Wine - A Means to Beauty?

Mar 29, 2010

I've been thinking about a previous blog I wrote where I argued that wine wasn't art. On one level, I think it is true. We have Da Vinci, Beethoven, Dickens, Proust, Bach etc... I would call these individuals artists because they work in a realm where the private becomes universal, the personal is a vehicle to connection. We can still listen to Beethoven's Symphonies, we can go to an art gallery and see Da Vinci or Raphael or Delacroix and the hundreds of other essential artists of the past. We can still read Dickens and Proust. 

Wine is by far more transient when compared to works of art. If we've heard of famous vintages from famous growers, winemakers, chateaux, the experience is not primary. We don't drink the idea of wine. The memory of a great bottle may be similar to the memory of a wonderful performance or a lovely poem we once read, the only and major difference is we can in many ways return to that poem or see that play again or hear a recording of a great concert.

Wine by this rationale is a more temporal form of Beauty. There are no doubt many technical aspects, from viticulture to vinification, there is a realm of science, decision and accident in every step.

Perhaps we can't call wine art with a capital 'A'. But there is something else here.

What is difficult about Art is that at the very core of Art, there is no true absolute, no definable truth. Art is continually open to interpretation. What it is, its function, its boundaries, the definition continually changes, it is fluid, in flux. 

Wine is also in a state of in flux. The wine of previous centuries is different than the wine of today. What the Greeks and Romans consumed, I would hazard a guess that they would not appeal to modern drinkers. 

Wine also changes depending on year, country, appellation, grower, winemakers. Just the way that  the Sistine Chapel is intrinsically connected to the history of the Renaissance, Italian art, the work of a specific man with a particular approach, a given wine is a sacred result of numerous situations and circumstances. Wine is a special concoction, closer to alchemy than say spirits or beer.

So instead of seeing Wine as Art, that is with Wine belonging to the realm of Art, the way architecture, sculpture, painting, music, poetry all falls under the umbrella of Art, I believe Wine is its own world.

We have Wine and under that umbrella is Still, Sparkling and Fortified. Within the sub-category of Still we have dry, medium-dry, sweet and so forth. Also, there is again the question of origin, time, influences, weather, soil, grower, winemaker, the market... 

Wine belongs then to its own beautiful world. It is interesting to note that it was the Greeks who first placed the sense of sight and hearing before the tactile senses of touch, smell and taste. Aristotle once wrote that it is these latter three senses that can get us into trouble.

Ironically, Plato, Aristotle's teacher believe Art was false and illusory. In Platonic thought, there is a world of the Ideas. Each Idea is eternal. In the world of objects, our world, our reality, we have a chair that is based on the Idea of the eternal chair, the unchanging, the absolute. When a painter painted a chair, he simply painted a copy of another copy. Art was removed from the Truth. 

Is this to say wine is closer to Beauty and Truth than Art? I don't know. If we use the Platonic model, then Wine is closer to the Idea of Wine, the ideal, eternal as opposed to a work of art. Again, we have numerous particular wines under a single definition of Wine. 

The fact that our approach and experience of wine is entirely within the sensory of my subjectivity, i.e. whereas I can listen to a piece of music with a friend, watch a movie alone or with others, and read the same book, what I taste and appreciate is particular to me - no one else shares my palate. 

The appeal of wine is being able to share conversations about it; the sensation of art is not nearly as digestible as wine.  Art is known for its remove, its being distant from the viewer. We can be emotionally moved by a sonata or a scene in a play; wine enters our body, our bloodstream. 

And of course, it invariably goes to our head and heart in a manner unlike but sometimes not unlike Art.


But getting back to the matter of appreciation, what wine is to our palate is what music is to our ears, what a beautiful painting is to our eyes. I will still argue it is not Art but that it belongs to a world until itself. Within Art, we have thousands of variations. The same with Wine. In my mind, Wine cannot be judged by the standards of Art. The criteria for loving and appreciating Wine are similar to that of Art but they are related in that they find shelter in the realm of Beauty.

In Plato, there many ways of being introduced to Beauty via beautiful bodies, ideas until we arrive at Beauty altogether.

All in all, I think this is a better philosophical approach to Wine.


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My focus is mainly on wine culture, history and education. I love the stories behind wine - the people, places and the regional personalities of the wine-countries around the world.

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