience and impression of what is exhibited in our glass. Personal taste ultimately determines our impression of whether a certain wine is “great” regardless of the opinion of others.

So greatness simply means “what I like”. Talk about overusing a word, if “greatness” means “what I like” we could just get rid of the word “great” and replace it with “yum”.

Among the many meanings of “great” suggested by Merriam Webster are “remarkable in magnitude, degree, or effectiveness”, “eminent or distinguished”, “principle or main”, “markedly superior in character or quality”, etc.

Nowhere in MW’s careful specification of uses for “great” does “what I like” appear.

I too would not want to define “greatness” in wine in terms of scores arrived at by a consensus of critics, if only because scores might indicate greatness but don’t tell us what it is about the wine that is great. But at least a wine highly rated by most critics has achieved something “remarkable in magnitude”, distinguished and “markedly superior in quality”.  Whether I or anyone else happens to like the wine is immaterial. There are many highly scored wines I find disappointing. But that doesn’t diminish their achievement. My subjective impressions are not the measure of all things.

I recently tried to define greatness in wine as a function of depth, mystery, and resonance, properties which I think are discernible in great wines. Whether that account succeeds or not is not for me to judge but surely we can do better than “what I like”.

Why are otherwise intelligent people attracted to subjectivism like moths to a flame?

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