Why Great Wines are Works of Art

cezzane still life with wine

Wine lovers are amazed by and wholly absorbed in the creative collaboration of culture and nature.

Almost all cultures throughout human history have treated certain objects or performances as deeply meaningful, valued in themselves rather than for some utilitarian purpose, and capable of provoking strong emotions. Art is pervasive in human life, even though it doesn’t satisfy a fundamental biological need or solve a practical problem.

The creation and appreciation of art requires thought, but it isn’t the kind of thought involved in solving problems of commerce or the pursuit of knowledge. To the contrary, both artists and their audiences sometimes appear to be touched with insanity, a bit out of their minds, or at least stirred by flights of imagination and disruptive passions. Art lovers are amazed, ecstatic, or left silently weeping by great works of art.

This is what all art worthy of our attention shares—deep meaning, emotional resonance, and creative insight.

Wine fits comfortably within this account of what art shares. Wine, too, is a product of human performance (although in collaboration with nature) that powerfully absorbs our attention and is a product of creative insight (although part of the creativity is nature’s capacity for producing variation). And for many wine lovers, wine is as important as anything else in life. Awe, wonder, and amazement are common felt responses to great wine. And wine can express emotion—wines can be angry, brooding, or exuberant.

Nevertheless, there are differences between wine and other works of art. Wine seldom brings one to tears, although the experience of pathos generated by a well-aged wine passing its peak captures something of the experience of grief. Wine is not sentient so we don’t empathize with wine as we might a character in a story. And, unlike music, wine does not affect the motor cortex of the brain; it doesn’t produce action tendencies and the resulting felt bodily responses that support our emotional response to music. If wine makes you feel like dancing, it’s likely the alcohol or the company doing the work. And unlike some representational paintings, wine is not full of information about a subject matter.

Do these differences disqualify wine from being art?

Despite the commonalities mentioned above, works of art and our responses to them form a stunningly disparate collection. The carvings on the Parthenon, Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Monet’s Water Lilies, and Jackson Pollack’s #5 emerge via vastly different media in strikingly different cultures, and they do not matter to their respective audiences in the same way. Some of these works evoke strong emotions, others induce muted moods. Some contain information about a subject matter; others have no message to send. These differences become more extreme when you include works such as the performance art of Marina Abramović, who spent 512 hours inviting visitors to peruse the blank walls of an empty gallery, or Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, a coiled shape composed of salt crystals, mud, water, and black basalt rock reaching 1500 feet into the Great Salt Lake. Puzzlement is also an affective state.

We put these objects in the same basket and call them art because they have deep meaning, emotional resonance, and creative insight. Beyond that, there isn’t much to say about what all art shares. There is no limitation on the kind of object that can be a work of art, and there are vast differences in the kinds of affective responses they make available.

Because wine shares the commonalities that constitute art, the fact that wine differs from a painting or symphony does not exclude it from the realm of art. To be art, it must absorb our attention, provoke felt responses, and exhibit creativity.

Wine surely qualifies.

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