Wine Critics in Search of Difference

seeking new winesMy Three Quarks column this month is, for the most part, a compilation of recent posts published here on Edible Arts on the aims of wine criticism. But I added an important new dimension to the argument for the Three Quarks column.

In earlier posts I argued that the purpose of wine criticism is appreciation, not necessarily evaluation or to guide purchasing decisions. In appreciation we savor what is there in the wine and seek to discover the various kinds of experiences available to someone who is fully attuned to it. This includes knowing the meaning and significance of the wine as well as savoring its sensory properties. Appreciation is open to all the properties of an object even if they have little to do with quality.

The goal of the wine critic then is to aid in the appreciation of a wine by revealing what is there to be appreciated. But wine reviews and other sorts of wine writing are often read by people who don’t have the wine in front of them, may not be able to acquire it, and thus will not be in a position to appreciate it. Why would wine writing and criticism be important for them?

Here is the argument I added to what had been previously published.

“For the wine community, knowing the meaning and significance of a wine, the kinds of experiences available when drinking it, and especially whether it represents a new trend or flavor experience is important information independently of one’s ability to experience the wine. The wine community is an aesthetic community held together by norms, standards of excellence, and especially a shared search for differences, flavor experiences that stand out for their uniqueness or originality. Thus, the job of the critic is in part discovery, a search for gems that deserve recognition. As an aesthetic system, wine appreciation thrives on differentiation. It’s the critic’s job to support that system by giving recognition to those meaningful differences. This is why it is essential to have critics with different palates who can expand the community’s capacity to discover difference and supply it with meaning. That reviews can be used for members of the community to decide what to experience is a useful service compatible with the larger aim to enhance appreciation.”

The fact that critics disagree about wine is a feature not a bug. Only a collection of  critics with different tastes and preferences will be likely to discover the full range of wines that exhibit interesting differences. The day critics all agree is the day wine loses much of its appeal.

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