On Dogs, Wine & God
Arthur, of redwinebuzz, commenting on today’s earlier post about what should be the standard for quality in wine, makes the case that a high high quality wine is that which best displays their classic traits and characteristics of the variety or combination of variety and terroir. (Correct me if I mischaracterize you Arthur. Using dog breeding as an example, he writes: “What makes a Doberman a classic example of the breed? The way it best
displays the traits and characteristics that define the breed.”
It’s the perfect analogy, I think.
The Doberman, or any dog breed, is a good example of what I’m getting at when I ask WHY should one standard of wine quality be embraced over another. Over time, dog breeders have bred out or bred in certain characteristics based on an evolving standard for the breed. This implies that over time, the standard for this dog has changed. Which of the varying standards for a breed that have existed over the past 200 years is the “best” or highest quality?
I wonder if it’s possible to argue that a flabby, fruit-forward, high alcohol Cabernet is the style that should be thought of when we ask what are the criteria for high quality wine? I think clearly that all it takes for that standard to be recognized is buy-in by a combination of producers, critics and members of the trade.
To suggest that this style of Cab is not the standard by which quality should be judged, seems to me to be no more than preferring another style to this one that can also be achieved by pampering a grapevine with equal compassion.
What I’m getting at is this (and I’m not sure I like where I am): The quality standard against which Cab-based wines, Pinot Noir, Riesling or Rhone are to be judged amounts to a preference that may have no objective warrant other than “it is agreed that we like this style better than that one”.
Someone can proclaim that “high quality Cabernet-based wines must have a moderate tannin structure that will provide the wine with youthful grip and structure.” That’s fine. But, this statement strikes me as meaningless unless we can say WHY this should be the standard. Simply saying “This is what classic Cabernet” tastes like is really just a statement about the historical record and not WHY that style of Cabernet ought to be considered the standard.
I’m coming to the conclusion that whatever standards for quality in wine might exist, it really is just a statement of agreement among those that are educated, not a statement of anything objective.
Now, this is interesting territory, isn’t it? In the first place it means deferring to “experts” to tell us what is “quality”, just as Eric Asimov suggests we should be doing. On the other hand, it provides the experts with no other justification for telling others what high quality wine looks and tastes like because it’s all about preference, which is, as far as I can tell, an entirely subjective notion.
To go back to the Dog analogy, this means if you want to gain consent that your Doberman is an excellent example of high quality dobermanship, then you need the buy-in of those who, at this moment in time, have agreed that the characteristics that your Doberman possesses are the same as their preference in Dobermans. It’s the same for wine. If you want consent that your wine possesses the characteristics of high quality wine, you need the buy-in of those that, together, have agreed that the characteristics that your wine possesses happen to be the same that they agree amount to quality.
However, the experts’ agreement that these characteristics amount to “high quality” is not based on anything objective beyond the fact that experts agree. Furthermore, a novice with a different set of criteria for “high quality” could put those criteria forward and only be honestly contradicted by the experts with the following contention: “But I like the other style better.”
This is all much like the argument that atheists and theists have: What is moral and what is immoral?
The theists will argue that if we reject God’s moral code, we are simply left with “what’s right and wrong is what ever you believe is right and wrong and you have nothing but your own relativistic world view to back up your moral code.” On the other hand, the theists will also argue that by pointing to God’s righteousness and his status as the creator of everything, the theists have substantial warrant or authority to say X is good and X is bad: God tells us so.
Now, while I would argue that the theists’ reliance on God’s moral code amounts to relativism of exactly the same sort that the atheist MUST admit they believe in, the theists do have something of a compelling point about having a standard for right and wrong and being able to point to an objective source for that standard: The Righteousness and Perfection of the Almighty God.
In the context of wine, the experts are God and the $2 Buck Chuck devotees are the Abyss of Relativism. The experts have a Standard. The $2 Buck Chuck Quaffers have whatever makes them feel good.
But you have to ask yourself this about the followers of God/Experts: What reasoning did they use when they decided that God/Experts were the right voice to follow?