How is Wine Criticism Like Art Criticism?

wine being pouredArt and literary criticism oscillate between two approaches to a work. Historicism focuses on a work’s history and origins and the process through which it came about. Formalism focuses on the form of the work, how the elements of a painting or text are arranged.

Wine criticism tends to follow the same paths. We look at the winery’s story, its traditions, and the viticulture and production techniques that give birth to the wine. Or we focus on aroma notes, textures, and the balance between a wine’s elements. In both wine and art criticism we strive for objectivity as much as possible hoping to identify features of a work that anyone might have access to if they study it.

But neither approach sheds much light on certain fundamental questions. Why do people seek out those works, whether a painting, a book, or a wine? What are their differing motives or interests. What are encounters with  the work like and how is that shaped by the environment in which they are encountered. Why do people become attached to a wine or a winery, or a book or a painting?

Sure a wine has to taste good (and a book or painting has to be interesting) to attract an audience. But there are any number of wines that taste good and all have stories to tell. What makes people fall in love with a particular wine?

The language of attachment and emotion seems more explanatory than anything the historicist or formalist can give us. But the demand for objectivity of a certain kind keeps most critics from finding new modes of expression.

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