How We Taste Wine Today

wine taster 4The tasting model currently in use for much of the wine community rests on two pillars.

(1) Descriptive terms drawn from the realms of plants, animals, and minerals. These terms are validated via a scientific discourse in which these plant, animal, and mineral aromas are caused by specific chemical compounds in the wine. And,

(2) Judgments of quality based on a numerical code. Value is understood to be a measurable quantity.

These two tendencies are part of a larger civilizational discourse in which science gives us access to the nature of reality and so wine tasting can aspire to a kind of objectivity. These tendencies are also a product of a globalized and democratized wine market. Consumers need not have knowledge of specific vineyard sites in France or be embedded in local knowledge networks in order to understand wine quality. Each person can develop expertise by learning the universal vocabulary of wine tasting or by simply relying on a readily accessible numerical  score for judgments of quality.

This  tasting model has limitations but it nevertheless has established within the general public an aesthetic discourse about wine,a discourse that did not really exist prior to the past few decades. (For a fascinating account of the cultural history of wine descriptions see Steve Shapin’s article in this anthology)

The tasting note, which is widely used to communicate about wine, is a promise of a distinct form of aesthetic pleasure.

The question is whether this tasting model captures the full range of aesthetic responses to wine. Is there more to wine than is captured by the aromatics of edible substances and a ranking?

Needless to say, I think there is an expressive dimension of wine that is largely ignored by this tasting model.

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