The Death of Sir Roger Scruton and a Unique Wine Voice

The British philosopher Sir Roger Scruton has died. He was best known for his defense of conservatism and his consideration of aesthetics. Scruton was also a well-known wine lover and with his demise goes his unique defense of wine that looks like this:

“The social drinking of wine, during or after a meal, and in full cognizance of its delicate taste and evocative aura, seldom leads to drunkenness, and yet more seldom to loutish behavior. The drink problem that we witness in British cities stems from our inability to pay Bacchus his due. Thanks to cultural impoverishment, young people no longer have a repertoire of songs, poems, arguments or ideas with which to entertain one another in their cups. They drink to fill the moral vacuum generated by their culture, and while we are familiar with the adverse effect of drink on an empty stomach, we are now witnessing the far worse effect of drink on an empty mind.”

Scruton wrote a wine column for the New Statesman. The basis of Scruton’s approach to and relationship with wine was the drink’s connection to place and culture. He was a terroirist:

“Unlike every other product that is now manufactured for the table, wine exists in as many varieties as there are people who produce it. Variations in technique, climate, grape, soil and culture ensure that wine is, to the ordinary drinker, the most unpredictable of drinks, and to the connoisseur the most intricately informative, responsing to its origins like a game of chess to its opening move.”

Scruton was also dismissive of most New World wines, probably more out of ignorance than any serious study. As for American wines and the American wine industry I don’t think he knew what to make of them. But reading his thoughts on them was always entertaining:

“Take a visit to Majestic Wine Warehouse – always a good place to begin – and try the low-priced Montgomery Creek Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. These are the wines of Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat, rough, cheerful, earthy potions that wash away the spins of the world and show it like it is. They taste of the free economy, of gross pleasures and of a society that does not like to bear a grudge. There may be no peasants in America, but this wine tells you that peasant attitudes flourish there more vitally than in most places round the world.”

Where writing about wine is concerned, Scruton was a unicorn; a throwback; a romantic; a unique voice due largely to wine playing second or third or fourth fiddle to his devotion to ideas. I very much wish there were more voices in wine like Scruton.

The best way to investigate Scruton’s wine writing is his book “I Think Therefore I am: A Philosopher’s Guide to Wine.

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3 Responses

  1. Jim Ruxin - January 13, 2020

    Hew was certainly a good writer, and your observations about his American wine knowledge correct. I never thought of our American tastes as “peasant” (except in the choice of the current President). That was something new to chew on.

    His conservatism shows in the culture war he wages in your first quote, but in this area I have to agree with him. Why ruin a good drink with foul, misguided thoughts from another century see the world retro-actively instead of realistically?

  2. Jim Ruxin - January 13, 2020

    He was certainly a good writer, and your observations about his American wine knowledge correct. I never thought of our American tastes as “peasant” (except in the choice of the current President). That was something new to chew on.

    His conservatism shows in the culture war he wages in your first quote, but in this area I have to agree with him. Why ruin a good drink with foul, misguided thoughts from another century see the world retro-actively instead of realistically?

  3. Al Scheid - January 14, 2020

    Tom,
    One of your best. Scruton was a fine writer and thinker. I did the ‘open the book’ thing at the Amazon site and read all they gave me. Excellent. I especially liked the things he said about the do-gooders of society who revel in telling us how to live – and passing laws (especially in California) to make us live their way. CA’s law outlawing foie gras is a good one – to protect us, or geese.
    Thanks for a great blog – I sent it to a number of friends who are not in the wine biz.


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