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monet water liliesFollowing up on my Monday post on brand conscious consumers, I found Decanter’s Andrew Jefford gets to the heart of the problem. Using, as a case in point, reports that soccer star Ronaldo spent thousands on a bottle of Richebourg grand cru and a Petrus to share with teammates in a bar, Jeffords writes:

Meaningless label drinking, Ronaldo-style, is the consequence of the over-emphasis in the wine world on ‘the best’ rather than ‘the different’. The more we pile tasting on competitive tasting, and the larger our mountain of notes and scores, then the more ‘best-obsessed’ we become – and the further we move away from that kind of understanding and enjoyment which makes for the profound pleasure of wine.

This is exactly right. There is no such thing as “the best” wine just as it is absurd to claim a Monet is better than a Van Gogh. What makes both Monet and Van Gogh great is that they were distinctive and original.

Obviously, in wine as in painting, there are distinctions between quality levels—there are flat,uninspiring, amateurish  paintings just as their are flat, uninspiring, amateurish wines. And there are competently rendered paintings that produce much pleasure just as there are competently made wines that are delicious.

But once we reach the level of masterful painting or winemaking what we look for is distinctiveness, meaningful difference. All aesthetic appreciation is really in the business of discovering that. This is something that neither a score nor a competition could capture. Neither cardinal nor ordinal rankings accurately measure individuality or distinctiveness.

Of course, high status wines are often distinctive. But drinking them for their status is the wrong reason.

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For more on the philosophy of wine visit my Monday Column archives at Three Quarks Daily