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  • 1  «Every wine one drinks has its own story. My aim: making it easy for you, reader, to listen and co (...)

Ogni vino bevuto ha il suo racconto. Mio proposito: renderne facile l’ascolto e la comprensione a te, lettore, che ami il vino – mi leggi –, o sei disposto a riconoscerlo amico1.
L. Veronelli

1. Introduction: A little something about the wineworld

1.1. The first time

1In 1971, Mario Soldati, Italian writer, journalist and expert of wine, published the second series of Vino al Vino, a book about wine production in Italy. In the Introduction titled “Wine as a Work of Art” Soldati stated:

Between two extremes, the artifact that is both calculated and programmable in terms of methods and hours of work as well as in the quality of the final product, and the work of art, unpredictable and mysterious, wine resembles, in any case, more this than that […]. The perfume, taste and absolute and personal enchantment of a good glass of wine are ultimately identified with a quid that escapes any sort of scientific analysis: in precisely the same way that no physiological demonstration would ever be capable of translating in formulas or equations the beauty of a Tiziano or of a Leonardo; nor the beauty or the goodness of a human being.

2A few lines later he adds:

  • 2  Soldati 1971: 12-13 (my translation).

One approaches closer to the truth, if one defines wine as something between a work of art and a living being. This is why it is much more arduous, beyond a certain negative limit, to express the final judgment on the quality of wine rather than the value of a painting or a poem2.

  • 3 In the same year, 1971, the book Il vino giusto (The right wine) by Luigi Veronelli, the most impor (...)
  • 4  This double nature can certainly assume different gradations: there are wines, like Champagne, clo (...)

3I believe that Soldati was completely right: he somehow had arrived to the true nature of wine3. I will attempt to demonstrate this, on the one hand through a positive, pragmatic and critical conception of taste perception and, on the other hand, through that which I consider the necessary pendant of the first, a philosophical analysis of the production of wine, seen as both a natural and artificial entity. Wine is a living complex system of elements, but it may be subject to cares, intentions, and attentions typical of most artifacts: it is here where we witness its being «between a work of art and a living being»4.

  • 5  In the Italian context, opening works for the topic in philosophy have been Donà 2003 e Perullo 20 (...)

4But Mario Soldati was not a philosopher, at least not in a strict sense. Therefore I must undertake a fairly long journey before arriving at the point I anticipated. I must do this in order to justify some relevant facts that this volume of Rivista di Estetica brings to life. For the first time, one of the most important Italian philosophy journals dedicates its monographic research to wine – a subject that until now has not been considered worthy enough for philosophical pursuit5. In general, particularly in the last two centuries, food in its entirety has been absent from the philosophical horizon – even though there were those such as Fourier, Feuerbach, Nietzsche and Lévinas who offered important input. Philosophy has produced a strong resistance to incorporating food and wine as one of its objects of specific and positive analysis. Today, the situation has slightly changed, but there is still ample resistance: why? Let us narrow our focus to Italy. In Italian philosophy, in particular in aesthetics, the question “can wine be an object of philosophical research?” has received mostly negative responses: these are due first and foremost to the modern tradition of Aesthetics as a Philosophy of Art in some of the most notable and prevalent expressions – take for example Kantian, Hegelian and Crocean traditions. According to these authors and their followers, wine has always been present as a negative model, the epitome of that which does not belong to aesthetics, such as sensual and immediate pleasure, physical, and corporal material, and instinctive enjoyment. Let’s take Croce who – with regard to the status of art – echoes Kant reminding us how easy it is to understand:

  • 6 Croce 1965: 71.

The difference that exists between the claim that I like or dislike wine because it satisfies my physiological organism or not, and the affirmation that a poem is beautiful and another is not: the second order of judgments (as Kant demonstrates in the classical analysis) brings with it the unquestionable claim of universal validity followed by a passion seated in the soul. In the times of Chivalry, there were even those who defended the beauty of Jerusalem with swords in hand, while no one, of which we know, has ever killed in order to proclaim the pleasantness or unpleasantness of a wine6.

  • 7 See Russo 2000.
  • 8 D’Angelo 2011: 28, 116-117.

5According to both Kant and Croce, the point of departure is therefore the clear and qualitative distinction between the beautiful and the agreeable. But it is everything but a universally accepted distinction. It was criticized immediately after its codification and, in general, the immense 18th Century debate on Taste, prior to Kant, was central to the analogies between beauty and goodness, appreciation of art and appreciation of wine (as Hume’s famous essay Of the Standard of Taste as well as many other reflections by authors such as Du Bos, Burke, Reid, Gerard, and Alison testify)7. Regardless of those ideas on taste, ideas that led to the development of new curiosities and expertise on wine especially in England and France (even though Germany had an important wine culture and notable Rieslings as well), the Kantian assumption has successfully crossed entire fields of modern aesthetics, and it very lively even today8. Kant’s assumption refutes the idea that wine can be an aesthetic object or, in more general terms, a philosophical topic for reasons that are sometimes exclusively theoretical, but more often “only” psychological or historical. This is because spending too much time studying wine often seems either inappropriate, undignified, or just superficial. Every expert and lover of wine is however the living and verifiable example of the possibility of distinguishing between individual preferences associated with immediate pleasure and indirect appreciation of wine qualities: in fact tasting skills consist in mastering perceptual instruments that permit one to recognize and valorize specific properties. Diving even deeper into tasting techniques and its actors, it is possible to point out the complex characteristics of taste “of the palate” (although this is a slippery and incongruous expression, because “proper” taste – to recognize and evaluate flavors and smells – is manifested through the collaboration of mouth, nose, and brain) and to challenge at the roots the assumption illustrated in Croce’s passage. In any case, this passage seems to be particularly well suited to describe the specific situation of Italian culture. It is worthy to note that Italy, one of the most important countries for wine production and wine tradition, has for a long period ignored and misunderstood more than others wine’s importance as a tangible index of symbolic, cultural and aesthetic value. However in recent years, things have been and are still changing. To understand why, it is helpful to turn our gaze across the ocean. Mainly, thanks to Anglophone philosophy and aesthetics, especially in the last ten years, edible substances have begun to be discussed in books and articles, thereby giving birth to a small topic with its own literature, not yet ample but quickly growing, in which the authors in the following pages of the Rivista di Estetica have gained influence and authority.

  • 9  See Sibley 2007.
  • 10 See Gibson 1966.

6An aesthetics that is hospitable to taste has developed where it was first considered also as a theory of aisthesis, or rather a theory of perception and perceptual experience. Even if already present in an embryonic way in Leibniz and in Baumgarten, in relation to taste it is the 20th Century to which we should turn, mainly to Dewey’s pragmatist aesthetics, the Psychology of perception and Wittgenstein’s followers. It is enough to remember the pioneering and fundamental contributions of Frank Sibley9 on the aesthetic status of taste and smell as well as – in the field of the Gestaltpsychologie followers – the contributions of Jerome J. Gibson on the taste-smell system intended as a perception system10. Next, yet again on American grounds, the first specific and monographic works on food taste appeared, such as Curtin and Heldke (1992) and the classic and well known study of Korsmeyer (1999). In Italy, the debate about aesthetics as a theory of perception has been activated just in the last 15 years, thanks to the crucial contribution of Ferraris (1997) and to the Rivista di Estetica, even if here the new fields of aesthetic research have not yet reached food and gastronomy. To repeat: this is due to psychological and conventional reasons, belonging to different modalities of representation between the figure of the intellectual in the continental world (with a partial exception for France, at least about wine) and in the Anglo-Saxon world. If the figure of the wine tasting expert and wine connoisseur has grown in the modern age most notably in England, France and from the 20th century onwards in the United States, in Italy an intellectual who displays a serious interest in gastronomy is almost inevitably thought of as a frivolous dandy. It is enough to recall one fact: in England, the University of Cambridge and Oxford compete every year, not only in rowing, but also in wine tasting, the Varsity Blind Wine Tasting Match (at which Cain Todd, author of one of the essays in this volume, participated): the winning team goes to France to compete with a representative from a French university.

7I mention these facts in order to highlight the cultural significance of this issue. It is undoubtedly a novel occurrence that can be explained as follows: on the one hand, the opening devoted to an aesthetics of taste and wine underlines the full participation of continental aesthetics to some relevant topics recently debated especially by Anglophone aesthetics – the aesthetic experience, aesthetic properties etc. – with new methods and new fields of observation that were not pursued until now. It also seems that these new fields can fulfill an effective constitution of both a new and ample aesthetic koiné beyond the old barrier between analytical and continental philosophy. On the other hand, it is without a doubt (as these pages try to demonstrate but as is most clearly depicted in the history of its analogical function, positive or negative) that wine constitutes an elective arena in which to reflect in an innovative way on some classical topics of aesthetics, such as its ontological status or of its boundaries and relationships with works of art.

8The essays presented here offer a wide panorama surveying diverse aspects of the “wineworld” – a word chosen to suggest the complexity of questions around the world of wine. Naturally, the authors offer diverse perspectives and personal sensibilities. Nevertheless, it is essential to stress two common threads. The first is a broadly shared same root conviction: for all of them wine is an object full of cultural, philosophical and aesthetic interest. So we preferred to propose a cohesive and “militant” contribution in favor of a philosophy and aesthetics of wine, omitting skeptical positions which, in any case, will be discussed explicitly in the course of the papers. The second thread is that they are all wine lovers and their reflections develop from inside the object of analysis. One of our underlying theses is that in fact wine is a complex entity that requires, from every angle analyzed (that of tasting, production, marketing, history, society) specific knowledge, and competences. It is no coincidence that these contributions appear in the Rivista di Estetica: I am thus deeply grateful to the entire Scientific Committee, and in particular to its director Maurizio Ferraris, for having believed in this operation.

1.2. Why (not) Wine?

9Let’s start by quickly reconsidering the overarching principal objections against food as a philosophical object (after that, we will narrow our discussion to wine). The topics, both ancient and modern, are of a ontological, metaphysical, ethical, epistemological and aesthetic natures. To summarize it in a very schematic way, they can be divided this way:

  • 11 See Leroi-Gourhan 1993 (see here footnote 21) and Curtin-Heldke 1992.

10*The biological question concerning nutritional necessities we share with other animals and that seem to refer to physiology and not to the “superior” domains of the imagination, fantasy and thought11.

  • 12 See Shapin 1998.

11**The question of sensible and physical pleasure (with the consequential analogy between food pleasure and sexual pleasure, and its corollaries) and its subordination to intellectual and spiritual pleasure, with the adjoining problem of the management of the first in terms of measurement, moderation and even rejection12.

  • 13  See Korsmeyer 1999.

12***The question of the inferiority of the “minor” senses (taste and smell, and, according to some authors, even touch) with respect to the “major” and distal senses (sight and hearing), on which a large part of scientific and objective knowledge has been deduced13.

  • 14  See Shusterman 2000 and Perullo 2006, 2008 and 2010.

13**** The question of the status of aesthetics as a contemplation of forms “at a distance” from which the concept of beauty has been constructed. In this sense, food objects a) cannot enter into aesthetics due to the fact that these are perceived primarily through the physical senses of taste and smell; b) the same food objects are fleeting and ephemeral unlike the forms of “permanent arts”14.

14The predicaments raised by the former questions have also been specifically applied to wine. In the following essays, all these problems will be discussed, sometimes indirectly and at other times in more detail (by Todd, Burnham-Skilleås and Sweeney). I find the explanations of the authors convincing and in some cases decisive in presuming wine to be a philosophical and aesthetic object. Hence I will assume some of their technical arguments as established and therefore refer the reader to their essays. Instead, I will highlight a different aspect that appears often in the shadows but from which I strongly believe important consequences derive. As I mentioned earlier, the questions above combine ancient arguments – originating along the path of Western thought – and characteristic modern ones. First and foremost, it is necessary to specify and distinguish between ancient and modern arguments because the fundamental assumption that the western philosophical tradition is indifferent to the value of wine may be easily rejected as false, and with some reason. However, the question at hand is more complex than it suggests, and it is worth spending some time on it.

  • 15 See Scruton 2007. On this topic, see also Pitte 2009, a book that attempts to explain (from a human (...)

15In Mediterranean culture, a plethora of writing, from both literature and philosophy has been dedicated to the omnipresence of religious symbols and figures of wine. The philosophical drink par excellence, wine – from Plato to Bachelard, from Tommaso to Nietzsche, from Montaigne to Hume, from Kierkegaard to Scruton – enjoys an uninterrupted presence in the history of philosophy. But this presence is neither unique nor indifferent: there is an ancient history and a modern history in the relationship between philosophy and wine, and the modalities of this rapport are different even when it is positively shaped. The philosophical importance of wine in the ancient and medieval world relates primarily to its peculiar intoxicating power. This fermented beverage, associated from its beginnings with religious observances, constitutes a unique intoxication: as Roger Scruton recently brought to our attention, wine is different than other psychotropic substances because it possesses the capacity to arouse pleasure per se, not only (and not truly) for its alcoholic effects15. Above and beyond the quality of such a pleasure, a pertinent topic amongst philosophers, this circumstance is undoubtedly unique, even more so if it is connected to another fundamental characteristic of wine: its association with conviviality. Wine generates sociability.

  • 16  Of course there are always exceptions: see for instance Torday’s novel 2007, in which the protagon (...)
  • 17 In the Italian context this topic has been investigated for the first time by Donà 2003. He traced (...)

16Whoever approaches wine only for its alcoholic content and addictive properties usually drinks bad wine, badly16. Drunkenness, intoxication, pleasure and conviviality are constants defining the philosophical and metaphysical space of wine in which notions about truth and appearance, moderation and excess can be discussed – questions very relevant also for aesthetics17.

17In modern times, due to the concurrence of events which gave birth to aesthetics as a discipline, the philosophical discourse about wine has gained a different character. The reflection about its symbolic, metaphysical and intoxicating nature decreased (but does not disappear: it will be emphasized by authors like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Baudelaire but in a context that is above all a critique of “pure” and “abstract” thought) and an observation concerning its exemplarity for new problems of subjectivity and taste is born. In this context, particularly in the 18th Century, the “century of Taste”, wine gains a different status as an object: thanks to historical, social and economical processes it becomes the object of value and commerce that we know today: a glass container filled with liquid that exhibits, like a signature, its territorial and human provenance. This transformation was primarily due to the voluntary exchange between France and England, respectively the most important producing and the most important consuming countries of fine wines. In the 18th Century, wine brands are codified: the great clarets of Bordeaux, Champagne and the sought after Burgundy enters the game of social representation as well as the market of aesthetic performances as possibilities for education and connoisseurship of men of taste. Enjoying a wine signified recognizing and appreciating specific qualities. Why is it that wine is able almost uniquely to generate these possibilities?

18Let’s leave it to Hugh Johnson, one of the most famous wine writer in the world:

  • 18 Johnson 2006: 11

Think, for a moment, of an almost paper-white glass of liquid, just infused with greenish-gold, just tart on your tongue, full of wild flower scents and spring-water freshness. And think of a burnt-amber fluid, as smooth as syrup in the glass, as fat as butter to the smell and sea-deep with strange flavors. Both are wine. Wine is grape-juice. Every drop of liquid filling so many bottles has been drawn out of the ground by the roots of a vine. All these different drinks have at one time been sap in a twig. It is the first of many strange and some – despite modern research – mysterious circumstances which go to make wine not only the most delicious, but the most fascinating drink in the world.
It would not be so fascinating if there were not so many different kinds. Although there are people who do not care for it, and who think it no more than a nuisance that a wine-list has so many names on it, the whole reason that wine is worth study is its variety18.

  • 19  Of course, this is something that is very difficult to prove; here I will take it for granted.
  • 20  It is not without meaning that between the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th Century i (...)

19Johnson’s response to the question “why wine?” subtends an interaction of natural facts (the potential that grape varieties and soils possess in allowing for the expression of different perceptual qualities) and cultural facts (the variety of cultivation, style, technique and tradition). The result of this interaction between habitat, grape and human labor seems not to exist elsewhere: it is unique to wine. Nowadays the word terroir is often used to express such a synthesis: I will discuss it further below and the other essays will elaborate upon it as well (Todd and Borghini) because what the word denotes is everything but simple and obvious. For now let’s say that there appears to be good reason, biological and anthropological, for the supremacy of wine with respect to other food items in western philosophy19. Of course, there are other possible explanations that are historically grounded: the modern connoisseur exercises his expertise on a liquid that is bottled, labeled and packaged. A glass container, manageable and transportable, has made possible a repeatable and shareable experience; its contents can therefore not be generic but good, of superior quality, a fine wine. Good wine possesses another feature indeed: it can be conserved for long periods, sometimes for a considerably extended period of time20. From here, a series of consequences then arise for the aesthetics of taste. Maybe wine (or should we not instead say bottled wine?) can be compared – at least when considering its taste perception – to an artistic object: yet again, we turn to the first of Mario Soldati’s two sentences. But it is precisely at this point that the modern problems, which I mentioned earlier, arise: of which kind of perception are we speaking? And furthermore, since wine endures but at the same time changes and evolves, to which extent are we allowed to accept its likeness to art? I will discuss the second problem later. At present, let’s focus on the first.

  • 21  I take this beautiful definition by the wine taster and journalist – as well as my first master in (...)
  • 22  See Smith 2007 and Allhoff and Monroe 2008.

20The classic site for the denial of wine as an aesthetic object is found in the critique offered by Kant of Hume’s view of taste judgment, taking our drink as an example: the analogy between wine and art through the lens of taste perception, proposed by the Scottish philosopher to describe the characteristics of the “standard” of taste for beauty is rejected by Kant who, in the Third Critique, draws a paradigm of mere sensible pleasure, immediate and interested, of this “odorous liquid”, disqualifying it from being an aesthetic object21. The Kantian aesthetic is essentially contemplative and distal in relation to its objects; interaction and physical contact are seen as suspect and, at the same time a superiority of permanent and lasting forms to those of consumable ones is assumed, as much as a superiority of individual perception of the works to those of collective and convivial ones is assumed. This is the complex historical and theoretical conjuncture from which every re-evaluation of wine pleasure and taste judgment proceed in contemporary aesthetics: demonstrating that Kant, Hegel and their supporters are wrong or demonstrating that our present relationship with wine is different from that which they were familiar. So the recovery of the subject of wine and gastronomic taste should be seen first and foremost in continuity with this problematic context, which clearly illustrates why the attention of aestheticians is strongly directed towards the process of tasting as a possible aesthetic and cognitive experience22.

21However, if it is true that there is an ancient and a modern history of the relationship between philosophy and wine and that these histories carry within them both similar as well as strikingly different problematic issues, it is fundamental that the philosophy and aesthetics of wine do not disregard the diachronic and historical perspective too. This aspect ought to find its place in the appreciation of wine values. Has the perception of these values changed over time? And so the language too? To respond to these inquiries, this issue of the Rivista opens with an illuminating essay by the historian of science Steven Shapin about the cultural history of wine tastes. Shapin brings to light the changes that occurred in the ways wine is described and evaluated between early modernity and the present time, allowing us to position the question of aesthetic value inside the frame of historical and social change. It is an indispensable perspective and reminds us not to leave out the legitimate question “why is it only now that we should reclaim the aesthetic value of physical taste?” without answer. Shapin demonstrates, among other things, that the profound modification of the descriptive vocabulary of wine takes place starting from the modern scientific revolution, when the imperceptible constituents of the physical and chemical world become the basic elements that are used to describe reality; the passage from the “manifested image” to the “scientific image” of the world – to put it in Sellars’ words – naturally has much to do with the transformation of the idea of subjectivity in which social processes, still in evolution, play a significant role. The globalization of the wine market on the one hand, promoting great brands and “conspicuous consumption” in non-producing countries with no enological tradition; and on the other hand, the individuation of taste judgment that potentially permits everyone the possibility of creating their own autonomous expertise starting from zero. These two phenomena are responsible for the two prevailing tendencies in the ideology of contemporary tasting (or at least so it was until recently, perhaps there are new slightly differing mindsets coming into being). The first is that of the scientific narrative of wine – with very detailed and specific aroma descriptors derived by analogy with animal and plant and even mineral species; the second is that of quantitative evaluation – with scores following a universal numeric value system. Therefore, Shapin’s essay contributes strongly to the aesthetics of wine, putting the main problem into its historical frame, presuming the evaluation of its total quality and aesthetic properties. Furthermore, his essay allows us to definitively understand why wine, today more than ever, can be considered a relevant aesthetic topic.

22Wine may be discussed in many ways. In Philosophy, the ontological and the aesthetic ways – sometimes tangential, others more intertwined – are those that the other essays, beyond Shapin’s, affirm here. This plurality of discourse is accented by another distinction: we can focus on the analysis of perception and judgment – taste, tasting, evaluation, and expertise – or on that of production – viticulture, enology and savoir faire. There is yet a third transversal distinction to consider: the approach to wine – both in perception as well as in production – that can be of a descriptive or of normative nature. The first approach describes things as they are, the second as they should be. Attempting to visualize the possibilities for a philosophy of wine, we have two areas of analysis with two possible approaches:

  1. Analysis of the perception and judgment of wine (experiencing, tasting, describing, evaluating);

  2. Analysis of the production of wine (making, producing, creating);


23With two possible approaches:

  1. Descriptive approach (analysis of how one tastes and/or produces wine);

  2. Normative approach (analysis of how one should taste or produce wine).

24It is interesting to identify how a large part of the aesthetic and philosophical literature discusses mostly a) in terms of i). The analysis on the multiple aspects of tasting – with regards to the topic of subjectivity, ratings, aesthetic properties and vocabulary – make the whole wineworld attractive to, inter alia journalists, oenophiles, professional tasters, and opinion leaders. The missing thread is approach ii), that is a critical reflection on the alternative possibilities to wine tasting as it is generally practiced today. In this respect, it is even more interesting to observe how often a stimulus to approach ii) stemming from the analysis b) that begins with reflections dealing with the modalities of wine production. Limiting ourselves to our field, why is this a) mostly practiced in the realm of Philosophy and Aesthetics? And why is the approach, i), often taken? The answer to the first question can refer to the Humean-Kantian dispute on the value of taste, an issue still debated at present although in up-to-date terms: starting from the second half of the 20th century, the concept of aesthetic experience has loomed large in discussions about taste and artistic values. To the second question, I risk a provocative response: if the i) approach is the most frequently followed, will it not also depend on the fact that often philosophers have scarce familiarity with the wide panorama of the wineworld, mainly those elements concerning production, elaboration and processes of wine making? My argument is that this deficit reflects also on tasting analysis and judgments, because – as I will explain – the two areas of taste and production are tightly intertwined; considering tasting to be an isolatable and analyzable phenomenon risks a naïve, formalistic or at least partial attitude.

25For clarity’s sake, let’s try to distinguish between the two areas of analysis, alternating the two possible approaches, the descriptive and the prescriptive. Naturally, things in reality are not so absolute: when illustrating perception and judgment items, I often refer to production as well. As previously stated, my thesis is that the two fields must be considered together, for a critical and complete comprehension of wine.

2. Perception and Judgment

2.0. Saying, Doing, Tasting

26The questions that guide many aesthetic reflections on wine concern the gustative experience and its qualities: what does it mean to taste? What are tastes (as flavors and as smells)? What is the value of the gustative experience as an aesthetic experience? How do we articulate and communicate taste? Who is the expert, and what constitutes expertise? Usually, this scope of analysis neglects, in part or completely, the experience of creation, the design of wine, with the consequence that it is willingly left to the technicians – producers, agronomists and enologists – or to other professionals in the wineworld such as tasters and journalists. It is as if making wine is considered to be philosophically less important, or aesthetically less pertinent, than tasting and appreciating. But this is not obvious. In other areas of aesthetics the attention given to the production of objects – those particular ones called artworks – is perfectly legitimate and widespread. Even if today the being-a-work-of-art for an object is often accredited to the aesthetic experience and its formal conditions, nevertheless the question “what is art?” continues to orient (in different manners: when is it art? For whom is it art? Where is it art?) aesthetic reflections, also with regard to the modalities of production of objects, events or experiences. Let us substitute “wine” for “art”, and the need for a wider and more ample breadth of reflection will emerge more clearly; in fact when we also ask the question if wine may be considered a work of art, we usually start from the tasting and aesthetic experience – almost never associating it with the fabric of the object that makes it possible. Gabriele Tomasi’s essay engages with the argument about wine as a work of art utilizing Zangwill’s theory of aesthetic creation. Tomasi proposes to apply to wine the aesthetic conception of art where artifacts are identified based on intuition, intention and fulfillment with respect to a specific function of artworks – which is that of expressing aesthetic qualities through non-aesthetic qualities. Without discussing Zangwill’s theory in further detail (Tomasi accurately notices its general limits for a global conception of art, but he finds it useful in the case of wine) the question is if it is possible to ignore the problems of production and making, of technique and technology, when one proposes a conception of wine as an aesthetic and artistic object. To this, I will respond more fully in the second part. In the meantime let us continue drawing a picture of perception and judgment areas.

2.1. Tasting

27Tasting is one way to drink wine according to an acquired technique and a specific code and lexicon. These vary over time, illustrating that tasting has a history, as Shapin helps us to understand in his essay. In the vocabulary used to describe wine, a functional analogy with the vocabulary used for works of art has traditionally been assumed (the 18th and 19th centuries are best suited for this verification): adjectives such as balanced, harmonious, fine, elegant, powerful, tense ecc. but also their corresponding nouns and other more evocative and metaphorical terms, often anthropomorphic. Starting from this statement, for the aesthetician the question is whether such a lexical analogy corresponds to an experiential analogy, in short if tasting can be seen as a genuine aesthetic experience. Obviously, different authors present the question differently because of the diverse answers given to the preliminary queries such as “what is an aesthetic experience?” or “are taste and smell aesthetic senses?”. It is around these topics and issues that the three essays on the aesthetics of wine (Todd, Burnham-Skilleås and Sweeney, each with a distinct focus) debate. After reading them, one should attain convincing arguments to reject the Kantian distinction between the beautiful and the agreeable. Indeed, a detailed phenomenology of tasting can overcome the prejudice about the mere sensible and non reflective value of wine’s pleasure, because it is easy to distinguish, in the gustative experience, between pleasure as mere individual preference and appreciation of quality. This appreciation beyond doubt requires an expertise that expresses a mediate and temporal judgment, resulting from cultural and cognitive elements that dynamically mold it – anyone put through formative and constant training on wine knows it. Until now everything goes. However, now I would like to highlight an aspect often neglected: in this field of analysis what is primarily at play is the value of the taste experience as such, in a given cultural code, and not how a tasting should be executed in order to qualify for the hypothesized value, specifically, the aesthetic value. I don’t mean to say that it is useless to search for arguments in favor of the cognitive and aesthetic values of taste, since – as I mentioned earlier – aesthetics often questioned it, and still does, relegating it to the area of sensual, immediate, physical pleasure. What I mean to say is that this necessary undertaking is often not matched by another that I regard just as indispensable and complementary: an assay on the grammatical status upon which the claim for the aesthetic value of wine is constructed and modeled. In short, the point often concerns if the wine tasting experience accomplished by a sommelier is an aesthetic one; and not if the tasting of the sommelier is correct and suitable to be considered an aesthetic tasting – something that it could easily not be, since tasting, as we know it, is made up of historical, fickle and very recent characteristics. Whatever one may think, it does not seem to me a worthless interrogation. As a matter of fact, in the last part of my essay I will propose an alternative for the aesthetic perception of wine (and consequently a different model of expertise) based upon the limits I will point out in the current model.

  • 23  In this regard, it is worth recalling how the great paleontologist and anthropologist Leroi-Gourha (...)

28One of the authors most widely referenced in the debate on the aesthetic value of wine is Roger Scruton. Scruton – an authentic and passionate wine connoisseur – is honored for having stressed the great philosophical importance of wine, its deep metaphysical, religious and symbolic meaning. Nevertheless he believes that wine is not an aesthetic object (or marginally so) because taste and smell cannot be considered aesthetic senses stricto sensu. His argument has been executed so well and so clearly that it has already become a topos and a serious obstacle to overcome especially for all those who intend to defend the opposing thesis. I will not take the time here to repeat either the argument of Scruton nor the objections against it (which I share) given that Todd, Burnham-Skilleås and Sweeney treat them here at length. Yet again, I will take the opportunity to underline another implicit yet essential aspect that is often overlooked in this discussion: the aesthetic paradigm underlying Scruton’s argument as much as the objections raised by some defenders of the aesthetic value of taste (Todd and Sweeney) is the representationalist paradigm – that is, the idea that at the base of aesthetic appreciation there should be representative forms. Todd and Sweeney maintain that wine, which we know through taste and smell, permits an aesthetic appreciation since, as objects appreciated through sight and hearing, it is subject to pertinent criteria, codified standards and directed chains of reasoning. Tastes and smells are objective experiential matters, certainly mediated by perception and by the perceiver’s background of knowledge but in any case “stable” material corresponding to orderable forms in significant and expressive structures and therefore representational, thus widening the concept of representation. Todd’s strategy here consists in sustaining the link between expressiveness and symbolism: the symbolic meaning of wine is transmitted by its own content, by the qualities from which it is constituted (tastes and smells) and not (only) by associative and contextual properties. According to Scruton, on the contrary, there is a qualitative separation between association and content, evocation and expression that prevents wine from being an aesthetic object. For instance, if wine can induce nostalgia or hope, this is an evocation of the contextual type, because tastes and smells do not express such nostalgia or hope. On the contrary, once the connection between symbolism and expression is shown, Todd believes Scruton’s objection to be circumventable recovering tastes and smells in the horizon of representation and wine in the domain of aesthetic objects23.

29I agree with Todd’s argument (which, with a different and specific end, is also proposed by Sweeney) against Scruton, and obviously with his conclusion on the aesthetic value of wine. However, what I will now question is the preliminary point, which is the possibility of an aesthetic of wine as a representational experience, built upon the model of visual perception. In other words: there is more than one way (as Todd himself rightly points out) to claim for the aesthetic value of wine tasting.

30The first way is that just described. One can define it, with respect to the “classic” aesthetic, as a rising strategy: taste and smell are raised to the level of the other “superior” senses of sight and hearing, but one remains inside – or at the border – of a dualistic perspective (senses on one side, intellect on the other, imagination in between). It is the path partially followed by Sibley – who stopped half way, maintaining the inferiority of taste experiences compared to visual and hearing ones – and, speaking of food in a broader sense, by authors like Nelson Goodman or Mary Douglas; and it is the path followed to its conclusion by Todd. It is surely possible to go down this path, but I fear that it will take you to an aporetic place. To begin with, this strategy faces some difficulties in explaining the historical evolution of tasting and its vocabulary when responding to some problems raised in Shapin’s text. Most importantly (without diving into the complex relationship between visual perception and representation), I believe that, in the case of wine, this strategy omits at least one, if not more, of its most important specific characteristics: wine is not, ontologically speaking, only an artifact but also a very complex organism, a living material with which the partaker actively interacts. It was the second part of Soldati’s citation from which I departed: I will return to it in the following section, but now let’s develop the argument on the aspect of tasting.

  • 24  The following passage is crucial: «Smelling and tasting however, need not be defined by receptors (...)
  • 25  See Auvrey and Spence 2007.

31The second way proceeds from the idea of wine as a complex system composed by living organisms. The analogy between the “minor senses” and the “major senses” can be pursued not necessarily stemming from the concept of representation modeled on visual paradigm, but stemming from a monistic perspective reminding us on the one hand of the origins of the aesthetics of perception (Leibniz, Baumgarten) and, on the other hand, of functional and pragmatic models in which subject and object are originally entangled according to an evolutionary and ecological perspective. As already stated, this perspective – relative to the evaluation of the minor senses – owes a lot to the arrangement put into place by the psychology of perception. The notion of affordance coined by Gibson (the invitation, the total package of possibility an object offers to the subject) is very useful also for the taste-smell perceptual system, seen as a complex and multifunctional system that functions in relation to its multiple uses and goals24. Gibson’s theories (also proven by many recent experimental studies on the multisensory perception of flavor25) just as other ecological and pragmatist positions, today at stake in aesthetic debates, have strangely not yet been explored in the aesthetics of taste. Instead, the objections à la Scruton against the aesthetic value of wine can – and in my opinion must – be eclipsed assuming an ecological and relational prospective, and throwing the representational one away. In such a perspective – in which notions such as function, use and affordance are central – the adopted strategy is monist and, with regards to the “classic” model of aesthetics, descending. Thus, the experience of wine is accepted as an aesthetic one because the very notion of aesthetics is reconstructed on different grounds: contact and introjective senses can express aesthetic values even when not functioning as distal senses; and practical and artisanal activities such as making wine can be considered artistic activities without being akin to “major” arts (I will return to this in the following section dedicated to the question of making). Let’s move ahead with the analysis of tasting.

32I left in suspense the question about the adequacy of tasting – just, as we are accustomed to knowing and practicing it – with respect to the aesthetic value of wine. After having absorbed the strategy of lowering proper to the ecological and relational model, we can now return to the question, with the conviction that criticizing it does not necessarily imply refusing wine the aesthetic and philosophical importance that it merits. Now, the point that I intend to shed light on is that the code and language à la sommelier are modeled on the aesthetic paradigm of representation constructed upon the model of visual perception; and that, because of such a paradigm, this code and language are inadequate to understand through and through the depths of wine. Furthermore, I will also begin to reveal another aspect (that I will complete later): such a model of tasting is strictly correlated to a specific model of production, of artefactuality, that which considers wine not as a living organism but as a mere thing.

33One of the most relevant pieces of information that we gather from Shapin’s text is that the language of tasting wine has married the referential model – an extremely detailed description of the perceived aromas – only starting from the second half of the past century. Some months ago, on the packaging of an Italian chocolate of excellent quality, the following words were present: “notes of bread, butter and jam”. There was no irony. A bar of chocolate was illustrated, in sensorial terms, with completely eccentric descriptors compared to its manifest image. What does one wish to say here, and of what is one trying to say when describing wine with elements such as flowers, stones and animals? It is most likely that the promotional message present on the packaging aims to communicate, following a consolidated and historically established code for wine, how much even chocolate is a food of value and thus amenable to a tasting as well as to a referential and scientific language. Science here would be the chemistry of taste: I imagine that one should assume an analogy between molecular compounds of chocolate with those of bread, butter and jam (but which jam? It was not written; maybe it was an aroma of jam in general?) At first glance, these descriptions have a strange effect, almost funny, but it is probable that those who read the aromas of wine in terms such as wet stone, cut straw or toffee experienced the same feeling (it is no coincidence that contemporary satire makes fun of the figure of the sommelier). There is a link between the transition to a referential language of wine and the processes of democratization of taste: the core idea is that everyone may have access to this data because of its “objectivity”. It is enough solely to engage one’s senses – not in the sense of an education of aesthetic perception, but rather as an education of “standard” perception. Learning to recognize the quality of wine means, in this referential scientific frame, practicing recognizing tastes, aromas and other non-aesthetic properties, exactly in the same way one learns to identify colors and forms. The scientific ideal of tasting dismisses (and sometimes even neglects) the aesthetic value of wine, substituting it with a cognitive value of the analytical kind: the senses of taste and smell would be like sight and hearing, only less utilized and exercised; for this reason, many would not be able to detect the tastes and aromas of the odorous liquid. Evaluation in this scheme moves along the same line, based on precise quantitative elements and not on the expression of aesthetic qualities or on metaphorical and anthropomorphical evocation, which characterized the language of experts even still in the nineteenth century – a language considered now elitist and inadequate to the need for certainty and objectivity. Thus, the tendency towards lexical referentiality, often adopted as a natural datum of tasting, is in fact the result of a recent and highly controversial process. But why should not the taste of wine adapt to the referential language and maintain its aesthetic and evocative vocation? Once again, the answer lies in the comprehension of the true nature of wine, in between artifact and organism. In the meantime, let’s say something more about the aesthetic properties.

  • 26  See Noble 2006.

34One of the most debated problems in the matrix of Anglophone aesthetics that has been applied to the aesthetics of wine has to do with the relationship between aesthetic and non-aesthetic properties: what it the connection between harmony, balance, elegance of a wine (and even its brawniness, its femininity, its sincerity) and its being composed of such-and-such (quantity and quality of polyphenols, acidity, alcohols ecc.)? In fact, the process of tasting seems to really imply cases of aesthetic supervenience; and, fortunately, despite the tendency described above (represented in different ways and levels by many protagonists of the wineworld, as for example some tasters obsessed with science or those disenchanted sensorialists in the line of the school of oenology at Davis in California26) the aesthetic and evocative language is still widely used, even if often mixed and melded with the referential one. As it has often been revealed, the distinction between referential and aesthetic terms is not always sharp: bivalent words exist, like crispy, intact, or even structured (Sweeney’s essay is dedicated to the analysis of structure in wine). Let us consider, as an example, the description of an important wine, the Barolo Bartolo Mascarello 2005, published in the Guida I Vini d’Italia de L’Espresso in 2010:

  • 27I Vini d’Italia 2010: 130. In the original version: «Vino teso e puro, dall’integrità del frutto i (...)

A tense and pure wine, with a striking integrity of fruit, austere and slightly concessive to the nose, yet with a unique and expressive intensity to the palate, supple, rhythmical, thin, infiltrating tannins and an irradiating finish27.

  • 28 See Brochet and Dubourdieu 2001.

35Here the vocabulary unites descriptive and evaluative, quasi-referential elements (integrity of fruit, austerity, intensity) with aesthetic and evocative ones, seamlessly mixed. Now if on the one hand this critical jargon is neither the only nor the prevalent – being rather one example of highly evolved journalism – because the most popular systems at present are referential and “democratic”, proposed by critics as Parker and many other sommelier associations, on the other hand it is good to observe that also in the guide cited above one finds, before the narrative evaluation, scores (for the Barolo in question a mark of 19/20). It is a clear sign of compromise between aesthetic language and quantification, responding in part to the market (it’s easier to sell wines with scores, or so it seems) and in part to the will to maintain an expressive balance between the reasons of metaphorical evocation and those of “science”: in fact there is a strong connection between numerical evaluation and non-aesthetic objectivation of quality28.

  • 29  See also Tomasi 2010.

36If then in wine the relationship between aesthetic and non-aesthetic properties is controversial, because some doubt the legitimacy in the use of the former (the previous narrative of Barolo may provoke an analogous reaction to the narrative description in terms of “wet stone and cut straw” or “bread, butter and jam” although on a different level), once one admits that wine expresses, evokes or embodies aesthetic values – a topic on which Tomasi will dwell29 – it is correct to analyze their emergence in terms of supervenience. The following clarification by Jerrold Levinson about Sibley’s concept of aesthetic properties seems to perfectly fit the case of wine:

  • 30  Levinson 2005: 8.

According to Sibley, aesthetic concepts, such as balanced, delicate, anguished, differ from non-aesthetic ones, such as orange, rough, square, in being strongly non-condition-governed, that is, not applicable according to a rule going from non-aesthetic concepts to aesthetic concepts. Aesthetic concepts, Sibley insisted, were strongly perceptual ones – their presence must be experienced, not inferred – but unlike non-aesthetic perceptual concepts, they require taste, not merely functioning senses, for their discernment, and they are of a higher order than and dependent on non-aesthetic perceptual concepts30.

  • 31  Goode 2007: 80.

37An example: if a wine has a low quantity of polyphenols and alcohol, it does not mean that it will necessarily be perceived as elegant, delicate and soft. Aesthetic properties in fact are not inferential properties but perceptual ones, and this is why they require that special perceptive skill known as taste; taste does not causally depend upon material data, even if there are material reasons justifying aesthetic perceptions. Low alcohola nd low in tannins wines may exist that are simply flat. The possibility for this particular wine to be considered as elegant, delicate, soft to the taste of a perceiver (someone who moreover perceives according to shifting and historically determined standards and parameters) depends in fact on the quality of the alcohol and polyphenols, on their interaction with other substances and on the synthesis of these qualitative interactions over time. In this frame, one clearly understands Sweeney’s argument aimed at defining the structure (an interesting quality because bivalent, both descriptive and evaluative) as a “dispositional” property that exists only in relation, in the encounter with perception. Aesthetic properties are therefore ecological and relational properties, in the sense of that specific relation elaborated into an expertise thanks to aesthetic education. And aesthetic properties, when they form the ground of judgment and lead to the numerical evaluation of a wine, must be conceived as the result of a process. As described by Jamie Goode, one of the most interesting journalists of the wineworld: when a critic evaluates a wine, «the critic is actually describing a conscious representation of their interaction with the wine, and therefore the score or rating is a property of that interaction and not of the wine»31.

38This interaction is dynamic and historical. This is why a conception of the aesthetic value of wine in terms of evaluation of static representational forms does not work. Nevertheless, it is this model enforced today by many tasting practices: a subject and an object one in front of the other; the subject, applying a given method, acquired who knows where and how, analyzes and contemplates the object. As if it was only a matter of purchasing a code and a grammar with which be able to read – here the visual metaphor is intended – to describe and to evaluate the qualities of wine. It is a naïve approach that complies, often without intention, with criteria of taste imposed by fashion and marketing. I truly believe that wine requires and deserves a greater effort, and so tasting as such is not yet – in that approach – an interesting, critical and reflective practice that allows for the development of a genuine aesthetic expertise. Is it possible to theoretically and practically move towards a different model of interpretation of the taste of wine? Yes, it is.

  • 32  See Hennion 2007.
  • 33  I proposed a similar alternative approach to tasting in Perullo 2010.

39On the theoretical level, in agreement with my thesis, is the pragmatic conception of taste as a “reflective activity” proposed by sociologist Antoine Hennion. Hennion’s theory, proceeding from the critique to a hypostasized and decontextualized conception of taste (connected to the aesthetic of representation described earlier) aims to depict how the practice of tasting implies an engagement and insight belonging to the figure of wine lover. Hennion’s conception goes beyond the dispute between subjectivity and objectivity of taste judgment, positioning them in a performative, pragmatic and ecological dimension, and shapes a kind of expertise very similar to that which I will describe shortly32. I too tried in another text, engaged with the relational and ecological aesthetics, to propose an alternative tasting model that moves in this direction33. I proposed the triadic scheme wine/taster/environment where each actor is considered. The main idea is that “the” wine does not exist; different categories of wine exist, commanding different and flexible expertise. Todd’s essay deepens this way of categorizing wine based on variety, terroir and age (aspects connected principally to “nature” and organic aspects of wine) style and quality (aspects connected principally to the elaboration and intention of its makers). But it is especially Burnham and Skilleås who will focus with more conviction on the phenomenology of tasting as a project and task: tasting is meant to be an action comprised of a whole range of different practices with different aims. Identifying a wine, describing it sensorially, hedonistically evaluating it, recognizing it in its typicity, establishing its market value, pairing it with food: they are all legitimate ways based on specific tasks. Wine is, in this perspective, an intentional object, a being from which it is possible to gather, through the prefigured task, only partial and specific facets. In addition, both Hennion and Burnham and Skilleås highlight the collective dimension of tasting practice: the aesthetics of wine is a relational aesthetics also in terms of its convivial and dialogical nature. It is an inter-subjective and negotiable activity.

40On the practical and professional level of journalism and enogastronomic criticism, most of the protagonists passively and uncritically transcribe inherited models and paradigms – a situation that permits maintenance of good relations in the wineworld. There are also however exceptions: a contribution to critical and reflective taste is offered here by the short yet effective writing of Giampaolo Gravina. Gravina, talking about his personal experience as a professional taster, and starting from Le Gris’ book Dionysos crucifié, denounces the aesthetics of taste flattened on the dominating logic of the market connected to standardized production (I will come to this in the next section). Focusing on Italy, it is not possible to forget the figure of Luigi Veronelli, the most well known Italian gastronome of the second half of the 20th century, critical voice against the homologation of taste based on industry. While he stigmatized industrial wine production, he promoted a very original language for expressing the values of wine. It is in fact in the period – between the ’60s and the 70s – during the greatest expansion of the wine industry, that entire terroirs and methods of production were radically redesigned in order to minimize costs and maximize profits. Veronelli claimed that the worst wine of a farmer was better than the best wine of an industry. In such a declaration, the goodness does not correspond either to a statistically prevalent or to socially dominant criteria but to a peculiar aesthetic program, a promoter of new values.

2.2. Evaluating

41Let’s imagine a metric scale evaluation of the works of artists such as Rembrandt, Constable, Matisse, Miró, Beethoven, Mahler, Brahms, Schoenberg or of Catullo, Ovid, Aeschylus, Sophocles or even the authors of modern literature. The experiment immediately leads to an absurd and ridiculous situation. Now let us turn to cinema, rock music but even to comics, contemporary literature or theatre: the situation already seems to be less bizarre, and actually dictionaries, guides and journals exist that review and periodically evaluate film, songs, shows and latest editions. The difference between the two cases is easily explainable: in the first, we are dealing with consolidated artistic canons, indeed amongst the stated names there have been well-known creators of standards; whereas in the second, we are taking into consideration fields that are less certain because they are new and connected to the market and pop culture. Cinema, rock music and contemporary literature live within the space of cultural industry, and the critic/reviewer is also a guide for market choices, which is not the case for the works of Giorgione, Purcell or Canova. Here the critic is not in charge of evaluating the work per se (except in rare cases and therefore in highly specialized contexts) but rather of illustrating the artistic excellence, even illuminating new connections and, maybe sometimes, educating aesthetic perception. An interesting intermediate instance is classical music or opera, genres that can undergo evaluations, scores and stars: here however one evaluates the executions and the interpretations, not the “originals”, the goal being orientation of purchase or of listening to specific executions rather than others.

42Now reconsider the wineworld: under many aspects, wine is subject to the same type of treatment as pop objects because it is targeted and oriented primarily to a market and to possible consumers that need convincing. Can we therefore consider wine as an aesthetic pop object tout court? From a certain point of view, yes: without the market wine would not even exist as an artifact, at least as we know it from the modern age (labeled bottles and brands; but if we think of wine on tap, perhaps some doubts about its “artifactuality” may rise – I will return to this at the end of my paper). From other points of view, however, the question is in doubt: first, a certain range of wines – that which is most often taken into consideration with regard to the aesthetic status of tasting – is not part of pop neither as price nor as prestige: a wine for 100 euros or more is not a popular product. Moreover, the price of a Romanée Conti (3000 euros at least) is incomprehensible except by an extraordinarily restricted élite of the wineworld that is familiar with the history of this small estate and its being the reference of excellence for Pinot Noir for about 900 years. Of course, it is always possible that that wine is purchased and imbibed by an incompetent millionaire, but the works of Van Gogh or Picasso can endure the same destiny, thus this is not an objection to the issue that at least some wines are not pop. But it is mainly a different feature that I want to underline here which makes the “pop nature” of wine problematic, as well as its juxtaposition with artistic artifacts like films and songs: here again, my point is that wine is not merely an artifact because it is a complex living system, a microcosm composed also of organisms that make it evolve and transform.

43On this topic, critics and authors such as Soldati, Veronelli, Johnson, but also Sangiorgi and Gravina highlight doubts pertaining to the theoretical legitimacy of measurements of wine quality in numerical terms. It is not formally incorrect, in this sense, to compare the measurement of wine goodness to that of human beauty or intelligence: something that is very complicated, perhaps useless and probably wrong. However, the most influential wine critic of our time, the one that codified in the second half of the 70s the most followed and imitated wine evaluating system (his 100 points scale), Robert Parker, does not see it this way. His idea was born along the lines of the school-room model: evaluating a wine could be like evaluating a student at an exam. But this analogy does not recognize the fact that wine is a living complex system evolving and transforming in time: a mark expresses in fact temporary evaluations based upon the verification of prefixed and specific levels of learning, not the evaluation of the student per se – as instead the numerical and absolute quantification of wine strives to be. The problem of evaluation thus calls upon an option between two ideas of wine: as a thing, commodity or pop artifact or rather as a complex system, certainly artificial but alive and with its own identity. This statement promotes a reflexive and dynamic evaluation, not absolute and very flexible (taking into account multiple aspects, such as birth, growth in a specific context, natural and cultural elements, everything that defines terroir). The former statement, on the contrary, promotes a static evaluation, in accordance with assumed “universal” standards that are instead the result of detailed and directed conventions. Obviously, these two ways of evaluating wine are reflected onto sensorial training to refine taste. To understand this point better, I will present an extreme claim in which quality is sought after as invariant and static elements and forms as much in the production as in the perception.

  • 34  Somers 1998: 11. For a detailed discussion of this position see Mazzoleni 2003.

44Christopher Somers is a famous Australian enologist who studied primarily red wines and was extremely influential during the ‘90s. Somers offered an objective definition of wine quality through a precise quantitative parameter, the “wine spectrum in its matrix”. This is a combination of color with pH. According to Somers, of the three parameters, which are used when judging the quality of wine – color, aroma and taste – color is the only one that allows for the formation of objective evaluation. This is because, while the polyphenolic substances responsible for the tonality, intensity and fixity of color can be easily measured, the quantitative measurements of the total amount of aroma and taste present in the grape and in the must are impossible to measure. Therefore, the visual perception is the paradigm to which one must orient an objective evaluation: the color of wine is the most reliable qualitative index because it is measurable. Somers even advanced the seemingly paradoxical position that is «it is a matter of common experience that wine can be appraised without actually tasting it, by using only the senses of sight and smell»34. But this is not all. The wine “matrix”, in other words its pH, accompanies the parameter of Somer’s visual wine spectrum. The pH is the index that measures the strength of the disassociated acids present in a wine: the lower it is, the more intense the taste perception of the acidity. While Somers seems not to support the practice of adding polyphenols to the must, he is in favor of the systematic correction of the pH, not only where, as in Australia, the climatic conditions tend to render a high pH and fail to give a certain freshness and “backbone” to the wine, but anywhere in the world. The basic principle here is to obtain an “intact wine”, at any cost. Thus, according to Somers, an intact wine can “very rarely” be of totally natural origin. This can be achieved rather from the equation: more dye = more polyphenolic material = more flavors and sensorial richness (which tastes and which richness would establish gustative pleasure is obviously taken for granted and not explained). This assumption would favor, moreover, a precise typological hierarchy of vines, not of wines. If wine as a complex living system is the outcome of the dynamic interaction between the fruit variety, environment – such as climate, microclimate and soil – and human cultures, wine as a commodity product is instead the result of an abstract classification of vines, divorced from any stratification and differentiation measurable on the basis of presumed absolute and scientifically attestable parameters. As determined by Somers – for whom quality is a fact and not a value – Merlot, as it is richer in polyphenols, would be better than Pinot Noir; Cabernet Sauvignon would be better than Nebbiolo, and so on. In this frame, terroir does not gain any importance in itself, but it corresponds to a mere neutral space in which a variety must adapt, in order to produce grapes in the best possible way according to the assumed standards.

  • 35  See Noble 2006.

45Somers’ position is of course extreme and perhaps today not very popular in the wineworld especially by those that want to produce great wines. Nevertheless, it amplifies and clarifies less flashy but not so different ideologies: if, for example, we substitute for color and pH the wine aroma wheel© of Ann C. Noble, that seeks to map all of the possible aromas of wine and comprise the true and objective knowledge that taste can offer us, we can recognize that at the root of both proposals lies the same conception of quality as an objective fact and not as a social value35. But this conception is ontologically and phenomenologically inadequate: for instance, it does not explain why some eccentric wines (not corresponding to the standards) are successful with critics and the market and can secure very high prices; further, it does not explain why many tasters can look for types and varieties that, according to such standards, would be poor or less interesting; lastly, it does not explain why even in the rather recent past the qualitative standards and the vocabulary to describe them were different.

46Here an example about some standards of enological accuracy. What is a wine fault? There are wines – even important and highly valued wines – that express a unique aroma called “Brett”, by Brettanomyces: a family of yeasts that can activate after the alcoholic fermentation creating animal and metallic odors. They can even compromise the total appreciation of wine if they are too pronounced. Brett is considered a fault by conventional enologists, but neither all tasters nor all consumers agree. The same can be said of the acetic acidity, the so-called volatile acidity, or for some deliberate oxidations which are not covered in wine manuals. The “standard” enologists respond saying that one aspect is the science of wine and another is the marketing that would impose defective products on the market. As one can see, it is a thesis that is difficult to support, at least when dealing with objects of strong symbolic and aesthetic value. It would be like saying that the works of Keith Haring are not art because art is that which is expressed in the works of Canaletto. The argument just does not work; it is simply circular. It would be more reasonable to think – and it is a solution sometimes suggested in the field of wine – that the distinction between wine fault and style of is often uncertain. Even here the analogy with human beings can be telling. For example, Vin Santo is a type of wine that through time has acquired its oxidative trademark, but there is no technical reason for this: it is merely a question of tradition and style, although there are some Vin Santos considered, by the lovers of this genre, to be defective and too oxidized. How does one draw the distinction, if not through a negotiation of reasonable judgments of value?

47The above comments reinforce my main thesis: the aesthetic value of wine is a complex subject. This value is a historical and social index that links two living complex entities – wine and perceiver – and, as such, changes overtime. And so the aesthetic evaluation of a wine does not respond to negative criteria or standards such as the absence or presence of faults but to inter-subjective reasons more comprehensive and convincing. When the opponents of the legitimacy of the aesthetic value of wine complain about the subjectivity of this approach, claiming that it is applicable only for marketing and publicity, one can correctly respond a) concretely and historically, demonstrating the difference between inter-subjectivity of aesthetic values and individual preferences; b) demonstrating that marketing is utilized much more for wines corresponding to homogenized and fixed qualitative standards than for wines residing outside this scheme.

48We are at the turning point that permits us to bring together perception and production: the definition of quality as value and of evaluation as negotiation bringing us to the role of the critic and to the question of expertise. As Hume has clearly illustrated, the expert is he who is able to perceive and recognize quality but at the same time quality is constantly remodeled by the negotiation of experts. Many people do not like this circularity, however it expresses the most realistic approach to the mechanisms of taste and is also that which helps us to understand it better.

2.3. Expertise

49The notion of expertise is at the center of many essays on the aesthetics of taste and art, from Hume to Dewey, but it has been studied by philosophy also in relation to social sciences and politics. For instance, Michael Polanyi in a passage from Personal Knowledge in which he depicts the meaning of the concept of “tacit knowledge” highlights:

  • 36  Polanyi 1958: 56.

Connoisseurship, like skill, can be communicated only by example, not by percept. To become an expert wine-taster, to acquire a knowledge of innumerable different blends of tea or to be trained as a medical diagnostician, you must go through a long course of experience under the guidance of a master36.

  • 37  Shapin 2012: 9.

50Polanyi compares the acquisition of taste ability with the diagnostic capabilities of a doctor. Both require training, which – as Hume already noted – is the synthesis of various factors: refining of sensibility, long experience and training, continued comparisons and confrontations, and psychophysical well-being. Taste cultivates these characteristics, but due to its own nature, requires actual engagement with the intended object: food and wine enter the body and mix with the perceiver who literally becomes a lover. Taste can thus be considered a truly embodied skill, a reflective activity that is formed through contextual devices, work and physical training. This ability, in its entirety, is not limited only to recognitions of non immediate properties during the tasting (non-aesthetic and aesthetic properties) and expressing them in an appropriate value filled language: only an approximate and superficial picture of the lover-expert makes us think that it works like this. In reality, the embodied ability of the expert-lover, embraces a large range of actions, behaviors and possibilities. I will share a personal example, as a wine lover for over twenty years. Some months ago, I was in a restaurant with a friend. I ordered a wine with which I was not familiar but intrigued me because it came from an area of which I am fond (Etna). After the first unsatisfactory sip, I decided that this poor wine would ruin my guest’s mental and physical well being as well as my own. I asked for the wine list once again, shocking the dining staff, in order to choose another wine that would please me. I asked the waiters to leave the “sacrificed” bottle on the table because I wanted to give it more time and another chance (even if I presumed that it would not be worthwhile; in fact after another sip it stayed the same and we had no more). For the rest of the dinner, I drank solely from the second ordered bottle. My guest adapted to my choice, understanding it with the support of explanations even if most likely had he been alone or with other non-experts, the situation would have unfolded differently. Behind this behavior and quick and somewhat strange succession of events, that may appear bizarre or snobbish to someone on the outside, there is an expertise that – whatever one thinks – has been formed over 20 years of practice and contact with the wineworld. Such a behavior cannot be improvised. In it, there are settled and incorporated values that belong not only to the ability in recognizing the qualities of taste, but also to all of the following decisions: the choice of wine based on context, the change of a decision already made, the confidence in regard to the price of the bottle, and, more generally, with respect to the meaning of all my actions. To add, the context was not that of a professional tasting: during the dinner, we did not even talk about wine if not for brief moments that preceded and followed the narrated sequence. If one would object that behavior like this is rare, and thus elitist, a good response may be the following: «Taste communities are neither universal nor easy to join, but then neither are the thought communities of particle physics and genomics»37. The condition of the lover-critic is demanding to reach and maintain. It is a condition masterfully described already in 1935 by Dewey in Art as Experience where he states this about the expert of taste (defined as “epicure”):

  • 38  Dewey 1987: 55.

Even the pleasures of the palate are different in quality to an epicure than in one who merely likes his food as he eats it. The difference is not of mere intensity. The epicure is conscious of much more than the taste of the food. Rather, there enter into taste, as directly experienced, qualities that depend upon reference to its source and its manner of production in connection with criteria of excellence. As production must absorb into itself qualities of the product as perceived and be regulated by them, so, on the other side, seeing, hearing, tasting, become esthetic when relation to a distinct manner of activity qualifies what is perceived38.

51Here Dewey – beyond clearly expressing his aesthetic monism, revoking the hierarchy of the senses – appears fully knowledgeable of the capacity of the real expert to bind perception to production: «Its manner of production in connection with criteria of excellence». Now let’s try, at the conclusion of this long section on perception and judgment to compile a list of possible explorations for which taste as embodied skill, experienced in its fullest critical potential, allows. From this list we will be able to easily link ourselves to the other sphere, which a philosophy of wine worthy of its name should think about, that of production:

1 – Tasting is training. It serves to reactivate perception as a whole, through the re-awakening of the most dormant senses, taste and smell. In general, tasting can help self-improvement in perception and can be seen as an “art of living”, a practice of self, but not as contemplation, as it requires personal and physical engagement.

2 – Tasting is an exercise that can discipline and transform the body and our relationship with it, in the same way as a sport. Therefore, it enhances self-perception, for food and wine have great physical effects (weight, size, shape, health ecc.). At the same time, it helps one to reflect on moderation and excess, contributing to the formation of new models of corporeality. Just think of the classic representation of the gastronome’s body, in opposition to that of the intellectual: this reflects the dichotomy between big brain/small body and big body/undeveloped mental capacities, simple-mindedness.

3 – Tasting can lead to the acquisition of a higher sensibility in the perception of differences, both with respect to objects as such and the structuring of their qualities, and the experiences and variable contexts in which they occur. This ability is not static, therefore; perceptual sensitivity is “accurate” when it is congruent with these variations (wines also change because climates change, as do environmental conditions, economic factors, modalities, styles and trends). This all goes to show how complex perception of quality is, requiring a negotiation with the moment of the experience and the collective moment of the historical context in which the experience is embedded.

4 – Taste expertise is also articulated with respect to the perceiver, activating different abilities with relation to her plans, tasks and objectives, which can vary considerably. The ability of a wine taster may be utilized for different purposes (tasting simply for pleasure, professional tasting for commercial ends or for review, technical-scientific tasting for production purposes, food pairing). Therefore, the incorporation of knowledge in the same subject can occur through multiple modalities, and in any case always expresses temporal values.

  • 39  See for instance Origgi 2007 and also Iggers 2007.

5 – While historically taste can be seen as a mark of the modern aesthetic individualism (the “individuation of judgment”, in Shapin’s words), and if we can interpret this as a means for allowing individuals room for creativity in the age of democratization and industrialization of productive processes, at the same time it is also true that taste as knowledge is based on pre-existing social and inter-subjective codes that constitute the context in which we operate. Taste expertise illustrates this well: when we learn to taste, it is a kind of ostensive learning, a “learning by doing”, which requires, in its initial phase, the acceptance of a suggestion provided by an authority: “taste the elegance of this wine”, “note its great dynamism” or its “gustative depth”. Or: “this wine has a fine acidity”. The incorporation of these aesthetic values through the learning of a lexicon is initially based on reliability (I trust in the maestro’s authoritativeness). Later, it grows and becomes independent, developing into a personal style that can turn into disagreement39.

6 – Taste as an embodied skill can also help to augment our critical understanding. In the Kantian sense, it promotes autonomous decision-making and underscores one’s resistance: developing a personal skill allows one to overcome the state of dependence. Kant, in What is Enlightenment? illustrates this aspect using an alimentary example: we should not simply eat what others (nutritionists included) tell us to eat. This informed independence interacts with socialization, because taste as knowledge assumes its form in an inter-subjective and convivial dimension. Of course, this can lead also to disagreement even between experts: one of the most famous examples, also recalled in the following essays, is the classical dispute between Jancis Robinson and Robert Parker on Chateau Pavie 2003.

7 – Taste expertise also permits us to go back to questions concerning production, environment and aesthetics of nature, as we will see later. Through a critical taste, problems arise like environmental sustainability, the “genuineness”, the authenticity and naturalness. Wine has a lot to do with all this. Let us take the idea of naturalness: should a skilled taster be able to perceive the degree of artificiality in a wine? And should she express this knowledge in the evaluation of wine whole quality? The perception of gustatory values has changed considerably in this sense: up to twenty years ago, no taster used terms like terroir or categories of description like “minerality” or “earthy” in describing a wine because these terms refer to the current context, with its priorities and criticalities.

8 – Viewing taste as an embodied skill allows us to glance at questions of aesthetic economy. Since training taste (especially in wine) requires money to invest, and since the market both in its ordinary and more exclusively gastronomic dimension influences wine, a skilled taster should be able to understand the value of wine also with regards to its price. Nothing to do then with indulging in “status symbol” living or in “conspicuous consumption”. On the contrary, taste as embodied skill should redefine the critical inquiry about the relation between values and prices and the distinction between gastronomic and economic value.

3. Production

3.0. Aesthetics of viticulture and aesthetics of oenology

  • 40  This is why blind tasting – another topic largely discussed in many essays here – is a controversi (...)

52Let us recall the main thesis of my essay: wine is at the same time an artifact and a living complex system composed of organisms and other elements. To conceive taste as an embodied skill brings us closer to core of the thesis because to be an expert involves also knowing about the modalities of wine production. As I wrote at the beginning, this field is rather often neglected, especially by philosophers, favoring reflections exclusively directed towards tasting that risk taking the practice of wine-making for granted. The object “in itself” therefore remains hidden, with the consequence that the techniques, the know-how and the technology of production are left to producers, agronomists and enologists. Obviously the point is not to replace professionals in their knowledge and savoir-faire, but rather to think philosophically about technique and technology in the world of wine. There are good arguments for doing so: we have in fact shown that a) a reflection on tasting must refer to a critique of taste (as Gravina’s text confirms); b) the critique of tasting leads in turn to reflect more attentively on how wine is made and on what wine is40. And so a critical reflection on the processes of production and elaboration of wine is opportune; firstly because the criteria of aesthetic and/or artistic appreciation of wine regularly depend on its ontological recognition as a specific wine (geographical origin, style, history etc.) Nonetheless, this ontological recognition refers yet again to wine as a complex system.

  • 41  It is true that in most wine shops (especially American) the evaluations of Parker or Wine Spectat (...)

53Let’s compare a wine shop with a bookstore. In a bookstore you can find the works of Yourcenar, Cartland, Woolf or Rowling. The organization and division of the physical space in which they are placed follow criteria such as language, publisher or alphabetical order, or their combination, certainly not a typological classification regarding value. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to think that all those works are not the same thing: perhaps “literature”; but of which kind? And which is art and which is not? Almost nothing changes when we enter a wine shop: wines are divided by region, typology, variety, and none of this information supplies us with criteria for evaluating aesthetic or artistic value41. The fundamental difference with the bookstore is however that in the wine shop we have an extra criterion, often seen as discriminatory, to determine the aesthetic and artistic value: price. This merits attention because it highlights how wine, under certain aspects, is an artifact that has much in common with those of contemporary art, and then also with the value established by the market. But, as the experts and lovers of wine and art know well, the economic value does not always coincide with the aesthetic one. Let’s focus now on the latter. Is it enough to recall the aesthetic experience as such (that is, what happens during the process of wine tasting) to solve the problem? I do not think so. As some readers may claim to appreciate Cartland and Rowling much more than Woolf and Yourcenar, the same may happen, and in fact often does, for wine: a commercial and rough wine can be more appreciated than an elegant and noble one. Yet again, to resolve the question and fix criteria of value we must summon not just any reader or drinker, but rather someone that is supposed to be authoritative and competent. However, connoisseur and enthusiast are such only if they are able to bring wine back – through direct taste, but also through culture and gained expertise – to its making, to the processes that lead to its coming into being.

  • 42  A very interesting path to viticulture and enology, very helpful also from a philosophical and aes (...)

54The inherent questions for the identity of wine and for its nature as an artifact are investigated and approached from different angles in the essays by Tomasi and Borghini. These are complex questions: think again to the extreme position proposed by Somers’ model, in which a precise protocol in the relationship between agronomy, enology and taste emerged, both surprising and shocking. Without entering into too much detail: the vine training systems and soil management; the ratio between plant density per hectare and grape yield per plant; the concept of fruit ripeness (phenological and technological); the method, the length and the temperature of fermentation and maceration; the type of yeasts used; the amount and the method of sulfur dioxide utilized, and the other substances that can be added; the type of usable fermentation, maceration and aging containers. Now, not only does all of this knowledge evolve rapidly overtime, according to experimental and inductive methodology; but every single point is also the object of many controversies among technicians, operators, producers and estate owners42. Thus, on one hand, viticulture and enology are made up of empirical knowledge, changing and shifting continuously; on the other hand, exactly for this reason an aesthetic of wine-making is perfectly legitimate: many processes that take place in the vineyard and in the cellar depend on skills that cannot be logically deducted from rigorous theoretical patterns, but arise rather from concrete savoir-faire modeled by experience. In the vineyard and in the cellar, we are faced with a huge field of choices and possible alternatives having to do with the maker’s intentions and with the nature of wine as a living complex system.

  • 43 On these topics, other than Goode 2006, see the interview with Paul Pontallier, Chateau Margaux’s e (...)

55The choice of which vitis vinifera to allocate in a given place, of vine training systems, of plant density, and of pruning are connected – in some parts of the world for centuries – to multiple factors: the site, its unique climate and soil, the needs and preferences of the producers (as Borghini articulates, more and more wines that want to be seen as an expression of terroir belong to foreign entrepreneurs lacking skill), the episodes of exchanges and engagements with others. The ripe fruit is the result of the interaction between variety, soil, climate and microclimate, human and additional temporal factors (such as the difference between vintages or other more general variations like global warming). The sensitivity required to perfectly comprehend when the grape is ripe and ready to be harvested has much to do with the insightful comprehension of genius loci, since a territory is subject to continual and specific variations. But there are courses for learning to prune the vines, supporting their specific features, thereby becoming a “grape trainer”, and even courses for grapes-on-the-plant tasters exist, with the goal of refining a perceptual skill that is not replaceable by analytical instruments. These are ecological-aesthetic practices of viticulture given that they neither treat either pruning according to a universal scheme learned in agronomy classes nor they “measure” the amount of macro-substances (sugar, tannins, acids). Rather what is in question is the talent to know how and when to interact with the environment, and the skill to predict inductively the evolutionary growth of a complex system of organisms and other elements. Choosing when to harvest is emblematic, in this sense: an incorrect weather forecast (meteorology helps little for very small areas like a vineyard) even of a very few days alone risks to completely compromise the final result. Furthermore and more generally speaking, when making wine choices, social, ethical and environmental elements enter into play because wine is also a representation of individual and collective identities in particular contexts43.

56The same is true for enology, which is the realm of vinification, the elaboration of must into wine: the fermentation of sugars and alcohols and other processes, driven by man, that transform the grapes into a drink. Vinification is a mixture of techniques that are teeming with variables, tied to the detailed conditions of work (a big estate or a small artisanal farm have intrinsically different means and aims), to the traditions of an area, to the particular type of wine and to the different production styles. From the choices of temperature and length of fermentation and maceration to pumping and fulling, from the choice of yeasts to those of aging containers, everything is conducted through patterns that respond partly to conventions – more or less stable – of enology and food technology and partly to insight, savoir-faire and the expertise of winemakers. Here there is no space to indulge on concrete examples, but I believe to have given a clear picture of why I think it legitimate to consider wine making as an aesthetic project. Even in the aging process many different strategies are possible, and vary from year to year because of climate conditions, philosophy of production and the maker’s style. In French, the aging of wine is called élevage, a word that means raise and that is also used for the process of growth and education of children. Here we find once more the analogy between wine and human beings – from which we began by means of Soldati’s citation, but then was transfigured into Parker’s scholastic and uniform marks – in a new meaning: my point is that making wine also has a lot to do (just a little bit more than metaphorically) with the process of educating children.

3.1. Artifacts and organisms

57Let’s stick to the metaphor of élevage. The raising of a human being is a process of development and growth, during which parents adopt educational strategies aiming – at least in virtuous instances – to allow the full expression of the potentials present in the child and to direct, and eventually correct, some vocations: a midwifery (I use this concept in its intuitive and most general sense). This process is analogous with the phases of living beings in general: birth, growth, development, maturity, aging and death, and this image proves to be very useful for comprehending wine. In the meantime, one can consider that, differently from other products such as extra-virgin olive oil, wine is not a fruit juice that has to maintain itself unaltered for as long as possible with respect to its birth, but it is a liquid that possesses, in its capacity to evolve and change, a large part of its value and aesthetic, symbolic and cultural appreciation. This difference has more than just one consequence: in the previous section I mentioned the difficulty in establishing a rigid wine fault formula, and one of the reasons lies in its variability in both stylistic and evolutionary characteristics. Alternatively, with olive oil it is easier to define the faults simply because the protocol of reference is less complicated, faced with what food technologists call “shelf life” – that is its durability in terms of qualitative integrity. For olive oil, the integrity (a mixture of factors tied to the health of the olives, to the harvesting and pressing conditions, to the hygienic controls etc.) is measured primarily by the capacity to preserve, in the best possible conditions, the original makeup of the fruit, that which does not exclude, as all the extra-virgin olive oil enthusiasts know, the great variety of olive cultivars. Wine is rather a different story, in many ways more complex: beyond the great varieties of grapes, terroir and styles of production, there are the elements of transformation, evolution and even aging, offering fascinating facets of appreciation. So two big questions now occur that unlock the topic of the relationship between wine and art.

58First question: who is the maker of wine? A producer, an artificer, an educator, a guardian? Of course, without humans there would be no wine at all, but not in the very same sense, just as, without humans, there would be no paintings, sculptures and music. The physical, bio-chemical and material elements are undoubtedly fundamental in wine. To say that spontaneous grape fermentation without any human intervention produces vinegar and not wine, as is often repeated, means to say precisely that, without humans, the fermented grape would become something rather than nothing. Now, this is not the place to discuss if something similar also occurs for classical artifacts (paintings, sculptures, music etc.), but rather we will remain with wine in search of an understanding of its nature. The physical and material elements mentioned above intertwine – from the beginning, just as a baby, from its birth, is surrounded by stimuli and context – with the intentions of the human maker, of the producer. But the latter does not undermine the former because the human maker in fact seeks, exactly as it happens in the midwifery process, to allow for the full expression of wine’s intrinsic potentialities. Intentionality, one of the conditions of the aesthetic conception of art, according to Zangwill’s theory and used in Tomasi’s text, is not a sufficient criterion in the case of wine. It is not enough to have the intention to create an artifact that incorporates aesthetic properties through non-aesthetic properties because the aesthetic properties of wine – that, I repeat, is not only an artifact but also a complex system composed of living organisms – can develop within an evolutionary path not designed nor imposed by the maker. The skilled maker can certainly guide, guard the expression of the possible potentialities of that wine; but they depend upon, with certain limits, factors independent from his will: for example, in some cases, some aesthetic properties take place in an unpredictable way during aging. I want to further clarify that here “to guard” does not mean to passively preserve, but it rather stands for “allowing to express” in the sense of an active interplay with wine.

59Or at least this is what happens – what should happen – with fine wines. A different approach is in fact possible: wine as a commodity – (an approach in agreement with the interventionist enology à la Somers described above, and with some less invasive but similarly set up versions) according to which the organic material is reduced to mere quantity, something to abuse and modify at need. So then, if tasting refers to making, making refers to being: of which wine are we talking about, when we talk in general about wine? In Borghini’s paper the problem is clearly exposed, and shortly I will return to it, focusing on the concept of authenticity.

  • 44  Ingold 2000: 345.
  • 45Idem: 1.

60Whatever one may think, wine is at the same time an artifact and a complex living system composed by many organisms: it is necessary to grasp this fact in depth. Perhaps here it is useful to conceive of artifactuality in the sense in which the anthropologist Tim Ingold described the genesis of the artisan’s objects: the “artifact, in short, is the crystallization of activity within a relational field”44 as we already have depicted in the aesthetics of viticulture and aesthetics of oenology. With that definition, Ingold intends to overcome the axiological distinction between art and artisanship. His conception is thus doubly interesting for our purposes because he ties his thesis of artifacts to an analysis of skills, intended as embodied knowledge placed into an environment: «Neither innate nor acquired, skills are grown, incorporated into the human organism through practice and training in an environment»45. Given my statement on taste as an embodied skill, it is moreover possible to draw another continuum between perception and production under the lens of embodied knowledge, a continuum that makes it possible to overtake the dichotomy between an organism and an artifact, a dichotomy with which the nature of wine would be keen on escaping. On the road to an appropriate comprehension of wine, we now must reflect, in even more detail, upon the element of its organic evolution and transformation.

  • 46  See Ortega y Gasset quoted in De Caro 2004.

61Here emerges the second question: which kind of relationship with art is therefore at play in wine-making? With respect to an aesthetic of making, the most immediate inquiry is in fact whether wine is a work of art. However, aside from the fact that a brief reflection renders it more complicated – actually it is not always clear if, with art, one intends the act of making, or drinking, or both (because sometimes people say that wine is art regarding the practices of tasting); and aside from the fact that, following the ecological and pragmatistic approach of skills, these are not axiological but rather contextual and pragmatic differences; apart from all of this, of which kind of art would we be talking about? If wine can be art (yes, we must still explain which wine, please be patient) to which art should we be referring? Analogies between wine and music have often been put forward, but I believe that these completely neglect the evidence of the organic matter belonging to the “odorous liquid”. Ortega y Gasset compared then wine to dance, maybe better grasping the point of the vitality of our object, but not yet with respect to its transformation46. I think that the most appropriate comparison is instead between wine and some instances of “environmental art” as, for example, a few famous works of the Italian artist Giuseppe Penone – one of the protagonists of the “poor art” movement –, those with trees as subject. The idea underlying Penone’s art is to realize changing works, evolving and aging, in which the artist’s intervention is limited in certain aspects. This schema indissolubly links artifact and organism, and this is also the deepest and truest sense of the sentence: «Il Vino è natura / Il Vino è cultura» (“Wine is nature / Wine is culture”) written on Cepparello’s label, a great Tuscan wine.

62Of course, evident differences between trees and wines exist: trees surely live longer and, on the side of perception, are not drinkable and may offer a slower, sometimes unconditional, probably cheaper aesthetic experience in comparison with wine. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the analogy does work in the genetic perspective of the primal connection between maker, environment, and organisms/artifacts or, rather, of the primal connection between nature and culture characterizing wine. On this topic, the ending of Borghini’s text is dedicated to understanding the processes of authenticity. Unless completely forcing it within a path of invasive intentions, that strip it of its peculiar features, bound to its birth and its organic dispositions (for example, the ones proposed by the enological grammar that, even without pushing it into the extremes à la Somers, today are still regularly practiced for industrial productions) I believe that also in terms of aesthetic properties wine never responds automatically. As I said, bottle aging bestows ample margins of unpredictability and wine can develop aesthetic value with time, without warning and responding to a program. Vice versa, many promising wines do not live up to their promises, poorly transforming and aging or rather non aging at all, dying young and not a brutal death. Sometimes it is possible to hypothesize a development, foreseeing it inductively on the basis of an expertise in the area and of the terroir, but there are no analytical confidences here.

63If an aesthetic approach to wine artistry is surely sharable and useful at a preliminary level, exactly like an aesthetic approach to taste as such is against the attempts to marginalize or reduce it to a mere index of individual preferences, nevertheless it is necessary also in this case to go one step further. As taste re-evaluated per se risks to bring to an uncritical aesthetics of taste, thereby reducing the artistry of wine to the fulfillment of the aesthetic intentions of one or more makers risks to bring to a formalistic and empty aesthetics of art. Wine can therefore become art (following Tomasi-Zangwill hypothesis, an artifact that incorporates aesthetic qualities) only if the intentions from which it is made allows it to express as a complex system that can evolve and age according to its unique potentials, like Penone’s tree. If this perspective is sound, as I do think, it is not wrong to state that the artistic élan lays in the interaction between wine (as a “quasi-subject” – following the expression proposed by some phenomenologists, like Dufrenne, to characterize the work of art) and the maker, who, then, will have to be considered more like a trainer or a guardian than like a artificer in the very sense of a “producer”. This solution, far from indulging in a romantic vision of the odorous liquid, seems to me to be the most realistic and coherent with its nature. As every wine expert and lover knows, a Pierre Morey Bourgogne is very different from a Gallo Chardonnay: since wine is not a pure artifact in the sense of being-produced, but rather a complex system of lively organisms and other elements expressing its aesthetic worth in its evolution and transformation, it is essential to more precisely evaluate the content of intuition and intention, or rather the modalities of the wine making process. Here we are finally at the problem of authenticity: what is wine? How can we know and recognize it as an object of aesthetic and artistic value?

  • 47  For the concept of weaving, see Ingold 2000: 339-348.

64Before answering such questions, one last point deserves attention. If it is correct to define wine as a work of art in the sense of an interaction, of an interweaving between artifact and organisms47, one could rightly ask why the aesthetic vocabulary for describing it and for expressing its value have in the modern age been built upon the analogy with the fine and “major” arts like music, painting, architecture. I would simply reply that in the Western culture a specific and distinct vocabulary of art for objects of nature has never been built; therefore, “natural” beauty and “artistic” beauty are usually described with transversal and often interchangeable terms. This is why a category mistake, with Wittgenstein’s words, has been created: the vocabulary of aesthetic friendly wine experts has taken many to think about wine first and foremost as a piece of music or as a building, not as a tree or as a living being.

3.2. Authenticity

  • 48  For a criticism of the abuse of the concept of “nature” in contemporary culture see Marrone 2011.

65If the aging-capability constitutes a great value for wine, it is because one associates it with the idea of a natural and authentic development of its qualities. However rightly so, philosophers, semiologists and anthropologists distrust the usage of adjectives such as “natural” and “authentic” since they seem to refer to a pre-critical and naïve, if not backward and reactionary, horizon48. On the meaning of “natural,” we have already said something: in wine, the call for naturality is meant as a demand for guardianship. This demand finds expression in an aesthetic and ethic sensibility promoting a sort of midwifery by the trainer/guardian in order to maintain the characteristics of the wine. What we mean here is quite intuitive: let’s compare wine to the beauty of a human being. Human beauty has a dimension recognized as “natural” when developed without explicit artificial enhancements; with aesthetic surgery, human beauty changes its mark becoming something else. One can of course accept such an interventionism, deeming it as a bringer of beauty or rather rejecting it; however, the point is to recognize it as such (at least until it does not become so popular as to result incorporated into standard perception). The same happens with wine: if the aesthetic qualities (intensity, elegance, balance etc.) perceived by taste have been obtained thanks to manipulating practices and “artificial prosthesis”, wine becomes something else compared to the “naturally” developed expression. Saying this does not connote marrying a naïve or pre-critical position, as may be implied, rather the contrary. It means critically deepening the question of being-wine, a critique tied both to production and perception moving towards embracing an ethics of wine.

  • 49 The usage of sulfur dioxide is tolerated as a very old and traditional practice. Until some years a (...)
  • 50Ibidem.

66The question is complex and it plays at the uncertain and never stable boundaries. Another example: in our society dental care is not considered superfluous enhancement as is the case with botox injection on the lips. The well-tended teeth of a human being are not a subject of aesthetic dispute about naturality and opportunity of beauty, while botox usage is. Something similar takes place with wine: the usage of sulphur dioxide is tolerated and allowed also by those who have a non-interventionist philosophy of making, and even the organic and biodynamic certified wines admit their use, although in reduced amounts compared to conventional wines49. Instead, the utilization of cultivated yeasts, of concentrators or, even more so, of liquid tannins and added aromas is highly discussed and placed into question50. The point, however, is that agreeing on the difficulties of limits between invasive and non invasive intervention, and agreeing even on their historical evolution, does not mean either to forget all about such clear differences or to delegitimize them. On the ontological and phenomenological ground, in fact, wines raised according to very diverse ideas and intentions make it very difficult to refer to them as if they were the very same product. One can verify this by looking at the experiments undertaken by many producers: the same grape, in the same soil, processed in the vineyard and in the cellar in two different ways – for instance, following conventional or biodynamic methods – gives birth to two different wines.

  • 51  See Nossiter 2007.
  • 52  See Le Gris 1999. The author crucifies also aesthetics, seen as enslaved by the power of the capit (...)

67However, the most surprising aspect is that the syntax of standard tasting à la sommelier, matured in the last twenty or thirty years has totally forgotten (sometimes intentionally, more often for sheer ignorance) to acknowledge such characteristics: as if every intervention aiming to “improve taste” was always possible. But improving taste in comparison to which standard? This ideology sees wine as a manipulatable being, and it is lucid that in such ideology of tasting skills striving to recognize and valorize its traits as part of a complex living system, with its own evolutionary path, has failed to loom large. In tasting protocols of wine, it seems as if, to restate the comparison with human beauty, one does not care about the difference between a modeled body thanks to aesthetic surgery and one without, as if this distinction does not make sense nor hold any sort of importance. This typical expert behavior is specific for wine: in the case of cheese, for example, critics perceive and recognize clearly the difference between industrial and artisanal production. Conversely, with respect to wine, at a certain moment (more or less around the 80s of the last century), there sprouted an idea that the tasting value was, and actually even had to be, independent from the production process. As a consequence, many producers – also in famous areas, rich in history and prestige like Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Champagne, Langhe, Chianti etc. – started to make wine in line with a referential paradigm standardized to a protocol called “international taste;” a paradigm that has essentially been historically established by a hegemonic critic with a specific market in mind in the Usa. This reconstruction, here covered in Shapin’s essay, has been restated and proposed by varying points of view in the last years by authors like Nossiter51 and Le Gris52.

  • 53  For adulterated wines see Grappe 2006.

68Hence, there is a legitimate and aesthetically pertinent meaning for the definition of wine as authentic and even as natural, reached through a patient analysis of the ontology of wine. Wine is a special case of social object. It is the outcome of different interactions and relationships; therefore, the ontology in question is a historical one. In other words, in order to comprehend its meaning, we must analyze the ways in which wine is made today and compare them with those – different – ways in which it was made in the past; and reflect upon these differences. In addition, in the past, many wines were adulterated and sophisticated beyond a threshold deemed acceptable, such that those responsible for these interventions were even condemned53. Under this light, the question of authenticity does not have to be investigated differently from that of the tasting experience. With Shapin’s paper, we will acquire the awareness of the history of the aesthetic value and vocabulary of wine that we utilized as a base for our proposal of a pragmatic and relational aesthetic expertise. In the same way, with Borghini’s paper, we will understand the dialectic concerning the notion of authenticity, a dialectic traced back to the concept of terroir. Today many point out in terroir the key concepts for defining wine authenticity: authors like Scruton or Johnson rightly give themselves the title of terroirists because they promote an idea of value not depending on the grape variety (which is the line of thought of massive and commercial modern enology developed especially in the Usa in the 70s), but on the terroir, where the grapes grow and are cultivated.

69Does everything work, then? Up to a certain point. In fact, terroir is another strongly dynamic and relational concept: the biochemical and climatic elements of a place, changing themselves overtime, are woven with anthropic elements changing even faster, so that it is not sufficient to refer to terroir as key to the authenticity of wine sic et simpliciter. Focusing on specific cases, it is possible to find oneself within situations that do not offer immediate resolution. Borghini makes brilliant examples about a Tuscan dish and wine – respectively, Ribollita and Chianti Classico. Here I add another instance that helps to render clearer the idea of complexity at play. Let’s take a Barolo, cultivated and raised by a native Langa family according to conventional viticulture (usage of synthetic products in the vineyards and various legal make-up in the cellar, like adding acidity, concentrations, high levels of Sulfur Dioxide etc.) and enological methods, and aged in big barrels that are traditional in the Langhe. Now let’s take another Barolo, cultivated and raised by Swiss entrepreneurs sincerely converted to natural (in the sense described above) viticulture and enological practices, and aged in new barriques, that are not traditional there. Which of the two Barolo is more authentic? In a terroiristic perspective, it would not be easy to immediately and abstractly reply, because one would need to verify in the given case which of the two wines allow Nebbiolo, in that specific territory, to express its potentialities. Even if we can sympathize with the second Barolo, it could be the case that the Swiss origin of the makers and the wine’s aging in barriques may hide the local characteristics and “natural” possibilities of the wine. For sure, usually those who work with midwifery intentions should respect the place in which they live, attempting to really know it before acting and therefore not aging the wine in invasive containers, as new barriques may often suffocate many of the local and unique characteristics of a grape. So the example above may seem merely academic; but this is not certain. In any case, a definite response about the authenticity of the wine in question would only supply an empirical verification. But authenticity for who and for when? One cannot escape the question, just as one could not escape the question concerning the aesthetic experience: for who (the wine lovers) and when (contextualization, project and task). A further example: the question “do wild yeasts make wine better?” it is a badly posed question, since one must first understand (in a similar way to that which occurs in the field of beauty) what is intended with goodness and, in close correlation, which taste, we wish to praise and valorize. As Jamie Goode points out very well, sometimes even wild yeasts can hide the “peculiar” characteristics of a terroir, exactly as disease or an error during pregnancy have the power to alter one or more “normal” characteristics of a human being.

70So it is possible that with respect to a code of authenticity based on previous cases, all natural wine is seen as eccentric, off the beaten path. It is true that also extreme positions exist, which support wine’s education à la Rousseau: add nothing to the spontaneous processes of fermentation and maceration and accept everything that follows. Nevertheless most of those who intend their work as makers as that of trainers/guardians prefer a more moderate vision, minimally interventionist: add as little as possible so that wine can express its best according to the process of its natural possibilities. It is just that there are neither recipes nor a priori rules to operate in this way: the same expertise required from the wine expert/lover is required from the maker and guardian.

71Our journey through these pages brings us yet again to aesthetics as perception, judgment and expertise. Recognizing authenticity signifies validating a whole range of data starting from the glass or from the bottle, by wine enthusiasts, experts and lovers. The burden of proving authenticity is up to them. An aesthetic education of taste remains an unavoidable horizon. But what, then, of the analytical tasting, that seemed to be in charge of the valorization of aesthetic qualities of wine?

4. The beauty of drinking, or the consequences of tasting

72To what extent and how can we perceive the value of wine in the glass? This seems to be the final question, and the most important one for a critical and positive wine aesthetics. I stigmatized an approach to tasting as mere recognition of tastes and aromas in a wine, as well as the idea that one can commit to aesthetic experience in a purely formal way. I rather tried to show that taste allows for a valorization of wine as an aesthetic experience and as a work of art only if it is connected with content pertaining to its genesis and making process. In other words, the aesthetic and artistic value of wine cannot be considered aside from the recognition of the value of how it has been made. At this moment, the crux is to understand whether it is possible to perceive such a making in the glass; said differently, if it is possible to recognize values as naturalness, authenticity and sense of place, drinking and tasting wine. Because if it was not the case, a large part of my argument would fall to pieces: it would imply in fact allocating the burden of proof back to the theoretical and extra-experiential knowledge. It would imply actually getting rid of the most elevated meaning of expertise. We would than find ourselves in a paradoxical situation. We would share a speculative conception with Somers, the Australian enologist criticized previously: we would be able to appreciate a wine even without tasting it, only knowing that it had been realized through approved techniques, as for example those belonging to the biodynamic method. We would thus get closer to a conceptualization of the object that would render its experience superfluous, therefore also disavowing its aesthetic pertinence. But luckily I am sure that things are not like this. My definitive proposal was born out of my multi-year personal experience, shared with many other wine enthusiasts and lovers, and only secondarily has it stumbled upon theoretical legitimacy. This is the testimony of an experimental journey that has won my strong distrust, and this is why I am using it now.

73Mario Soldati guided us in the analogy between wine and work of art and in that between wine and human beings. Following this indication, I came to compare some wines to artistic organisms, taking as an example the trees in Giuseppe Penone’s Environmental Art. Is there perceivable evidence in this beauty? How can one recognize beauty in a wine? My thesis is that the beauty of a wine, completely corresponding to its goodness, to its whole aesthetic value, dwells mostly in its thorough ease of absorption, in its drinkability and in its consequent digestibility.

  • 54  My friend is Luca Gargano, founder and owner of Triple A Wines, an Italian distributor of natural (...)
  • 55  For a suggestive explanation of descriptors distinguishing authentic from non-authentic wines see (...)

74Until some years ago, I believed that natural, organic, and biodynamic wines were only a trend. My tasting expertise was formed at the beginning of the ʼ90s. In this period, the protocol was teaching that structure, concentration, fruit intensity, and smoothness (regardless the influence of wood) were indispensable elements in creating wine aesthetic value. Then, I was witness to the conversion of dozens of famous tasters – the same ones preaching the ʼ90s protocol – to the Verbs of thinness, acidity, and more novel ones such as minerality. For this reason, I had many suspicions – and I think that, from a certain standpoint, it is fair to be suspicious, or at least prudent: any trend, even the most critical at the beginning, brings with it the seeds of its opposite, ready to generate marketing phenomenon and homologation. But, at that point, I did not clearly understand the master key to those natural, organic and biodynamic wines, raised like living organisms worthy of respect and brought up with midwifery intentions. At a certain moment (especially thanks to a friend54), I started to drink them attentively, and most importantly with the willingness to place into question all of my previous perceptive settings. In a few months, I observed as my system of values changed, so much so to even have often experienced difficulty in finishing just one glass of wine obtained by a mixture of factors like cultivated yeasts, hyper-concentration of fruit through machines, and massive doses of wood. I frequently find this wine to be inert, without grace and gustative tension, without dynamics, aromatically fake and incongruous. Alternatively, many natural wines that correspond to the midwifery model of elaboration/education previously described, – seemed to me vital and authentic55, or, to put it differently, worthy of being considered as artistic “objects” and as an occasion for aesthetic experiences. I need to stress that I do not maintain that all wines made this way are interesting: as I argued before, the aesthetic and artistic value of a wine depend on the interaction between its inner potentials as a complex system and their comprehension by a maker, guiding them according to a design. Nevertheless, from my renovated point of view, something like a “midwifery intention” is a necessary – even if not sufficient – condition in obtaining interesting wines that fit the aesthetic and the artistic profile.

75I am left now to describe the master key for that practical comprehension of wine. It consists of the radical calling into question of the analytical approach of tasting: the required willingness to abandon – at least temporarily, like an epoché – the method that dissects value into discrete qualities (color/smell/taste) and to concentrate our attention on drinking, gathering the whole meaning of ingestion and absorption of the odorous and intoxicating liquid. This strategy is just as necessary as the tasting skill that one has modelled by conventional codes (visual, smell, taste analysis), which are not so neutral and obvious because they support disputable correlations between non-aesthetic qualities (concentration and intensity of color/smell/taste) and relative aesthetic qualities. In a nutshell: the aesthetic appreciation of wine, if wine is something between complex organic system and artifact, goes through drinking, and not tasting. The approach to wine as a liquid to drink should not be taken as a revocation of reflection; rather as an intentional and reflective act whose task lies in knowing how to gather the whole layer of soundness. This soundness offers us the key to identifying authenticity and naturalness according to the meanings explained above. The analytical detail pinpointing aesthetic qualities in correlation with some elements can surely find its space shortly thereafter, passed this step; but it will be renewed in syntax and grammar because the referential values will not be considered apart from the comprehension of wine as complex system plus artifact. Exactly because of this, tasting will take up a momentary and intermediary phase flowing again in the heightened and multi-layered pleasure of convivial drinking.

76The process just described, thanks to a lived experience, has a precise theoretical legitimacy upon which I have already shed light in the first part of the essay. It recalls the peculiarity of our relationship to food and drink: food is the only thing that we deliberately incorporate into our body, with functions at the same time vital, psychological and social. Let’s clarify this point. First, attentive drinking helps us to re-position expertise (it’s not something against expertise) in concordance with a more suitable psycho-physical sensibility because with wine we enter into a relation with a living complex system and not with a thing. Before involving the senses one after the other, according to a technique of tasting, agreed upon and reasonable to certain ends but de-contextualized and abstract, the attentive drinking calls for a quick and unabbreviated involvement of our whole psycho-physical system towards a matter that, at least in theory, should still be alive when introduced. Furthermore, the perception of soundness recalls the most ancient meaning of the value of wine, a meaning connected on one hand to dietetics, on the other to what Scruton rightly claims as its highest value: the power of intoxication and inebriation producing a sense of conviviality, a sense of living and of mortality. Finally – last, not however, in terms of importance – this approach offers crucial information about absorption and digestibility of wine. We remember that taste is an embodied skill: the odorous liquid introduces itself into the body, wets the tissues and drizzles our ducts. It is very important to be attentive to our bodily responses when faced with such interference. Wine is an intoxicating complex system that enters into relation with another complex system, the human one: it is crucial to verify this capacity of assimilation that does not depend exclusively on alcohol, rather on such an interaction. With this, we are brought back to the great tradition of wine as pharmacon and its appreciation as a dietetic element, as Shapin recalls in his text. It is due to this that one can experimentally observe the most surprising results: authentic and natural wines (obtained with a low content of sulfur dioxide, mass selection, wild yeasts etc.) offer better assimilating capacity, and a consequently higher level of psycho-physical well-being, in the short, medium and long term. Because of this, the standard gesture of conventional tasters, who spit out the wine before having swallowed it, presuming that they are capable of evaluating it without verifying the response manifested by its interaction with human tissues, is a naïve and incorrect gesture. Without absorption, wine becomes something different from what it truly is and what constitutes its intimate functions. In the act of spitting one places wine at a distance; taste and smell, and lacking their principal feature, introjection, are valued by melding them with the visual paradigm. Spitting wine subtends the ideology of immediate, quick evaluation (in some sessions one tastes even 100 wines in half a day), based on the assumption of wine as a commodity produced and appreciated according to standard procedures. But all this ends in impoverishing and revoking the nature of wine as changeable, evolving complex system.

  • 56 On this topic see Nencini 2009, a wine history from a pharmacological perspective.

77The consequence of tasting is the beauty of drinking. Here we have a means for evaluating proximal senses without associating them to the distal ones: a wine aesthetics without compromises, specific and autonomous, lies in the relationship between absorption, digestibility and emotion. I propose to assume strategically (at least until the tasting syntax changes) absorption and digestibility as aesthetic values specific to wine: they can in fact provoke a whole well-being of the human organism and contribute to socialization and conviviality (really authentic wines do not weigh one down, inebriating in a qualitatively different way from non-authentic ones)56. Ease of assimilation and digestibility are not in opposition to harmony, balance, elegance, finesse, and other qualities that are often associated to wine, rather they highlight and emphasize them. Yet they also grasp the nature of the odorous liquid in a more specific and precise way, avoiding the category mistake one makes when equating wine to music or to other canonic arts modeled on representational forms. Furthermore, assimilation and digestibility are not to be confused with emptiness, inconsistency, and lack of typical features; they are the channels of aesthetic pleasure in wine having moreover the advantage – not irrelevant – of stimulating their desire. This is why authentic wines stimulate a repetition of the act of drinking. The funny idea that good has to be connected to homeopathic amounts, as it has often been reproduced in traditional tasting during the last 20 years, seems philosophically weak: pleasure and beauty (except maybe in some outstanding cases) stimulates further desire of pleasure, beauty and emotion, not desire of constraint.

78But what is an emotional wine? This adjective is perhaps the most utilized in coining the best possible experience with the odorous liquid. A wine is emotional when it hits us in an all-encompassing way, not just for some specific qualities. Emotion has much more to do with authenticity, power of conviviality, assimilation and digestibility and power of surprise than with the description of a handful of aromas. If a wine moves us emotionally, some of its specific qualities may even be considered as not agreeable because we are disposed to accept their presence due to the fact that they are absorbed in the context of the complete experience with which we engage (something similar, again, happens with emotions given by human beings, regardless of their specific defects). If Kant had considered wine as a living complex organism raised by man in tune with its own expressive potentials, he would probably have allowed it more theoretical attention.

  • 57  Many thanks to Ariela Yomtovian for her help in the translation. I would also like to thank Steven (...)

79From drinking to tasting, from tasting to drinking: this proposal toward a renovated critical expertise unites the two sides of wine that I tried to explore in this essay – perception and judgment on the one hand, production and elaboration on the other – and it calls for the establishment of a new and wise evaluative language that goes beyond the representationalist prejudice of aesthetic forms. This prejudice has also created a misunderstanding about aesthetic qualities of wine and about its comparability with some artistic expressions: wine is not a painting, neither a piece of music; nor a dance, and actually not even a tree. A monistic, ecological and pragmatic perspective as the one I illustrated here takes into account wine per se, until the very end. Wine is wine: its pleasure, appreciation and peculiar experience lies in drinking it attentively, fully, intensely, and entirely57.

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1  «Every wine one drinks has its own story. My aim: making it easy for you, reader, to listen and comprehend it, you that love wine or are willing to recognize it as a friend» (my translation).

2  Soldati 1971: 12-13 (my translation).

3 In the same year, 1971, the book Il vino giusto (The right wine) by Luigi Veronelli, the most important Italian gastronome and wine expert of the second half of 20th Century, came out. The Foreword started like this: «If you don’t love wine, if you are not inclined to recognize it as a friend, do not read me. You cannot understand me, you would be surprised – laugh and think foolishly – of accurate sentences: science gained space and not yet the “mechanism” of the infinite metamorphoses of wine, there is something that escapes, that avoids every analysis, something we can only know, with which we can only communicate, we those who love wine: its soul. You are surprised: not us» (my translation). The book is composed of 7 chapters: “Who” is the wine; Wine constituents; Tasting; The right tasting; My wines; Food-Wine Pairings; Precise Pairings. In Italy, in 1971 (but already before that, in the late 60s) Veronelli wrote about wine in this way, anticipating the later tendencies of many authors.

This essay is dedicated to the memory of Luigi Veronelli, with the hope that his pioneer works on wine will soon be discovered and studied all over the world.

4  This double nature can certainly assume different gradations: there are wines, like Champagne, closer to a work of art as a technical artifact, and other wines, like Vin Santo from Tuscany or some reds, closer to a living organism developed in relative autonomy. I will leave these differences out here, even if I will return to them indirectly in the third section of my paper.

5  In the Italian context, opening works for the topic in philosophy have been Donà 2003 e Perullo 2006, that contains an appendix titled “Wine Aesthetics”.

6 Croce 1965: 71.

7 See Russo 2000.

8 D’Angelo 2011: 28, 116-117.

9  See Sibley 2007.

10 See Gibson 1966.

11 See Leroi-Gourhan 1993 (see here footnote 21) and Curtin-Heldke 1992.

12 See Shapin 1998.

13  See Korsmeyer 1999.

14  See Shusterman 2000 and Perullo 2006, 2008 and 2010.

15 See Scruton 2007. On this topic, see also Pitte 2009, a book that attempts to explain (from a human geographical standpoint, in connection to its intimate symbolic dimensions) why since the very beginning of history wine has been placed at the top of human culture.

16  Of course there are always exceptions: see for instance Torday’s novel 2007, in which the protagonist becomes an alcoholic drinking great wines.

17 In the Italian context this topic has been investigated for the first time by Donà 2003. He traced the history of western philosophy through the lens of wine, seen as both material and symbolic activator of the relations between truth and appearance, moderation and excess etc.

18 Johnson 2006: 11

19  Of course, this is something that is very difficult to prove; here I will take it for granted.

20  It is not without meaning that between the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th Century in England, the modern glass bottle (together with the cork) was invented, as a market, trade and export wine container. If until then bottles helped only to carry wine from barrel to table, with the growth of taste and trade of luxury goods, the glass bottle represents something which is “individualized”, in terms of content as a sensorial experience, and as a formal value of a prestigious bottle per se. See Johnson, 1991: 282-292 and 443-460.

21  I take this beautiful definition by the wine taster and journalist – as well as my first master in tasting practice (in 1992) – Sandro Sangiorgi, whose book L’invenzione della gioia (“The Invention of Joy”) (2011) is, in my opinion, the most important wine book published in Italy in a long time. The definition of “odorous liquid” is taken in turn by Ackerman 1991.

22  See Smith 2007 and Allhoff and Monroe 2008.

23  In this regard, it is worth recalling how the great paleontologist and anthropologist Leroi-Gourhan handled the question already in 1963. Though not talking about wine but about gastronomy and cuisine in general, and giving to “symbol” the meaning that Scruton gives to “expression”, Leroi-Gourhan’s thought renders in a brilliant way the problem of taste as representation: «Among the human reference senses [the place of smell] is rather special. Sight and hearing – which, like the hand, are involved in language – are the only senses to form part of the emitting and receiving system through which figurative symbols are exchanged. The sense of smell, being purely receptive, has non complementary organ for the emission of symbols of odors. It thus remains outside the most essential human mechanism. Although reflection can codify its perceptions, they are non transmissible. This is why gastronomy and olfactory aesthetics in general do not fall within the category of fine arts. […] The use of thyme in combination with salt and nutmeg is not translatable into movements or even into words. Culinary art does not share that characteristic trait of all other arts which is the possibility of figurative representation; it never reaches the symbolic level. Everything is symbolizable in theory, but in gastronomy too much substitution would be required. You can use a meal as a symbol for the workings of the world at large, but then you are talking about the rhythm at which the courses are served and the meaning of each separate dish apart from its purely gastronomical characteristics. […] A dish may be a picture, but then it enters the field of visual reference, and how it looks does not represent how it tastes» (Leroi-Gourhan 1993 [1963]: 292). See for a discussion of it Perullo 2008: ch. 2.

24  The following passage is crucial: «Smelling and tasting however, need not be defined by receptors and nerves. They can be defined by their functions in use, smell being an accompaniment of breathing and taste of eating. The ordinary person means by a sense what is here called a perceptual system – a perception sense, not a sensation sense. […] This perceptual system should no longer be called a chemical sense, inasmuch as only two types of information listed above [the sapid component and the odorous component] depend on chemoreceptors. And in any case, the properties perceived are not those studied by straight chemistry. Rather, they are nutritive values or affordances. In man, they are gastronomic values. Such properties depend on facts of chemistry, physics and biology, to be sure, but only as they relate to nutrition and cookery» (Gibson 1966: 136-138).

25  See Auvrey and Spence 2007.

26  See Noble 2006.

27I Vini d’Italia 2010: 130. In the original version: «Vino teso e puro, dall’integrità del frutto impressionante, austero e poco concessivo all’olfatto, ma di intensità espressiva unica al palato, flessuoso, ritmato, dai tannini sottili e infiltranti e dal finale irradiante».

28 See Brochet and Dubourdieu 2001.

29  See also Tomasi 2010.

30  Levinson 2005: 8.

31  Goode 2007: 80.

32  See Hennion 2007.

33  I proposed a similar alternative approach to tasting in Perullo 2010.

34  Somers 1998: 11. For a detailed discussion of this position see Mazzoleni 2003.

35  See Noble 2006.

36  Polanyi 1958: 56.

37  Shapin 2012: 9.

38  Dewey 1987: 55.

39  See for instance Origgi 2007 and also Iggers 2007.

40  This is why blind tasting – another topic largely discussed in many essays here – is a controversial method: far from producing transparency and an absence of prejudices, it rather removes information about wine, committing the taster to the standard and de-contextualized grammar of tasting. Of course it is possible to make useful projects also with blind tastings in accordance with specific tasks.

41  It is true that in most wine shops (especially American) the evaluations of Parker or Wine Spectator etc. are often exhibited; but it seems to me that this has to do more with a guidance on shopping (like when one can read on a book cover “Winner of the X Prize” or “more than Y copies sold”) than with a classification based on intrinsic value.

42  A very interesting path to viticulture and enology, very helpful also from a philosophical and aesthetic standpoint, is given by Goode 2006 and 2011.

43 On these topics, other than Goode 2006, see the interview with Paul Pontallier, Chateau Margaux’s enologist, concerning the meaning of terroir and the concept of balance of grape ripeness, in which he stated that only after twenty years of living in the place had he realized what grape ripeness is in the specific context of Margaux. He concluded that no general recipe exists and that everything is based upon experience and interaction with the place. See Ruffa 2003.

44  Ingold 2000: 345.

45Idem: 1.

46  See Ortega y Gasset quoted in De Caro 2004.

47  For the concept of weaving, see Ingold 2000: 339-348.

48  For a criticism of the abuse of the concept of “nature” in contemporary culture see Marrone 2011.

49 The usage of sulfur dioxide is tolerated as a very old and traditional practice. Until some years ago, it was considered to be absolutely necessary, but nowadays more and more wine producers try to find solutions to reduce its total amount, or even to eliminate it. For a discussion see Goode 2011: ch. 7.


51  See Nossiter 2007.

52  See Le Gris 1999. The author crucifies also aesthetics, seen as enslaved by the power of the capitalistic market, and enemy of the true values of authenticity and naturalness. No need to say, at the end of this essay, in which sense we can easily reject this accusation, and prove rather the indispensability of aesthetics in order to address a deep and effective critic of taste.

53  For adulterated wines see Grappe 2006.

54  My friend is Luca Gargano, founder and owner of Triple A Wines, an Italian distributor of natural wines.

55  For a suggestive explanation of descriptors distinguishing authentic from non-authentic wines see Sangiorgi 2011: 89-155.

56 On this topic see Nencini 2009, a wine history from a pharmacological perspective.

57  Many thanks to Ariela Yomtovian for her help in the translation. I would also like to thank Steven Shapin, Andrea Borghini and Gabriele Tomasi for their feedback, comments and remarks.

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Notizia bibliografica

Nicola Perullo, «Wineworld: Tasting, Making, Drinking, Being»Rivista di estetica, 51 | 2012, 3-48.

Notizia bibliografica digitale

Nicola Perullo, «Wineworld: Tasting, Making, Drinking, Being»Rivista di estetica [Online], 51 | 2012, online dal 30 novembre 2015, consultato il 24 juin 2024. URL:; DOI:

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