What You Buy When You Buy the Classics

lafite 82People outside the wine world  (and some within the wine world as well) have great fun ridiculing wine lovers who spend small fortunes on a bottle, when wines of similar quality can be had for much less. Such wine lovers are accused of paying for snob appeal, buying reputation, or being snookered by clever marketing. But that ridicule misses the point that a well made $100 Cabernet from Napa produce in an “old world” style lacks the the associations, the history, and sense of achievement of, for instance, a great Bordeaux like the 1982 Lafite.

The same issue is a perennial subject of controversy in the art world. What would you rather view: Picasso’s Guernica or an exact replica of Picasso’s Guernica? With modern print technology we can easily make an exact replica of Guernica that is indistinguishable from the original. And for a modest sum you can enjoy it in the privacy of your home. So why do art lovers spend thousands to make their way to Madrid’s Museo Reina Sophia to view the original?

The answer is that we value  art, not only because it provides us with great sensory enjoyment, but because it is an achievement of human spirit and ingenuity. An original work of art involves a creative idea and the execution of that idea which required solving particular problems that confronted the artist at the time of creation. This achievement of the artist is part of the aesthetic value of a work. An exact replica of the work does not represent such an achievement; it is not a work of creative originality. The replica has less aesthetic value than the original.

Something similar can be said of the “82” Lafite. It sets the standard for what a great left-bank Bordeaux should taste like. It is an achievement of the collaboration of winemaker and nature that is noteworthy in its originality and expression. The $100 knock off, however lovely it might be, is not an original achievement. By definition it cannot be so. It thus lacks the aesthetic value of the original.

The appreciation of the original is an intellectual pleasure and such enjoyment is not mere snobbery. It is an appreciation of genuine aesthetic value. Whether it’s worth the price tag or not depends on your bank account and how much you value the experience. But it is a genuine aesthetic experience.

In the art world we commonly accept originality and achievement as having genuine aesthetic value. It is a bit of a puzzle why it is so controversial in the wine world.

One comment

  1. Dwight,

    The aesthetic value of the ‘82 Lafite is short lived once it’s consumed. Only a dim memory or some tasting notes is all that remains….and only for that person.

    The beauty and aesthetic value of artworks are there forever, for more than just one person to enjoy.

    But I still appreciate and value both, including my long ago consumed Bordeaux or Cote Rotie, as well as my mass produced copy of Picasso’s sketch of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.



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