We choose our bottle with great attention and wait for the best moment to open it. Then we serve it and rotate the glass. Our eyes are closed as we try to recognize all the aromas. Finally we sip a little liquid, concentrating hard. Everything is suspended until the taste sensations finally fade from the back of the mouth and throat.
The wine is delicious. But why so much ceremony for a drink?
It is because we recognize human endeavor in wine - the cooperation between winegrowers and nature, between producer and consumer whilst trying to understand something more in our perception. In this sense, wine can be seen as a piece of art and it our experience of it as “aesthetic”.
When we approach a work of art of any kind a normal glance is not enough to understand it; we have to modify our attention process. As the French philosopher Jean Marie Schaeffer* writes, we need "an over-loaded attentional exploration: we scrutinize the picture, we actively listen to the music, we read the text without skipping a word, aesthetic attention rewards us by giving us a deeper capacity for discrimination (perceptive but also emotive)".
All of the steps taken as we drink a glass of wine, as mentioned previously, are justified therefore as necessary to enjoy its complexity fully.
This mechanism works when applied to honest and authentic wines; that is when we have bottles, labels and producers which describe truthfully the processes of cultivation and winemaking. Each product sends us signals so that we decide to buy it. In this case, Schaeffer explains that the more a signal is "costly" - for example, in terms of the manual work, natural viticulture and winemaking methods without chemical products - the more it conveys positivity and honesty for those who approach and enjoy the product. "The situation is consequently very different from that which occurs with non-costly signals. These are easily simulated”, according to Schaeffer. In wine these can be labels and bottles which are more elaborate than the liquid inside them, aromas obtained through synthetic manipulations and misleading marketing.
In our daily experience, we try to categorize the inputs that we receive from the outside in the most economical way possible ("convergent perception") trying to explain what we perceive through more general and known elements. This attitude changes when we approach a piece of art or a desired wine. The best aesthetic experiences come when we look for the originality and the uniqueness of the artistic artifact, when we let ourselves be surprised by its nuances and unexpected characteristics. The aesthetic experience is even more complete when these "divergent" inputs are framed in a context of fluency, as described by Schaeffer, a coherent, balanced and harmonious context, (or a bottle in our case), that allows us to enjoy the uniqueness of our wine.
While drinking wine we have to take an artistic approach. We have to be curious and open to the unexpected, to embrace complexity. This has a cost, it is tiring, but it allows us a complete and sometimes unforgettable experience.
Obviously, this way of dealing with wine has nothing to do with the whole system of scores and awards issued by the so-called wine experts: gentlemen who catalogue a wine during a tasting of a few seconds, whilst trying to define it, simplify it, reduce it to a number or a medal. As Schaeffer writes, "if art is a costly signal, then any attempt to transform it into a non-costly signal should annul it, destroy it. That is what happens. Consider the example of a literary work. Any attempt to reduce it to a form of economic communication, in this case any attempt to reduce it to its supposed informative content - for example, by summarizing or disambiguating it - supposes destroying it”.
From the moment that wine is judged with the eye of the "expert" there is no aesthetic experience. And so it's important to be careful of people who give such importance to scores, medals, numbers. They forgot all curiosity and enchantment for wine, they are losing the best part.
* Jean Marie Schaeffer's quotes from this article come from "Aesthetic experience: pleasure and knowledge", published in Aesthetics Bulletin n.25, 2013
The illustration on this page is a work by Maria Hergueta