The Evolution of Group Wine Think
I think I've said before (I know I have) that there is no such thing as an objective definition of quality where wine is concerned. But the basis for this opinion has been diagrammed and explained in lovely fashion by none other than David Brooks in his most recent editorial in the NY Times in which he explores the evolution in thinking around Moral Thinking and Moral Philosophy.
Brooks explains that moral judgments amount to "rapid intuitive decisions and involve the emotion-processing
parts of the brain. Most of us make snap moral judgments about what
feels fair or not, or what feels good or not. We start doing this when
we are babies, before we have language. And even as adults, we often
can’t explain to ourselves why something feels wrong."
Brooks even uses a culinary comparison to drive his point home:
"Think of what happens when you put a new food into your mouth. You
don’t have to decide if it’s disgusting. You just know. You don’t have
to decide if a landscape is beautiful. You just know."
Brooks is right. moral judgments, judgments on what is pretty and what is ugly and taste preferences are entirely subjective. And so is any evaluation of wine quality.
But here's the real interesting issue: Given the subjective nature of judgments about wine quality, how is
it that there appears to be a consensus on what is good and what is not good given the millions of different palates that exist around the globe?
Let's go back to Brooks and the issue of moral philosophy and proactive moral action.
Brooks doesn't give the issue of the Creator's Warrant much play in his editorial, but instead notes that in the last century we've explained how we come to conclusions about what we feel is moral or not by referencing the impact of evolution:
"The answer has long been evolution, but in recent years there’s an
increasing appreciation that evolution isn’t just about competition.
It’s also about cooperation within groups. Like bees, humans have long
lived or died based on their ability to divide labor, help each other
and stand together in the face of common threats. Many of our moral
emotions and intuitions reflect that history. We don’t just care about
our individual rights, or even the rights of other individuals. We also
care about loyalty, respect, traditions, religions. We are all the
descendants of successful cooperators."
I think clearly the different forms of consensus on what makes a wine high quality has been a collaborative exploration into group aesthetics, with dollops of fear, tradition and respect for the credibility of a few queen bees of wine evaluation.
Yes, I'm suggesting that much of what why certain styles of wine are appreciated more than others is not necessarily because we actually like the taste and feel and effect of the wines, but rather because we learned and been coerced, in part, to like the taste, feel and effect of certain style of wines. The consensus on what is good and bad in wine is an evolutionary one that pays respect fear, fashion, ignorance and the consequences of going against group think.