jamie goode's wine blog

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Some questions for contemplation, with wine

Just poured a glass of Bodega Tradicion's 30 year old Oloroso (from Fortnum & Mason, it's their own label offering). It is a profound wine and it has reminded me of some of the questions and thoughts I was thinking about when I was walking the dog this afternoon.

1. Is wine art?
2. Does art have the power to redeem? I guess, by this, I'm thinking about whether art has the power to enable us to step outside our daily struggles and busyness, and transport us to a different place: one from which we can see ourselves and our situations in a different light - a light that then empowers us to better deal with our lives.
3. I beauty transforming? Does beauty experienced somehow relfect back on us in a way that changes us, elevating us beyond our current state?
4. As an example, music seems to have a transforming or redeeming quality to it. We can be in a painful, difficult, or mundane place, but then listening to the right music for the time seems to be able to transport us in our minds, distancing us from our current situation, opening up for us a new vista. I also find that music has this ability to bypass my mind (with all its various processing issues) and reach to my 'heart'.
5. There is truth in wine, in as much that modest intoxication by means of wine seems to enable us to see things from a new - and often more generous - perspective. Other forms of intoxication promise to reveal another world, or a new 'reality'; wine keeps us grounded in this world, but helps us to see it differently. It is, in this sense, a virtuous intoxicant. [I think this is one of Roger Scruton's ideas.]
6. The meaning of art, or music, or wine depends on our previous experience. The significance of a particular piece of art is therefore different for each person. This is not to suggest that everything is relative; just that we shouldn't assume that what works for us will also work for others.
7. There is a difference between popular culture and high culture. But it's a shame where people try to erect a firm barrier between the two. Both are important.

Back to tonight: I think this 30 year old Oloroso is a totally profound, complex wine. I think it is 'wine as art'. It has a transforming quality to it that can, in some senses, be counted as redemptive. There's a beauty to it that allows me to step outside my particular circumstance and gain a renewed perspective, one that is tangible on a number of levels - the complexity of the wine, the context of its production (long ageing in barrels), the fact that is displays particular sensory characteristics that I can appreciate in the context of what I know about sherry, and also the sense of mild intoxication that it brings. This would, of course, all be enhanced if I could share this wine with others who also appreciated its qualities.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

A nice lunch with a sound Claret

Went into town today to lunch with my former boss at his club, the Athenaeum (pictured). We dined well on pheasant, washed down with a bottle of the house Bordeaux, Château d’Arche 2002. The wine committee there have chosen well: this is a really delicious Claret that's beautifully balanced with some Cabernet richness and a delicious earthy grip. [D'Arche is managed by the negociant house Mahler-Besse, who own Palmer, but I can't locate any UK stockists.]

It was nice to catch up. My ex-boss is a fan of Wittgenstein, and he gave me a quick tutorial on the mind/body problem. I think he must be appalled by my attempts to grapple with the nature of perception, and the way I fall for the Mereological fallacy (i.e. mistakenly stating that it is the brain that perceives, rather than the person).

After lunch I went shopping. We may be in the midst of a recession/depression but Oxford Street was heaving. I love shopping for some things (e.g. wine, technology bits, sports gear), but otherwise I really don't enjoy the shopping experience at all.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Terry Theise on reductionism in wine

There's a great article in the latest edition of the World of Fine Wine. Well, actually there are many great articles, but the one I'm referring to is by Terry Theise, titled 'Wine and the unspeakable' (WOFW 20, p 128-131), and it's looking at the topic of beauty in wine in a thoughtful, slightly tangential way. It includes the following quote, referring to how a reductionist approach to wine often fails:
The idea of 'forest' is different from the notion of 'a lot of trees'. The notion of 'a lot of individual tones and pitches arranged in organized and pleasing ways' is existentially very different from the idea of 'music'. Landscape is different from the hills and rivers it might contain. There are wines that live in the whole - which is not only greater, but also other than the sum of its parts'.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Philosophy, wine and an old pub

Had lunch today with Ole Martin Skilleas, a Norweigan academic philosopher who is currently writing a book on wine and philosophy with a colleague of his, Douglas Burnham. We didn't go anywhere grand - just round the corner to the Dover Castle, a pub like they used to be 20 years ago before they all went gastropub and started charging restaurant prices - but we did have an interesting discussion about the philosophy of wine tasting, over a pint of beer.

I learned a lot from Ole, and among the insights he offered was an interesting take on how we taste. 'Wine is a vague object', Ole told me, ' and we bring conceptual knowledge to it. We try to fit it with a template'. What he means (I think) is that the senses of smell and taste are rather imprecise, so wine is vague, and to say much about it we need to bring something to the tasting experience, namely our experience and understanding. When we know what it is we are drinking we are then able to say much more about it. 'We know what to look for in a great wine', he continued. 'If you don't know what to look for you don't notice the qualities that made this a great wine'.

He illustrated this with an experience of blind tasting, which he regards as an extreme version of what happens in most tastings. With his tasting group, which includes wine critics and enthusiasts with excellent knowledge of wine, he lined up three wines blind, with a common theme: a 1999 Chablis 1er Cru, a 1999 Village Meursault and a 1999 Macon. At an early stage in deliberations a senior member of the group said, 'At first I thought the theme was Chardonnay, but I don't think it is.' No one went on to guess Chardonnay: the members of the group just put the Chardonnay template away. 'The qualities of the wines, once they were revealed, were so obvious', recalls Ole, 'it was staring people in the face'.

Coincidentally, when I got home Fiona had poured a mystery glass of wine for me to taste blind. I was thinking about this template business: this is what makes tasting blind so difficult, I reckon. I spotted it as a Sauvignon, but could get no further. It was cleanly made and modern, but it could have been from the Loire or the New World. Turned out it was from Yalumba in South Australia.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007


The cold which had been threatening to burst at any moment has really clicked into gear, and I can no longer smell all that much. It's a myth (from my experience at least) to say that you can't smell anything when you have a cold, but the clarity of the olfactory perception is certainly much diminished at the moment.

I reckon I could still taste wine OK in my current impaired state (in terms of rough impressions), but I'd be less sure of my perception - that I was actually 'getting' the wine.

The fact that we think we are 'getting' the wine or not is one argument in favour of the idea that wine tasting is, at least in part, objective. There is something there, that is a property of the glass of wine we are drinking, that can be 'got'. Aside from inter-individual differences in perception, the assumption is that the characteristics of a wine - what it tastes like - are properties of that wine.

When I write a tasting note, I first write the name of the wine. Then I write under it the descriptive words - a selection of terms from my sadly rather impoverished vocabulary for tastes and smells - that best describe my perception of that wine. But all the time, the assumption is that the description I have given is of the wine. I am describing the wine, and my descriptive abilities (or lack of them) affect how accurately I carry out this task, but what I am describing is a wine that, if you were there tasting with me, you could experience for yourself. In this sense, the perception of the wine in question is not a private experience.

However, an argument could be made that what I am in fact describing is the interaction between me and the wine, and more specifically, a perceptual event occurring somewhere in my brain. In this sense, our potential for sharing this experience is dependent on us sharing: (1) taste and smell receptors that produce similar electrical activity for the brain to then process; (2) similar higher-level processing of this electrical information in the brain; and (3) similar experience (context) with which to review and further reflect on the perceptual experience (indeed, our experience may shape the perception itself).

It all gets very complicated, and the difficulty I have here in thinking about these issues is in trying to fit what I've learned with neuroscience into a sort of philisophical framework, without being too philosophically naive (which is something I'm prone to).

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Philosophy of wine...two books

Just a heads up about a new book, coming out in September 2007. It's entitled Wine and philosophy: a symposium on thinking and drinking. I'm a contributor, with a chapter entitled Experiencing Wine: Why Critics Mess Up (Some of the Time). There are some decent high-powered contributors so I'm looking forward to reading it when it comes out. Preceding this volume, there's another book on the same topic coming out in the next month or so, titled Questions of taste, another multiauthour work in which I also have a paper as a token wine writer with a philosophical bent. I reckon you should buy both. It won't benefit me financially (let me reassure you that because academics are used to writing for nothing, these were the least lucrative articles I ever penned), but I'd just be pleased to see these worthy, interesting projects both succeed.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Philosophy of wine: 'Questions of taste'

By coincidence, I have just been sent the cover for the forthcoming Questions of taste, which I mentioned in yesterday's blog entry. Here are the front and back covers (click for larger image), as well as the publicity blurb (below). The book will be out in March, apparently. I reckon it will be a really good read. The problem with contributing to academic books is that academics are used to writing for free, and so we don't get paid much at all. However, I'm just happy to be included alongside such illustrious names.

Interest in and consumption of wine have grown exponentially in recent years and there has been a corresponding increase in consumers’ knowledge of wine, which in turn has generated discussions about the meaning and value of wine in our lives and how renowned wine critics influence our subjective assessment of quality and shape public tastes. Wine first played a part in Western philosophy at the symposium of the early Greek philosophers where it enlivened and encouraged discussion. During the Enlightenment David Hume recommended drinking wine with friends as a cure for philosophical melancholy, while Immanuel Kant thought wine softened the harsher sides of men’s characters and made their company more convivial. In Questions of Taste, the first book in any language on the subject, philosophers such as Roger Scruton and wine professionals like Andrew Jefford, author of the award-winning book The New France, turn their attention to wine as an object of perception, assessment and appreciation. They and their fellow contributors examine the relationship between a wine’s qualities and our knowledge of them; the links between the scientifically describable properties of wine and the conscious experience of the wine taster; what we base our judgements of quality on and whether they are subjective or objective; the distinction between the cognitive and sensory aspects of taste; whether we can really share the pleasures of drinking. Questions of Taste will be of interest to all those fascinated by the production and consumption of wine and how it affects our minds in ways we might not hitherto have suspected.

To be published in the UK by www.signalbooks.co.uk; Oxford University Press is the publisher in the USA


Wednesday, January 31, 2007

What I did in Paris

On Monday I was speaking at Wine Evolution, but on Tuesday I had a choice: attend the conference sessions, or do some exploring. Tough one. Not. Much as I love the wine business, wine itself, and one of Europe's great capitals has a bigger pull on me. I was late getting up (we'd been out till 0215 the previous night), but this still gave me time to visit a few wine destinations. In particular, I was interested in Cavistes specializing in vins natural, which is a bit of a fad in France.

First stope was Caves Augé (116, Boulevard Hausmann), which is a fantastic old wine shop, crammed full of wines - the majority of which are 'natural' in one form or another. Customer service isn't perhaps their strong point, and the way the wines are arranged makes it hard to browse efficiently. But this can be forgiven for the wonderful stuff they sell. I purchased three bottles only (I could have purchased two cases) - Morgon Vieilles Vignes 2005 Jean-Paul Thevenet, Morgon 2004 Cuvee 3,14 Jean Foillard and Morgon Vieilles Vignes 2004 Guy Breton.

Next I visited La Cremerie/Caves Miard (9, rue des Quatre-Vents - pictured), a charming wine bar and shop located in a tiny old dairy. Here I bought Anjou 2004 Agnes et Remi Mosse, Cheville de Fer 2005 VdP du Loir et Cher O Lemasson and Les Marrons Villages Vin de Table Lot 04 05 Gilles et Catherine Verge.

Then it was off to lunch with philosopher Ophelia Deroy, who specializes in the philosophy of science and has contributed to the forthcoming wine and philosophy volume 'Questions of Taste', which is being edited by her partner Dr Barry Smith (I'm also contributing a paper to this book). We met at Caves Legrand, which is a wonderful caviste and small wine bar. I came away with a solitary bottle, Domaine Richaud Cairanne 2005, but this was only because I was already carrying six, and I was cutting it fine for catching the Eurostar.

There's a lot of fun to be had for wine nuts in Paris; I only scratched the surface. I will be back, I hope, fairly soon.

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