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Elias Perez
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Questions Of Taste: The Philosophy Of Wine BEST



For those of us philosophical folk with oenophilic predilections, these books ought to have opened up new horizons on questions of taste and evaluation. Thirteen of the thirty authors represented are (or were) philosophers by profession. Some of the rest were undergraduate philosophy majors. Others are professional winemakers or wine writers.




Questions of Taste: The Philosophy of Wine



The papers by the philosophers are less unusual, and quite predictably focus on questions about the objectivity versus subjectivity of taste and wine as an aesthetic object (Bach, Smith, Deroy, Crane, Charters in Smith; Bender, Burnham & Skilleads, Gale, Charters, Sweeney in Allhoff). Mostly, they try to argue it's all about the wine, but often in doing so neglect the drinker and the ambiance of the environment, though Bach (in Smith) does consider the role of background knowledge in tasting. For example, no one discusses facts such as that even experienced tasters rank wines they believe to be expensive (and they are not) more highly than those they think are cheaper, or that tasting wine professionally is a most arduous and unpleasant task because the tannins dehydrate the mouth to the point where your teeth hurt. Some actually try to come to grips with the conscious experience or pleasure involved in wine drinking (Bach in Smith; Dilworth in Allhoff), and sometimes argue that better wine means better pleasure -- shades of John Stuart Mill and his satisfied pig. Roger Scruton (in Smith) does take up intoxication, even while he argues the strange claim that "Tastes belong with smells and sounds in the ontological category of secondary objects" (Smith, 15). He also seems to disapprove of intoxication.


Interest in wine has steadily increased in recent years, with people far more sophisticated about wine than they used to be. And, inevitably, those who take a serious interest in wine find themselves asking questions about it that are at heart philosophical. Questions of Taste is the first book to tackle these questions, illuminating the philosophical issues surrounding our love of wine. Featuring lucid essays by top philosophers, a linguist, a biochemist, and a winemaker and wine critic, this book applies their critical and analytical skills to answer--or at least understand--many thorny questions. Does the experience of wine lie in the glass or in our minds? Does the elaborate language we use to describe wine--alluding to the flavors of cheese or fruit, or to a wine's "suppleness" or "brawniness"---really mean anything at all? Can two people taste one wine in the same way? Does a wine expert enjoy wine more than a novice? These questions and others are not just the concern of the wine lover, but go to the heart of how we think about the world around us--and are the province of the philosopher. With a foreword by leading wine authority Jancis Robinson (editor of the highly acclaimed Oxford Companion to Wine), this volume will be of interest to anyone who thinks seriously about the experience of enjoying wine, as well as those interested in seeing philosophy applied to the world of the everyday.


I realize I am being very vague in this review, but I believe with this type of book, I should be. Every person will have their own personal experience with this book and will either agree, disagree, or want to debate the individual contributors in ways that may be different from my own. Thus, I will say to you that this is a wonderful book for those that love wine and enjoy philosophy, but is written in such a way that even the non-philosopher can appreciate the prose that he or she is reading. My only requirement is that you read this book when drinking a glass of wine, as it really does make the prose


Your email address:Powered by FeedBlitzSubscribeSubscribe to RSS FeedAbout UsSponsorshipMusicEthics BitesFor iPhone UsersDownloading EpisodesNEWSOn Facebook On TwitterPhilosophy Bites BookA Little History of PhilosophyLinks to Past EpisodesNigel Warburton325 Bites interviews arranged by theme325 Bites interviews arranged alphabetically by interviewee340 Bites Interviews Arranged Alphabetically by Interviewee352 Bites Interviews Arranged Alphabetically by Interviewee352 Bites Interviews Arranged by Theme var _sttoolbar = stTypePad.init(' =email%2Cweb%2Cpost&charset=utf-8&style=default&publisher=3146a084-9e65-480b-be23-350c22a24741&headerbg=%2307090d&linkfg=%23990006'); Feedjit Live Website StatisticsJune 21, 2007 Barry Smith on Wine Is the taste of wine purely subjective? Why should we value the experience of drinking wine? Barry Smith, editor of a new book on the Philosophy of Wine, Questions of Taste (Signal Books, Oxford, July 2007), explores these and related questions in this interview.


Two views on wine appreciation. The first from the introduction of an academic book edited by Prof Barry Smith called Questions of Taste: The Philosophy of Wine, a volume that collects perspectives from philosophy and cognitive science on how we understand the qualities of wine:


The first obvious thing to say is that philosophy is useful when a human practice raises difficult conceptual issues. Philosophers are allegedly good at clarifying conceptual muddles by using logic, by focusing and honing the questions that need to be asked in order to bring clarity, and by unpacking assumptions and presuppositions that are not obvious and about which the practitioners of some activity might be unaware. Perhaps, more importantly, philosophers use their capacity to make inferences and frame concepts to synthesize areas of inquiry that on the surface may seem unrelated. Of course, these are general intellectual skills, but philosophical training is supposed to make one especially adept at them.


Related to this issue of objectivity is a question about the degree to which cognition influences what we taste. Wine education has become a central activity of almost everyone in the wine industry. How effective is this education and what methods or activities can increase its effectiveness? Definitive answers to these questions depend on the relation between cognition, perception, feeling states, and preferences. Philosophy has a long history of discussion about how these facets of experience are related that can directly influence debates about wine education.


A fourth issue that concerns the wine industry on which philosophers might provide input is the nature of the language used to discuss wine. This is a source of contention in the wine community. Many people find that tasting notes, which simply list aromas or textures, are not particularly helpful in describing a wine. Yet more elaborate metaphors that attribute personality traits to wine are baffling and treated with derision. Linguists have studied wine language and gathered empirical data on how wine language works. But philosophy asks broader more abstract questions about the nature of meaning, understanding, and communication and how linguistic meaning is related to patterns of feeling, experience, and knowledge. Philosophical enquiries are normative. They address questions about how language should be used and how it can be reformed to enhance understanding. Thus, philosophy can provide the wine community with a broader frame of reference with which to assess the role of language in wine appreciation.


Finally, wine is a source of pleasure and inebriation. But its production and appreciation are also sources of deep meaning for wine lovers. How does wine fit into our attempts to lead good lives? If any question defines philosophy, it is this question of what counts as a good life. The proper role of pleasure, the kinds of pleasure that are worth pursuing, and the relative value of a deep commitment to an aesthetic practice are quintessential philosophical issues. And these are questions that any thoughtful drinker should be asking themselves.


Alex Russan, based in Santa Barbara County, California, is the owner-winemaker of Metrick wines. He consults for Por Que No? Selections and previously owned sherry label and Spanish import company Alexander Jules. He writes about enology, viticulture, and tasting and has a background in specialty coffee, botany, and philosophy.


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