Philosophy and Wine: A standard of taste?

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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Here we address a question raised by Hume about whether there can be a standard of taste. Hume’s solution was to rely on the excellence of judges or critics who: showed delicacy of judgement; were free from prejudice; could draw on a wide range of experience for comparisons; paid due attention; and were unclouded by mood. These may be prerequisites for accurate tasting but on what basis does such an excellent critic appreciate a truly great wine? An answer to this question can be found in Kant’s account of aesthetic judgement (which he did not himself extend to wine). To claim that a wine is great is not just to judge for oneself alone, but to judge for all. The judgement is made on the basis of pleasure but this is not a claim about what one finds personally pleasant or agreeable. It is a judgement about the pleasure the wine affords anyone suitably equipped to taste it. There is no such thing as a wine that is great for me. In claiming to recognize a great wine, I am claiming something about the wine itself, about how it will (and should) strike others. It is thus a universal claim about the delight all can take in it, and others would be mistaken were they not to judge it so. Kant’s solution does not solve all problems of the objectivity of taste, however. Disagreements about a wine’s qualities are still disagreements amongst ourselves, and not disagreements settled solely by the properties of the wine itself.