There’s an excellent interview with Barry Smith on ABC (Australia) radio on the philosophy of wine. For a professor of philosophy, Barry is remarkably accessible and good at explaining what could otherwise be quite complex topics. One of the themes in this interview is the difference between experts and social drinkers. Are wine experts ‘born’, in the sense that they have enhanced perceptual powers? Or are they made? Is it nature, or nurture? Wine professionals might like to believe that they are specially gifted with enhanced tasting abilities. It turns out that this is not the case, says Barry.
Experts and social drinkers are no different in terms of their perceptual discriminative capacities. The difference is that novices don’t know they can do it, and don’t have confidence they can do it.
It is clear that wine experts are made and not born.
So what does it take to turn a social drinker into an expert? ‘They have to put in the training,’ says Barry. ‘It really isn’t the case that [experts] have excellent perceptual sensory powers.’ He asserts that anyone with a normally functioning sensory system could potentially become a wine expert.
Then. the tricky thing, which requires lots of tasting and training, is to correlate what is happening in me to what I know to be a property in the wine, and to come to understand that when I have that experience, it is something to do with the way it is made; something to do with its character; something to do with the grape variety or the vintage. Because people put in the time to learn what’s causing the experience in them, they are able to have something pop out of their experience that is different from the social drinker, even though the experience might be the same.
Barry covers more in the interview, including the subjective versus objective nature of wine tasting, and understanding what happens when critics disagree. It’s worth a listen.
See also: my interview with Barry Smith