A Definition of Wine Appreciation: The first condition (part 2 in a series)

grapes in vineyardThere are of course many ways to appreciate a wine depending on what one is trying to achieve. If you sell wine, you could appreciate a wine because it is a big seller. You might appreciate a wine because it gets you buzzed, because talking about it enables you to impress your friends with your knowledge, or because it greases the wheels of social commerce. You might appreciate a wine because of how it contributes to a meal.

But sometimes we drink wine in order to appreciate the wine itself, to fully experience it with aesthetic attention, to discover all its features. With this form of appreciation we’re concerned with our own experience of the wine, an experience that has intrinsic value. This is the form of appreciation that anchors wine criticism and other kinds of serious communication about wine.

My aim in these posts is to give an account of this form of appreciation.

Appreciation, in this sense, is not a matter of knowing facts about the wine. You can know that the wine is a Pinot Noir from Burgundy, that it gets high scores from the critics, that it was fermented in amphora and aged in oak barrels blessed by Cistercian monks and made from trees inhabited by wood nymphs. You can even know that its harmony evokes thoughts of divine perfection. You would still not necessarily appreciate it.

A necessary condition for appreciating a wine is to be aware of the wine’s properties via modalities that give reliable access to the wine—taste, smell, and tactile impressions in the mouth. To appreciate a wine you have to taste it. Sounds simple enough. But it seems to me requiring direct perceptual acquaintance would leave out two cases in which appreciation happens without directly perceiving the wine. In some cases accurately imagining the finished wine can give one an appreciation of it. Winemakers often imagine the finished wine when tasting the grapes in the vineyard or at some earlier stage in the winemaking process. To the extent they imagine it correctly, they have some appreciation of the wine. Critics do as well when they accurately imagine how a wine will age.  In both these exceptional cases there is perceptual acquaintance of something—the grapes and the young wine—but not direct perception of the object being appreciated. Appreciation is a matter of degree. Accurately imagining a wine does not give us full appreciation but it nevertheless gives us a degree of appreciation.

Thus, I would suggest a necessary condition of appreciating a wine is tasting it or accurately imagining it based on reliable perceptions of a component or stage of the wine. Imagination can play a role in appreciation only when the person enjoying the appreciation has the experience and background to enable imagination to be reliable.

I think also that appreciating a wine involves responding to the wine in some way. More on this second condition in future posts.

Part 1 in this series, “Wine Criticism and Appreciation” is here.


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