Wine and Imagination in Perullo’s Epistenology: Wine as Experience

epistenologyYou know, if you’ve poked around this blog for awhile, that I think wine is more than a collection of aromas and textures. Wine stimulates the imagination, provokes ideas and metaphors, and engages our emotions.

This capacity of wine to stimulate the imagination and engage our emotions is the theme of a recent book on the philosophy of wine entitled Epistenology: Wine as Experience by Nicola Perullo, Professor of Aesthetics at University of Gastronomic Science near Bra, Italy.

The term “Epistenology” is a portmanteau blending enology, the study of wine, with epistemology, the philosophical study of knowledge. Yet the book doesn’t quite fit the category of philosophy book or wine book. It is a peculiar yet exceedingly original work and quite interesting for anyone who finds wine philosophically engaging.  Yet, I found the book maddening and thrilling in equal measure. I wrote a lengthy review of the book for Three Quarks Daily. Here I will quote from my review summarizing what I found thrilling and maddening.

First the thrills:

Wine’s alcohol and stimulating aromas and textures, when experienced with empathy and situated awareness in the company of others, provokes thought and an empathic connection to much more than flavors and textures. Wine connects us to everything around us, connections which enliven thought, feeling, and imagery in an incandescent situated awareness.

There is considerable thematic overlap with my book Beauty and Yeast: A Philosophy of Wine, Life, and Love and I surely welcome this trend (if it is a trend) of viewing wine as an expressive medium.

But now the maddening part:

According to Perullo, the categories we use to understand wine based on geographical location and varietal are irrelevant and misleading. Norms about what wines from various regions typically taste like are not worth learning. The expression of terroir is a “senseless and banal cliché” unless understood as something the drinker creates in the moment. Our interest in particular producers and how they create their achievements is nothing but late capitalist boondoggle. The practice of identifying aromas and other characteristics of a wine is a waste of time and almost all talk about wine is empty twaddle. (Yes, he is aware of the performative contradiction in that claim.) Competence in tasting is just so much snobbery and authoritarianism. Judgments about wine quality inevitably prevent us from fully appreciating the wine and the moment in front of us. All of this adds up to a claim that the dominant tasting model treats wine as a rote, sterile, and static object incapable of variation or emotional engagement.

It seems to me this is all quite unnecessary.

Perullo thinks that in order to appreciate wine’s imaginative and emotional dimension we must reject every aspect of contemporary wine tasting practice and set off on a journey that seems more meditative than perceptual. By contrast, I see no reason why an interest in terroir or an analysis of wine styles inhibits our ability to engage emotionally and imaginatively with wine. I try to build on contemporary wine tasting practices modifying them when necessary while acknowledging the value and meaning that wine has acquired for the community of contemporary wine lovers.

There is a lot more detail in my review but that is really the heart of my disagreement with this peculiar but brilliantly original book.

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