The Taste of Knowledge

I  think there are folks out there for whom it would be truly shocking to learn that having knowledge about wine does nothing to enhance or detract from its sensory pleasures. Yet, this seems to me, as well as to philosopher Kent Bach, to be unquestionable.

Dr. Bach considered just this issue in a 2004 address at the "Philosophy & Wine" conference in London. (pdf) The address was essentially an exploration into how we humans process information we get from our senses vs information we get from our ability to reason. Hint: They interact, but are not the same.

This issue is perfectly suited to explore in the context of wine because wine is studied and discussed and intellectually digested far more often than your average consumable. It’s unique that way.

Yet, the fact of wine’s taste being altogether different than wine’s ability to inspire contemplation makes you wonder just how much good all this talk of wine by folks who sell wine is doing? Would the average wine drinker be more encouraged to drink more wine and try more wines if we weren’t incessantly discussing the wine’s terroir, fermentation regimes, its storage vessels, the character of what stops and closes up the wine and the enlightenment of the folks who work to make wine?

What if marketers, as a whole, just started talking about the way the wine tastes?

It’s something to think about. For one thing, we tend to believe that more information is better. But at what point is more information simply too much and detrimental to creating demand and promising pleasure? That line is certainly different for everybody, but I’ll bet there is a fuzzy line of demarcation that, upon crossing, we can be pretty sure the information’s benefits have started to transform into detriments for the average person.

I don’t know where that general  line of demarcation lies. I have some ideas about it that tend to guide me, but I can’t always be sure. I’m much better at understanding when the information needs to stop flowing if I’m in front of a wine geek. That’s easy. Its usually when they absolutely must get to bed because they have to get up early tomorrow.

I recommend the Bach Paper highly. "Knowledge, Wine & Taste: What Good Is Knowledge in Enjoying Wine" is a great little read that will help you distinguish between the various things we are actually doing when we pursue a passion for wine. For the wine marketer it might be a nice reminder of the kind of impact you can have based on the way you talk about your product.


8 Responses

  1. RichardA - July 3, 2007

    I think the links to the Bach paper are not working.

  2. Dr. Debs - July 3, 2007

    I find that people are interested in the “back story” to what they are tasting, and so your point here that we should be talking more about how things taste sounds right to me. One person asked me, how do they get the wine to taste so creamy? Once they recognized the taste, and were interested, you could tell them anything you wanted to about malolactic fermentation and they were on board–but it all started with what they tasted.

  3. RichardA - July 4, 2007

    I did google and find copies of the Bach essays. I also see that Bach will contribute to a new book coming out in September, “Wine and Philosophy.” I think it might be an interesting read.

  4. Mike - July 9, 2007

    For those interested, here is the Link to Kent Bach’s home page
    The “Knowledge, Wine, and Taste” PDF is the last in the list of articles at the top of the page. There is also another PDF with the title “Why talk about wine”.

  5. Mike - July 9, 2007

    It should be noted that the cerebral responses of wine “connoisseurs” and casual drinkers have been compared, and found to be different.;jsessionid=70305E14A5BCDB6609E8CD195668886F
    One of the comments on the study was:-
    Professional tasters’ unusual patterns suggest that “they are trying to understand what they’re drinking,” says Hagberg, who presented the results at the Italian Wine Academy’s 37th meeting in Sienna last week. “Training does not just educate your palate, it also affects how your brain responds to the taste of wine.”
    Now, of course, “trying to understand what they are drinking” could be part of the cognitive aspect of wine tasting that Bach believes does not enhance wine appreciation. But for me a change in cerebral activity suggests that there is a difference in appreciation. It could also indicate that connoisseurs and casual drinkers drink wine for differnt reasons.

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