jamie goode's wine blog

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Ive just finished writing my chapter for a forthcoming book on wine and philosophy, edited by Dr Barry Smith of Birkbeck College, University of London. Some of it is fresh; some is reworked from earlier pieces on the theme. Id like to quote from a paragraph that Ive included which I wrote some time ago:

I think that we already have enough evidence here to warrant a paradigm shift with regard to rating wines. What critics are scoring is not some intrinsic property of the liquid in the bottle, but a perceptual representation that is to some degree specific to them.

Does this mean that we cant have a shared experience when we taste the same wine? While its helpful to acknowledge the individual nature of these representations, we also need to bear in mind that one of the remarkable properties of the human mind is its ability to exploit shared space, thanks to language and the development of writing and other recording technologies.

The laptop I am writing this article on is effectively acting as an extension of my brain. It gives me the ability to take my thoughts, in word form, and then develop them over an extended period of time. Most importantly, I can then share these thoughts with others, and in turn access extensions of their mental landscape in a similar fashion.

With wine tasting, our sharing of experience through a common culture of wine enables a degree of calibration of perceptual representations to occur. In particular, we develop a language for sensory terms a way to encode and share our representations. The language we use for describing wine is intrinsic to not only sharing those ideas, but also to forming them in the first place.

By possessing an extended vocabulary for taste, smell and flavour sensations, we are able to approach wine tasting in a structured fashion, and in a way that generates a detailed verbal description of the wine being analysed. It follows that the nature of this vocabulary will shape the description of the experience, and even the experience itself.

Ill let you know when the book is out (it will be a while, I reckon). It should be a good read.


At 10:19 PM, Anonymous jason palma said...

Your thoughts almost parallel the thoughts of Wittgenstein (of the Philosophical Investigations), whose denial of the notion of a private language as almost absurd parallels your notion that the practice of tasting, far from being a private endeavor, is a shared endeavor mediated by the language bequeathed upon us.

At 6:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


If you tell me there is pure fruit...I'll taste "pure fruit." Same goes for all of the other descriptors commonly used in wine reviews. I'm not a wine novice - I know what to expect from an old-world red and an Aussie red, but all too often, we (the consumers) are unneccesarily influenced by the power of suggestion. You know what I'd like to see from the professionals who aide me in my wine-buying decisions? A scale of one to five...1)Has faults/don't buy, 2)No obvious faults/Not a good representation of style/origin/price, 3)Neutral - It's alcohol - only buy for second-rate weddings, 4)Represents style/origin/price appropriately - A good wine for contemplation, 5)Great representation of style/origin (price is the wildcard here) - thought-provoking investment.

What say you?

At 2:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Though I'm not Jamie, I'm also not the previous anonymous. I am though reacting to his post, to point out the obvious floows in the suggestion of having a five point scale. The notion that a wine should be valued in relation to how good a representation of "style or origin" is utterly flawed. A wine is not necessarily good becaus it is representative of its region-indeed if a wine was judged because of this then the most banal representation of the region would be classed as excellent. Also, a wine might be interesting precisely because of the way it is distinct from others from the same region. Likewise, it assumes that each wine region is a homogenous mass-look at Bordeaux for instance-what sort of oak, what grapes, what soil. Le Pin is esteemed higly, but it is presumably different to Chat.Margaux for instance. Thus, the five point system proposed by the previous anonymous seems like a not very good idea, really.

At 6:56 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

Some good points here. In response, I would say that typicity is just one level of quality in wine - and not everyone wants or looks for it. I value diversity in wine, but I'm also relatively libertarian and I think winemakers should be able to make whatever wines they want - it's then up to the consumer to choose to purchase them or not. However, there's a strong case for saying that if a wine is marketed on the basis of where it comes from (i.e. it has the name of a place prominently on the label) then it is sort of making a contract with the consumer to offer them a sense of that place.

At 9:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that there are an infinite number of differences between the various Bordeaux houses and the raw ingredients from which they draw - However, the name of the game in the modern (global) wine biz is to cash-in on terrior, appellation, aoc, or provence, etc.; all things that link you to a "place" or, at least, a style. All I'm saying is this; If you are going to use the race-card, then you should represent the race!

Back to the five-point scale: If you want to operate "outside the lines," or if you really have something special in your vineyard - just add a tag-line explaining the how, and more importantly, the "why" the wine will taste different. I think there is room for this, where merited.

The five-point scale was a passing thought while reading sir James' blog...

I think that we already have enough evidence here to warrant a paradigm shift with regard to rating wines. What critics are scoring is not some intrinsic property of the liquid in the bottle, but a perceptual representation that is to some degree specific to them.

To me, to "evaluate" something infers that there is some sort of standard by which to compare. And, as a wine consumer (not a wine professional), my only standard is what I read in magazines and on the label (I'm leaving out what I already know about the world of wine.) Why put "Napa Valley" or "Bordeaux" on the label if you plan to deviate from what it is supposed to be? Why not just put "french" on the label?...Because the profits are in the place and no respectable Bordeaux producer wants to be associated with a looted Languedoc!!!

I'm not talking about the subtle differences between Le Pin and Margaux...I understand that the truest of true wine critics get to sort those out...I'm talking about me, a little guy who's trying to build a modest cellar with an "international" flavor. I'll take a claret from Paulliac...or, am I taking a risk?


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