Philosophy and Wine: What is meant by ‘fine wine’?

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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A related issue concerns the evaluation of wines and whether there is a clear separation between describing a wine and assessing its quality. Part of this issue is how we should characterize fine wine. From the absence of a definition we should not infer there is no category of fine wine any more than our inability to define ‘chair’ satisfactorily should lead us to conclude that there are no chairs. Criteria for being a fine wine can be given, as when we can say that a fine wine is one whose complex, individual character rewards the interest and attention paid to it, and affords the degree of discrimination we exercise in assessing its qualities and characteristics. But is a fine wine a wine that must be appreciated? Or can experienced wine tasters assess the qualities of a wine without enjoying it? The alternative view is that recognizing a wine’s merits depends on the enjoyment, pleasure, or preferences of the individual taster. The dispute here concerns the ultimate nature of wine tasting and wine appreciation. Do we directly perceive the quality of a wine, or do we assess its quality on the basis of what we first perceive? Tasting seems to involve both perception and judgement. But does the perceptual experience of tasting—which relies on the sensations of touch, taste, and smell—already involve a judgement of a wine’s quality? Is such judgement a matter of interpretation, and if so, does assessment require wine knowledge in order to arrive at a correct verdict?