Last week I argued that one necessary condition of appreciating a wine is being aware of a wine’s properties by tasting it or, given proper training and experience, accurately imagining it based on reliable perceptions of a component or stage of the wine.
However perceiving the properties of a wine via reliable perceptual mechanisms is not sufficient for appreciation. One can taste a wine and note its properties without appreciating it. Thus, in this post I want to argue that a second necessary condition of appreciating a wine involves responding appropriately to it.
One example of perceiving the properties of a wine without appreciating it would be a blind taster performing an analytic tasting by identifying aroma notes or structural components. This, of course, is a useful task in evaluating a wine, but it falls short of appreciation to the extent one doesn’t react to the properties identified. For example, I can note the presence of cassis and vanilla on the nose without responding to them. However, if I go beyond noting their presence and highlight the prominence of cassis or the integration of the oak-derived vanilla aromas, then I’m responding to these properties in an appropriate way. Thus, by “responding” I mean assigning some sort of noteworthiness, meaning or significance to the properties perceived. Appreciation requires that kind of response.
However, appreciation does not require responding with approval. Neither does it entail a pleasurable response. Finding the vanilla cloying and excessive is a form of appreciation because I’m not merely tasting the property but responding to it by treating it as noteworthy.
This distinction between identifying features of a wine and responding to them will be important in my discussion of the aims of wine criticism. Since, on my view, the purpose of criticism is to aid appreciation, a good critic must not only identify properties of the wine but react to them in an appropriate way.
What then do I mean by “appropriate response”? There are at least 4 types of appropriate responses one can have to a wine.
With regard to wine, the most common is a perceptual response—appreciating the silkiness of the tannins or the clarity of the aroma notes, for instance. But often our response is cognitive. For example, recognizing that an aroma profile is typical of a region or a distinctive expression of a varietal. That kind of response involves knowledge or wine regions and or varietals. Imagining how the wine might have been different had other vinification methods been used or coming to believe the wine was from a warm vintage are also cognitive activities.
Affective or emotional responses are also appropriate—taking delight in or being disgusted by a wine. And finally, we can have motivational responses—being fascinated, charmed or repulsed, or craving a wine.
Some responses to wine involve a complex mix of all four categories. Recognizing that a wine is brooding or expresses joy, is comforting or tense, requires perceptual competence, imaginative comparisons between properties of the wine and emotional states, felt responses to the expressive properties of a wine, and sustained interest in the wine.
One doesn’t have to have all these responses to appreciate a wine, but having them will increase your appreciation.
There is more to be said about what I mean by “appropriate responses” which I will address in the next post in this series.