Must You Like a Wine in Order to Appreciate It?

drinking wine 3In his essay in the philosophy journal Erkenntnis, David Sackris argues that in order to appreciate a wine, you must like it. He will use this claim to, among other points, call into question the view that wine critics can fairly evaluate wines that are in a style they do not enjoy. He begins to make his case by drawing a sharp contrast between wine appreciation and art appreciation.

It may be the case that liking and appreciating can be separated when it comes to art. It could be that I should want to look at art that I don’t find pleasurable due to its content or thought-provoking nature, and this may be a form of aesthetic appreciation. But I certainly won’t want to drink a wine if I don’t find it pleasing, and it is hard to see how I will appreciate it if I simply don’t like it; as Korsmeyer (1975) so aptly notes, we don’t want food to challenge us in the way that art can. That is, we don’t want food to disgust us entirely, either in appearance or taste, as we might want an art piece to do. When we do expose ourselves to food that we don’t immediately enjoy, the endgame is to come to enjoy it, i.e., have sensuous pleasure. Yet the experience of unpleasant art will not always lead to enjoyment.

There is an important insight here. The main reason we drink wine (or devote special attention to the aesthetic properties of food) is to experience sensuous pleasure. This of course includes the mild buzz we get from wine’s alcohol. (If you’re drinking wine to get stinkin’ drunk I would suggest  commercial  whiskey—it’s faster and cheaper.)

However there is a good deal of confusion in his comparison of wine appreciation and art appreciation and the role of “liking.” He grants that we might appreciate a painting even if we don’t enjoy viewing it if we find it interesting or thought-provoking. Some paintings are deeply disturbing and grotesque yet we might find them worthy as aesthetic objects. But then he claims “I would not want to drink a wine if I don’t find it pleasing.”

To each his own, I suppose, but I drink lots of wines that are interesting and thought provoking even though they don’t produce much sensuous pleasure. Is my “endgame” to come to enjoy it once I understand it? Not necessarily. The pleasure I get from an interesting or thought provoking wine is often an intellectual pleasure. I enjoy the diversity and range of what wine grapes and winemakers can do, and I enjoy locating and identifying the kind of experiences one can have with a wine. That kind of appreciation doesn’t always lead to me “liking” the wine in the sense of getting sensuous enjoyment from it.

It is true that I don’t find such a wine disgusting. If I did I would not be able to appreciate how interesting or thought provoking it is. This is because we have violent, physiological responses to putting anything in our bodies that we find disgusting and that extreme response would prohibit achieving intellectual pleasure. But note that we have the same response to music that we find intolerable. Disturbing sound is usually as inescapable as disgusting aromas or tastes and so the same limited ability appreciate what we don’t like would apply to music as well. We don’t have such extreme responses to visual experience because visual experience is less intimate and we can simply avert our eyes.

So the only conclusion Sackris can draw from this is that disgust is a sufficient condition for disapproving of a wine; it is not a sufficient condition for disapproving of a painting.

However, from the fact I don’t find a wine disgusting, it doesn’t follow that I like it or find it sensuously appealing. There is a very long continuum from disgust to unpleasant  to indifferent to liking to significant sensuous pleasure. Only disgust precludes appreciation. Thus, it doesn’t follow from the argument presented thus far that in order to appreciate a wine you must like it. I can find a wine interesting even if I’m indifferent regarding it ability to generate sensuous pleasure.

It may be that the main reason we drink wine is sensuous pleasure but that doesn’t preclude other secondary reasons for drinking wine that are less sensuous and more cognitive.

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