Stimulus from the World of Wine

Close up of The Thinker

We recently asked people to recommend books which weren’t about beer but which could help us better understand beer, prompted by reminders from Knut and Alan that books on other topics do actually exist and can be all the more illuminating for their distance from The Obsession.

Gareth, who writes the Beer Advice blog, and has a background in wine retailing, suggested Questions of Taste: the Philosophy of Wine (Ed. Barry C. Smith, 2007), a collection of essays exploring what it really means to ‘taste’ wine. Is it possible to taste objectively? Which qualities are an essential part of the wine and which are projected by the taster? Are some wines really better than others in an objective sense? And so on.

If you’re allergic to the merest whiff of pretension, you won’t enjoy it, but, so far, like Johnny Five in search of input, we’re finding it very thought-provoking, and are already itching to write posts based on ideas therein.

Here’s one example from the essay ‘The Power of Tastes: Reconciling Science and Subjectivity’ by Ophelia Deroy:

Am I objective when I say that this wine tastes like ripe pineapple, or do I just indulge in association of memories, condemned to remain purely personal? Do I try to find rare tastes or fine adjectives to conform to a social ritual, in an arbitrary and perhaps pretentious way? But, even if socially codified, do these practices and ways of talking about wine transform the experience we have of it?

This set of all kinds of fireworks in our brains. We’ve certainly found ourselves thinking: “We can’t just call this beer hoppy — people won’t approve,” and so sipped, sniffed, struggled, trying to unlock a particular elusive aroma or flavour; and we recently saw a novice beer reviewer (one with a provocative sense of hubris) shot down for the lack of finesse in his tasting notes — for not going deep enough.

What if those elusive flavours just aren’t there? Or the label we’re putting on them only makes sense to us because we’re recalling a particular mango, of a particular variety, at a specific point of ripeness, that we ate at a particular time in a particular place?

Other recommendations — the further removed from beer the better — very welcome! Picture from Flickr Creative Commons.

3 replies on “Stimulus from the World of Wine”

Glad you found something in there. I found it pretty heavy going when I tried to just read it through, but now I’ve kind of got the idea of what they were saying I do find I keep going back to it.

My favourite one’s the one on ‘Objectivity of Tastes and Tasting.’ I’ve got a page or so of notes on that one, and they keep popping up in posts. (Hopefully I’m not plagiarising too much.)

This post sums up quite a bit about what I’m feeling being a newbie. I’m finding that sometimes a flavour is very easy to identify and put my finger on. Other times it seems to be impossible, and wonder how other people have been successful.

I have to ask whoever I am with to keep quiet until I’ve had chance to try and think about it, otherwise my taste-buds are influenced by their comments. I always seek their views, but try and make my own mind up first.

My own tasting notes are certainly not sophisticated, probably quite inaccurate in some cases, but hopefully their a realistic reflection on the experience that I’ve had.

Also an interesting question though, whether the throwing around and discussion of wine-y (or beer related) adjectives may enhance the experience…

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