I’ve 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. I’d like to quote from a paragraph that I’ve 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 can’t have a shared experience when we taste the same wine? While it’s 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.”
I’ll let you know when the book is out (it will be a while, I reckon). It should be a good read.