Philosophy and Wine: The issue of objectivity

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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To know the chemical wine composition and its method of vinification is not yet to know how it tastes. To know this, one must experience the wine itself by tasting it. But in tasting a wine are we discovering properties the wine has or just noting our subjective responses to it? And is every response as good any other? Here we have a key philosophical question: how subjective are tastes and tasting? On one view, the only objective knowledge we can have of wine is that provided by scientific analysis: the chemist describes the way the wine is, the wine critic describes the way it tastes. The former is objective, the latter is merely subjective. But are the two unconnected? Winemakers rely on scientific analysis to achieve the flavours they are aiming for, and experienced wine tasters rely on tasting to identify and describe compounds of flavours or aromas that arise from fermentation. For this to be so, wine tasters must draw objective conclusions about a wine from their subjective responses to it, and wine makers must create conditions they hope will produce a certain taste for us. A revised view would be that while tasting is a subjective experience of individual tasters, what we taste, the tannins, or acidity in a wine, are objective properties or characteristics of the wine itself.