An Open Door To Real Wine Criticism

Opendoor Is it possible for a wine critic to engage the true art of criticism?

I wonder about this because lately I've been exploring the state of criticism within various disciplines. It seems across the board, whether talking about film, dance, art, architecture or any other creative pursuit, the consensus on criticism is that it is in bad shape. The primary culprit in the demise of literary criticism, many believe, is the Internet and specifically the citizen or amateur critic.

This makes sense. Prior to the advent of of the Internet and the ease with which it allows anybody and anyone to set themselves up as a commentator, one needed to impress the media gatekeepers that their voice was not only educated and a product of insightful thought, but that it could also be well represented in words. Editors needed evidence that the would-be critic could deliver something of substance. Today, there is no Editor to screen the voices that make themselves heard. There is only the requirement that effort needs to be made. And as we can see by a quick tour of Google, there is no lacking of effort.

Today, voices wishing to be heard as critics are so numerous as to overwhelm the senses. While "professional critics" in all these and other disciplines still exist, the number of lesser trained eyes has proliferated beyond counting.

If there are no more gatekeepers between the random thoughts of a dance lover or film lover and the eyes of those seeking information on the state of artistic endeavors, then the question that must ultimately be asked is this: What is a critic and what do they do?

Does this constitute film criticism: "* * * *"

What about this: "Awesome!"

Advocates of opening the gates and throwing aside the gatekeepers would answer, "yes!" and go on to celebrate the demise of the self important "critics" that for too long held so much power to shape public perception and the rise of the citizen perspective.

I would answer "No", however. In my view, real literary criticism (meaning using the written word to evaluate an article of human creation) demands substantial reflection, being well read in the subject upon which the critic is commenting, possessing a deep understanding of the history of stylistic movements and detours within the subject area, having a personal view of what constitutes greatness within the critic's subject area, and, finally, being able translate one's contemplation on the matter into a well formed essay.

So then, is there such a thing as "Wine Criticism" today? Has there ever been? And if so, is it in decline?

Steve Heimoff, the wine writer and reviewer for the Wine Enthusiast and blogger at" wrote this on the matter: "Wine criticism, on the other hand, is just, well, wine writing. It can
never be as important as film criticism, because wine will never be as
important as film in our self-consciousness of who we are."

Steve's view doesn't so much answer my question as much as better defines the entry portal into criticism itself, positing that for something to be worthy of criticism it must have some sort of hold over the culture. Film most certainly is a critical part of America's cultural and intellectual heritage as is fine art, music, architecture and dance, for example. Not wine, says Steve.

And yet, the number of reviews of wine that exist in print and on the Internet are massive in number. So despite the fact that wine may not be important in the self consciousness of Americans, it is important enough to enough of us to result in substantial review…but not reviews of substance.

The fact is, it just may be that the the creative process that goes into making wine and the resulting artifact of that creative process may not be interesting enough or intellectually substantial enough or consequential enough for inspire the kind of criticism that I describe above where "substantial reflection" is part of the definition of real literary criticism.

Is it even possible to use a wine to reflect on the current state of politics, culture or social interaction, as good criticisms in so many other disciplines has for so long? Of course it's possible. But it takes substantial intellectual heft to turn a sensation that begins in the nose and mouth into a coherent thought on the way of the world. And I honestly can't think of a single person (be they writer, blogger, or wine critic) who makes any effort to do this.

But wouldn't it be the fascinating and compelling writer that could imbibe a 1985 German Riesling and not only accurately describe its constituent parts as they relate to aroma, taste and texture, but also place the wine in an historic context, discuss its current place in the mode du jour of wine making, and offer some thoughts as to what that mode says about consumers and winemakers alike?

I'll grant that wine is a different kind of objet d'art than film, a play, a musical recording or painting. To begin with, the public uses wine far differently than it does the traditional realms of art. The way we use a film is to stimulate our mind and to pass time. More often than not, the way we use wine is to get drunk, quench our thirst or in an attempt to make something else taste better.

Furthermore, in any given time frame, there are multiple more wines "on the market" than film or dance performances or releases of a collection of music. Wine is in fact a consumer product and it would seem that considering how to review a wine is akin to thinking about how to review a frozen dinner.  But there is something different about wine than a frozen dinner or bar of soap, isn't there. There appears to be something more of a meaning to a wine than to most other consumer products.

Getting at the core of that meaning, putting it in historical context, understanding it in the context of other wines on the market, and being able to deconstruct that core into some larger idea, either cultural or social, is what real wine criticism could be.

I believe the fact that there exists no real attempt at literary wine criticism today means there is a genuine opening for someone daring to truly transform the art of wine criticism into something new, something more substantial or something more intriguing.


45 Responses

  1. fredfric koeppel - April 5, 2010

    Tom: I invite you to read the following post that was on BTYH in July 2009. I think it does exactly what you ask of wine, literary and cultural criticism. Not all of us out here are trying to get away with reviewing a wine by saying that it’s “awesome.”

  2. 1WineDude - April 5, 2010

    Tom – I love ya, but this is bullsh*t.
    There are both on- and off-line writers who try to do exactly what you are describing.
    Doesn’t mean that there isn’t opportunity for more of it, but I would strongly challenge the notion that it’s not being (in some cases successfully) attempted right now.

  3. Benito - April 5, 2010

    There’s a fundamental aspect to wine writing that doesn’t exist with other forms of criticism, namely scarcity. You can write specifically about individual wines for your entire life and never run out of material, because new bottles come out every year. If you write about a fascinating small production wine and only 100 cases were released, and say each person that buys a bottle shares the wine with four friends, 500 people will get to share in your experience, and that’s if there’s substantial overlap between your readers and the purchasers. The problem is even worse with old wines, which can be the most enjoyable from a writing perspective.
    You can write general articles, but eventually you’ll run out of steam. “Why I like Spanish wines”, “Why rosés pair well with food”, etc.
    Write a review of a movie, and people can see it in the theater, rent it, buy it online, watch it on TV, see it on an airplane. Review a new album, and with a few clicks you can listen to a sample online and then purchase the whole thing if you want. Books can be loaned, borrowed from the library, or surreptitiously read in the bookstore. And art criticism–it’s always great to see the original in person, but the real life Mona Lisa is very small and your neck gets tired from staring at the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel. You might actually learn more from photos that accompany a review, or printed reproductions.
    This scarcity issue is something I struggle with at times, and it’s why whenever a friend asks me for a wine recommendation I always keep it general: region and grape, no specific name or year. I don’t know what the inventory is like in my own city much less in other states, and I don’t want to send someone on a wild goose chase for a wine that may no longer exist in a retail environment.

  4. Joshua S Sweeney - April 5, 2010

    Many wine reviewers, as with most music, film, television, art, food, book, magazine, political, and lego statue reviewers, at least make the attempt to give context outside of the reviewed subject itself. There are also the isolated reviewers who only focus on the subject.
    You’ve got an enormous blog roll on that right side. You’re telling me you haven’t witnessed any of that in any of those blogs yet?

  5. Tom Wark - April 5, 2010

    Show me the real, serious literary wine criticism and who is doing it well. My mind is open to being changed.
    P.S. The “i” in BullshIt need not be eviscerated on this blog as long as the word is used in a well-formed sentence.

  6. Tom Wark - April 5, 2010

    Your point about availability and the utility of a review of wine is well taken. However, it needs to be kept in mind that usage of a product isn’t the criteria for enjoying a review or critique of a product. I often take great pleasure in reading book reviews, for example, yet never read the books.

  7. Tom Wark - April 5, 2010

    Rarely. And not as a matter of course.

  8. Thomas Pellechia - April 5, 2010

    Have you considered who or what entity would keep the ideal wine critic (or any critic) in mortgage payments?
    Literary pursuits of all shapes and sizes are being squeezed from our culture; it shows in the way writers are treated both online and in the print media: the former loves free content and the latter has been cutting pay and increasing job descriptions, while cutting jobs, too.

  9. 1WineDude - April 5, 2010

    Tom – we’re of course venturing into subjective opinion here, but wine reviews on and come immediately to mind.
    If your point is that not all of the reviews fit the bill that you’re describing, I’d agree, but I’d challenge the view that *none* of the reviews on those two blogs have ever done it…

  10. Benito - April 5, 2010

    After thinking about it for a while, I think the ephemeral nature of wine might be more significant. Wine and regions change over time. Writing about Greek wines 2000 years ago, 50 years ago, and today is going to provide you with vastly different information, all useful to historians but only one will be of direct benefit to the modern reader. Books, movies, and art don’t necessarily change over time, and even if there’s a new “Director’s Version” it’s still usually possible to enjoy the unspoiled original. Mark Twain’s critique of James Fenimore Cooper is hilarious and relevant today, whereas if he’d written about a specific vintage of wine it would be less useful to a modern audience.
    For this weird, rambling reason, maybe it’s better to look at travel writing for parallels with wine writing rather than the criticism of works of art/literature/film/etc. After all, the time and place at the point of writing both heavily influence the work. A story of a visit to Moscow is going to look wildly different in 1900, 1910, 1920… all the way up to 2010.

  11. Tom Wark - April 5, 2010

    In my view it’s the public’s appetite for the kind of substantial wine criticism that I’m thinking of. However, there is room for literary pursuits where wine is concerned, though like you note this room is small. We are indeed in a time of transition. But quality writing will always be desired by some.

  12. Tom Wark - April 5, 2010

    Utility is an issue. And it seems that most wine criticism IS based on utility to the consumer. However, most literature and most good critical literature isn’t primarily about utility. To get at the kind of wine criticism I’m talking about, I think you need first to move away from the notion of “utility first”. So, a critical essay that focuses on a current vintage of, say, California old vine zin and how it might offer insight into the nature of wine consumption 90 years ago and the changes that consumption patterns and wine style in the interim is surely a possibility.

  13. Marcia - April 5, 2010

    As to your comment to Benito, isn’t utility for the consumer almost always the goal of written criticism? For Wine? Movies? Books? etc.? We read them to get a sense of whether or not we wish to explore the item reviewed ourselves. (I, too, read book reviews I never actually buy or read. The review tells me if I wish to investigate it further.) Indeed, not all vintages/wines reviewed will be available to the reader; a film may not be opening in the town in which you live; a book may not be available at your local store (and/or on Amazon). Surely you must be referring more then to “wine essays” rather than “wine criticism”? While the former are seen less often than the latter, they are out there in print and online. Of course, the quality of the writing plays an enormous part in whether or not the piece has reached a level to address the wine’s greater place in current culture, politics and so on. Those pieces are rarer…but not entirely non-existant.

  14. John Kelly - April 5, 2010

    As I see it, Tom’s point is that there is a difference between review and criticism. Each is useful in a particular context, but I myself am only engaged and entertained by criticism well-done. Honestly, as for review, I don’t care what someone else is drinking, or what they think of it. There is no added value for me in that proposition. It takes a writer with talent, education and experience to frame their personal encounter with a particular wine in a broader context, narrative and worldview in such a way that it is worth my time to read. There are a number of writers who can do this, and they are being paid for it – though as noted above it seems they are fewer and fewer as time passes.
    I believe that there will always be a market for the true critic – people willing to pay them to write well and people willing to pay to read them. But as the cultural embrace of instant punditry and the “wisdom of crowds” grows, I believe the market for real criticism will remain constant – meaning in economic terms that it will shrink.

  15. Thomas Pellechia - April 5, 2010

    I think Marcia has a strong point, Tom.
    Good writing, say the food writing of MFK Fisher that tells fabulous stories while it speaks to the subject of food, is not criticism; it’s literature, and she did it mainly in essay form.
    There have been literary wine writers in the past, and they were literary because they eschewed criticism and told stories instead. There’s a wide gap between literary writing and criticism, and that is so because the former is to stir thinking and the latter is for utilitarian purposes.

  16. Gary Barlettano - April 5, 2010

    I think the main issue is peer review. Regardless of the subject matter, prior to the Internet one did not get published unless there was peer review or “Gatekeepers” as Tom calls them. I think folks just need to be picky about where they draw their info from. Uncritical minds will view criticism and its source uncritically. Critical minds will take a close look at the source and check his/her references and footnotes. It’s kind of like using your college history text as source or simply quoting something from Mr. Peabody and Sherman after a trip in the Wayback Machine. Let the reader beware!

  17. Jeff - April 5, 2010

    It’s a point well-taken, but what you suggest is a level of erudition that most people don’t care to read. I do — Terry Thiese does what you suggest, but most people want to read a soundbite, not a New Yorker article, sad as that may be.
    And, to Thomas’ point, if there was a benefactor, many, many people would be willing to do this as there is a small, albeit, very small place for this level of thinking and discourse around wine.

  18. Steve Heimoff - April 5, 2010

    Gosh, Tom, do you really think it would ever be possible to critique a 1985 German Riesling (or let’s take an American example, e.g. a 1985 Robert Mondavi Cabernet) and critique it in the same way as, e.g. Citizen Kane or The Great Dictator or Birth of a Nation can be (and have been) critiqued as reflections, not just of Hollywood, but America’s perception of itself? I don’t think an individual wine is a strong enough platform to support that! I think generic wine writing can do that, and I’ve tried to do it in my books. But not in an individual wine review. I suppose it could be done. I could write about Harlan at length and get into culture, the wine industry, wine as a commodity, the psychological implcations of colleting, etc. but it would be impractical in a review, which is generally not an extended piece of writing. So there are practical considerations. Now, to say that a wine can’t be reviewed the same way as a movie (or play, or novel) is not to reduce it to a bar of soap! It’s just that wine reviewing is usually a business, and to make it worth doing, the writer has to review lots of wines every day, and you can’t spend hours and hours writing up a single wine.

  19. Mark's Wine Clubs - April 5, 2010

    I think one of the main issues at play here is people’s interaction within the industry. For some, like myself it’s a hard line to draw because although I could probably write about a terrible Gallo wine, what happens if I want to work their assistant winemaker years down the line when they are at a smaller winery? It’s a small enough industry I can understand why someone wouldn’t want to burn bridges or in a bloggers case, lose access to free samples.
    That being said people can always tell what I like because it gets included in my wine club. It brings up the question for everyone on this board, what wine do you actually pay for?

  20. Peter O'Connor - April 5, 2010

    My understanding of Tom’s argument is that there are two basic elements in wine criticism: 1) contextualization of the facts of production: wine consumers ought to know the historical, cultural, geographic and economic inputs that explain a wine’s price, value and profile; 2) wine evaluation: description of color, smell, taste, body, acidity, structure, balance, typicity, and flaw detection.
    And while element #1 is critical to assess “value” and “personal utility”, it is definitely lacking in wine reviews.

  21. KenPayton - April 5, 2010

    Just found the inspiration for next year’s April Fools post. Thanks, Tom.

  22. Charlie Olken - April 5, 2010

    I like the idea of wine criticism as literature, but, frankly, it is of limited value because it would treat wine one wine at a time. Gerald Asher did this kind of writing in the earlier versions of Gourmet and it was great reading. But, it left you with one choice and that was yes or no as regards that wine or that producer.
    I have seen comments on Brooklyn Wine Guy that focus on one wine and tells us the story of the wine, the producer, its use in context at the table. Nice stuff and very pleasant reading.
    Peter O’Connor and some other technocrats like Red Wine Buzz Arthur want all the numeric viscera and contextural viscera analyzed. Nothing wrong with that if one wants wine reviews that run hundreds and hundreds of words that the average punter simply does not care about and would find useless, boring and pedantic. I mean, how much does anyone care about the differences between 15 months in medium toast oak and 20 months in once used barrels with heavily toasted heads. Who really cares about fermentation temperatures or soil type?
    But, I don’t really think that is what Tom Wark is talking about. At least, I hope not. I hope he is talking about the romantic story that lies behind certain wines. Those stories simply cannot be told for every single wine in the kinds of reviews that Steve Heimoff or I or Parker or any of us in the wine review business produce in large numbers. That is a different kind of wine criticism. We do not call our reviews literature–even though I think that articles like my recent encounter with a dozen old Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar Cabs that happens to run 2000 words does go at least part way down the path that I think Mr. Wark wants.
    Most publications manage those stories in one way or another for a limited number of wines and producers. Some articles and some blog posts can go there, and, when they do in limited amounts, it makes fine reading. But it is not a universal requirement for wine criticism. Most reviews in context need only meet the requirement of what it smells and tastes like, its balance, how well it adheres to varietal and provenance expectations, what is aging curve might look like and possibly, especially for recommeneded wines, what foods it might go with.
    There is no such thing as a one size fits all wine review. Context, subject matter, audience all count. And wine is not like books or movies. They do not consume hours of our attention and they do not all need the telling in the kind of detail that a movie review of literary quality requires.

  23. William - April 6, 2010

    It’s truly the rare writer who can take food or wine beyond the typical and into literature. There are so many MFK-wannabes out there who are really spotlighting themselves (hello Alice F) and not the story.
    Most wine drinkers already believe wine writing is too pretentious and you want to make it worse? The wine blogs that try to be “literate” like are mostly obvious but self-important navel-gazing that would never make it past any decent editor, even at the Indianapolis Star. If that’s your idea of improving wine writing for the Net age, I’ll pass.

  24. NR Carlson - April 6, 2010

    I absolutely would love to read more writing about wine that connected the subject with the context of the time, place, people and traditions that shaped it. This is what is fascinating to me about wine – it’s not at its most compelling when one lines up a grotesque blind-tasting dog show to assign numeric scores to a group of wines. Rather, wines are at their best when they trigger memories of distant or familiar places and when one can imagine the world and hands that created them, and when this appreciation can be shared at table with new and old friends.
    My current favorite has been the “Why this Bottle” recurring feature in Edward Behr’s ‘The Art of Eating.’ It covers just one bottle, with context, history, and overviews multiple vintages, generally. Also, I love to buy wines from Kermit Lynch, as the newsletter is informative (and not just of the technical aspects, pH, TA, alc%, etc…; generally a remembrance, comparison to past vintages or similar bottlings..)

  25. Jon Wollenhaupt - April 6, 2010

    There is a fundamental misconception that underlies many of the thoughts here – wine making is not art. Comparing wine writing to art criticism is getting off on the wrong foot from the get-go.
    The growing of wine grapes is an agricultural practice. The making of wine is a commercial process. Yes, some winemakers are vastly more talented than others, but it does not in any sense make them artists.
    The artists’ endeavor is to take from the amorphous realm of feeling that which is most significant in human experience and give it permanence in the form of dance, written word or plastic symbols (painting).
    The wine writer’s work is journalistic; her job is to review commercial products, not that different than reviewing lawn mowers or LCD TVs. As well all know, the successful wine writer is the one who moves product.
    Since wine making is not art, we cannot truly call wine writing and reviewing “criticism” in the literary sense.

  26. Jerry D. Murray - April 6, 2010

    Just a few more thoughts to throw into the intellectual gumbo…
    1). Currently wine reviews, our current state of criticism, serve as the primary means of advertising a wine. Books, movies etc, though criticized are also heavily promoted through other means ( an likely these other means are more important in regards to the SALES of these products). Does this impair the ability of wine criticism to be elevated?
    2). There is an increasing trend that wine critics do not confine thier commentary to the wine before them. They take the additional liberty of making suggestions as to how the wines “should” of been made. Is this a feature of the criticism of other artforms?

  27. Tom Wark - April 6, 2010

    Correct. Wine is not “art”. But this doesn’t mean that the critical discussion of wine or A wine can’t follow a formula set down by many reviewers or critics of the arts. What I love most about the best book, music, theater and art show reviews is how they use the art in question to ponder larger questions: the state of the art, the connection between the art and current politics, the nature of the artists relationship with his audience, the larger message sent by the interpretive framework employed by the artist.
    This can happen with wine and it does sometimes happen.

  28. J. Derrida - April 6, 2010

    To be blunt, the state of literary criticism, art ctiticism, et al is in the toilet these days, and has been for a long time. To get a taste, read
    The Painted Word by Wolfe
    Tenured Radicals by Kimball.
    Wine “critics” do not need to embarass themselves by being even more ridiculous than they already are.

  29. Tom Wark - April 6, 2010

    M. Derrida:
    To that I say, “Pfft!”

  30. J. Derrida - April 6, 2010

    Interesting point.
    Hugh Johnson claims that exceptional wines seem to transcend mere sensual enjoyment, and demand to be appreciated on a higher plane of awareness, for which art is the only appropriate word.
    Interesting debate.

  31. J. Derrida - April 6, 2010

    Nicely done. That is a very Zen-like criticism, much different than the political-type criticism applauded by your previous post.
    Your previous post indicated that valuable criticism focuses on political issues related to the work, not aesthetic experience and not the work itself. Instead, relation of artist to audience, interpretative frameworks, etc etc.

  32. Tom Wark - April 6, 2010

    M. Derrida:
    My “Pfft” was aimed at your suggestion that wine critics are generally “ridiculous”.
    When I mentioned that criticism might focus on political issues it was meant as an example. But of course it also does focus on aesthetic experience and the work itself. Art, of any kind, only has meaning insofar as the receiver imbues it with such. That meaning, the interpretation of the work, is what critics do, among other things.

  33. Tyce Walters - April 6, 2010

    While I agree that wine is not, strictly speaking, art, it can hardly be because wine is a “commercial product.” After all, Hollywood movies are also intended as consumer products, are produced by a large, technically sophisticated group of professionals, and are often made with an eye to profit as much as merit. Yet Hollywood movies occasionally do become high art – and even when they don’t, satisfying, enlightening criticism is frequently written about them. And theatre is necessarily limited in time and in the number of spectators who can consume it. So neither of these reasons can account for any lack of great wine criticism.
    But what Hollywood movies have that wine lacks is an ability to tap into both of the major Western aesthetic paradigms: the Classical representational/mimetic framework, and the Romantic idea of art as a product of an artist’s subjectivity. So wine can neither show us ourselves by illustrating human problems, struggles, etc., nor can it be a conduit for a solitary artist to express his anguish, or hope, or recollections.
    Obviously, wine will never be mimetic (except insofar as it reproduces the scent of strawberries or leather, of course). And so I think any comparison with good film criticism might be ultimately misleading. Instead, music criticism seems a more viable model. Like wine, instrumental music is usually non-representational and appeals to just one or two of the senses, yet is capable of generating a powerful emotional response. Of course, writing truly great music criticism – especially instrumental music where there are no lyrics to provide an easy avenue to commentary – is incredibly difficult. But what do you think? Could wine writing ever attain the level of at least top notch music criticism? Or has it already?

  34. PaulG - April 6, 2010

    Tom, You’ve certainly raised some hackles, mine included. I think you are putting a mighty tight box around what constitutes criticism when you imply that the only way to elevate wine criticism is to compare some ancient auslese with the fall of the Roman empire, or some such stretch. There are dozens of superb wine books in my library that explore the infinite parameters of the subject – historical, artistic, scientific – in depth and detail. Blogging is by its nature limited to bite-size comments. Reviews of individual wines are a sub-genre that should not be expected to take on the grander aspects of the subject. But to dismiss every effort by every wine journalist in the world as not up to the standards of “real” criticism is really painting with a broad brush.

  35. Peter O'Connor - April 6, 2010

    Hegel was, apparently, inclined to agree with Tom’s idea of wine criticism. He wrote: “what is now aroused in us by works [of art] is not just immediate enjoyment but our judgment also, since we subject to our intellectual consideration (i) the content of art and (ii) the work of art’s means of presentation. First a content, an aim, a meaning; and secondly the expression, appearance, and realization of this content. But thirdly, both aspects are so penetrated by one another that the external, the particular, appears exclusively as the presentation of the inner”.

  36. Thomas Pellechia - April 6, 2010

    Did Hegel consider wine a work of art? If not, then it doesn’t apply, does it?

  37. Peter O'Connor - April 6, 2010

    It looks pretty clear to me. But if you’re not convinced, there’s more.
    Arthur Danto wrote: “two necessary conditions emerge as essential to a real definition of art: that an artwork must (a) have meaning and (b) must embody its meaning. When there is the content, and the mode in which it is presented, what more by way of criticism do we need? Greenberg [Clement] was interested in what he called quality. He felt that only someone who had spent a lot of time looking at abstract painting was qualified to pronounce on its possession of quality. It was like getting to know quality in wine, hence the appropriateness of taste. It would have been pointless, for example, for me to have opened un bon bouteille for my father, who invariably dismissed it as horse piss. There is, on the other hand, something silly about wine criticism, as readers of it know, in part because it consists in an inventory of tastes the purchaser is supposed to look for, without any sense of why these tastes make it good or their absence make it bad. But this is because, with wine, it is difficult to think that meaning has a lot to do with its being good or bad”.

  38. Thomas Pellechia - April 6, 2010

    Peter, I’ll take it, then, that you don’t know whether or not Hegel considered wine a work of art. Or was it that my question wasn’t clear to you.

  39. Tone Kelly - April 6, 2010

    There is a publication called Fine Wine – a UK publication that attempts to elevate wine writing to a higher level of discussion. It doesn’t always succeed, but there have been a number of excellent articles on the very nature of wine criticism. A recent article talked about understanding the values that are in the writer’s mind when he or she write about a wine. If you value finesse over power, you will never agree with a critic who values power over finesse.

  40. William - April 6, 2010

    This entire discussion proves my earlier point. Are we going to make wine friendly or elitist? Wine in America has come so far, why muck it up?

  41. Charlie Olken - April 6, 2010

    There is no such thing as one kind of wine criticism. FINE WINE is a great mag, but it is not in the business of separating the wheat from the chaff. One simply cannot discuss the “meaning” of each wine when the subject is hundreds and hundreds of wines tasted in peer-to-peer comparisons. The writing that would ensue from such an endeavor if each wine were reviewed to the same depth as a Tom Stoppard play or Martin Scorcese movie or Frank Gehry building would be so impenetrable by the end of the first review that any reasonable person would walk away and go pick up something from Heimoff or Laube or Parker or the rest of us.
    But, there are places for long essays about one or more wines and while asking them to be of literary quality is a bit much, hoping for a good read is not out of order. I recall Gerald Asher’s earlier work for Gourmet.
    We are not going to turn all wine writing into abstruse, philosophical texts. Wine is not about the metaphysical reality even though some here are describing a kind of writing that meets that impossible test.
    Most wine writing is informative. It is a lot closer to sports writing or the business page. In short, most wine writing consists of reports. And that kind of writing is absorbed by millions of readers in this country. Wine writing as literature will have fewer takers is my guess.

  42. Peter O'Connor - April 7, 2010

    Thomas, I’m sorry. I forgot to say that Arthur C. Danto, “best known as the influential, long-time art critic for the Nation”, is perhaps, America’s greatest authority on Hegel’s aesthetics and philosophy of art.

  43. fredric koeppel - April 7, 2010

    to Mark’s Wine Club: anyone who is reluctant to write negatively because they “don’t want to lose access to free wine” shouldn’t be writing about wine at all.

  44. Thomas Pellechia - April 7, 2010

    Thanks, I am familiar with both people, but I still don’t know if Hegel thought that wine is art.
    Hegel may have been talking about the fine arts in the quote you provided, but we have yet to solve the riddle today whether or not wine is a fine art, science, vocation, or combination of endeavors. Taken to the extremely obnoxious, Coca Cola could be considered art– and I don’t mean a Warhol version–or cooking could be considered art, too.
    I don’t believe that the Hegel quote you provided applies to wine. I’m not sure that I subscribe to the idea that wine is a fine art, but it’s a nice way for humans to think about it, if only to make each of us feel somehow “knowing.”

  45. Mr. Cassandra - May 8, 2010

    I’m reading and commenting pretty late on the topic, but as a newbie to this blog, I’m impressed with the intellection expended, as well as the high hopes and high purpose raised by Mr. Wark. That said — I’ll make a very small contribution – points well known I’m sure to many readers, but a few evergreens, I hope, can be help I hope:
    RE: What is art? — as discussed previously. Now here’s a fecund topic with no final answer (relax Humanities Departments, Marketing Professors, and BoxOfficeMojo – there will be no job destroying Ultimate Final Answer). The traditional chronology traces a generic path from physical or intellectual object from utility, to craft, to craft so exceptional that it can be valued for utility and art, to valued beyond utility to art exclusively. So, sea shanties – ageless workplace chants to help ganged sailors stay in sync for heavy lifting (e.g raising the anchors), moves from ship board to grog shop singing then onto the concert programs of the Royal Naval Academy Chorale. Have the shanties morphed into art, are the officer cadets just honoring the swabies or showing off complex harmonies? Oh who knows for sure, but Royal Navy anchors are now lifted electrically, PhDs get robed parsing shanty origins, and shanty blogs are VERY serious affairs.
    And so to wine: can it not ever be an art object? Well I’d call it so, at the point when I’m paying over $75/bottle, and arguing with my tasting group on its length, and comparisons to last week or last years’ wine.
    Mind, we’re not drinking with dinner, we’re jousting over 5 different bottles, then voting. The utility here is winning the vote, and the fun part I call art. Should my group be captured and forced to speak to the state U. Enology Department, I think we could all sling the aesthetics lingo well enough to win our freedom. Now as to the boutique maker, I’m not sure these second career million/billionaires are concerned with just utility or craft beyond good reviews, and the glow of beating their co-billionaire vintners. I’d guess a few have dreams that a century on the Wine Hall of Fame will call them history making poitphiles. For the Gallo CEO and stockholders, wine sales had better cover costs, and arty-schmarty can go hang. Alas, figuring a maker’s intention will not settle all art vs. utility disputes, ref: Tyce Walters comment on Hollywood movies, and, nuts! that clever money-writer who tortures in high school and astounds in adulthood: Shakespeare. So, let’s all sing a sea shanty, and toast something alcoholic. I sing art, you sing potato. Plus ca change.

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