Wine and the Missing Aesthetic Experience

wine and art 2In the wine world, the people with tasting skills, wine knowledge, and access to the best wines are buried in tasting notes, scores and ratings, competitions, marketing trends, and sommelier exams. Although these activities are about evaluating wine quality, the context that shapes them is about business and competition. Who’s up, who’s down, who get’s the attention, what’s the latest trend and how can it be monetized.

When preoccupied with these matters we can lose sight of wine’s deeper significance as a source of “soulfulness” or “spirituality.” Wine is both a commodity and an art form, and that combination can muddle tasting practices that tend to address the legitimate needs of business while making only perfunctory gestures at aesthetic appreciation. (This is a problem not unique to wine.) Tasting grids and tasting norms seldom address what it means for a wine to be beautiful, moving, delicate, graceful, dynamic, powerful, elegant, austere, awkward, or fascinating to mention just a few aesthetic properties. These terms appear in tasting notes but wine education materials seldom use them to help analyze wine quality.

The three exceptions are complexity, balance, and perhaps intensity which are useful but limited in describing particular wines.

This, along with the reluctance to think of wine as expressing emotion, limit wine’s potential as an art form.

The practical result is that even committed wine lovers lack a vocabulary for communicating this aesthetic dimension and may in fact fail to fully realize opportunities for genuine aesthetic experiences. (A list of fruit aromas is surely no substitute.)

I suspect the reason for this failure to acknowledge aesthetic properties is that they are not quantifiable, cannot be identified or measured in a laboratory like aromatic compounds, and thus appear subjective.

In fact they are subjective up to a point which is precisely why they are useful. Wines do speak to us as individuals just as music or literature does, which is why it has this “soulfulness” or “spiritual” dimension. It is peculiar that becoming educated about wine does not include becoming aware of this power wine has to affect us.

I guess it doesn’t sell wine.

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