Wine and wine criticism

Subjectivity of taste? What is the role of a wine critic? What is criticism? Criticism is from wine!
Subjectivity of taste? What is the role of a wine critic? What is criticism? Criticism is from wine!

Herman U. Ticz, the  decadent dilettante deconstructivist dada dandy of London, was perusing Nature, sipping a fine Château Lafite Rothschild at the Invisible College, a club which happens to be above the Tailor’s West End shop.

He was reading an article about an experiment that attempted to prove that the subjective taste of wine is linked to preconceptions of the wine given by, for example, critics, price and the name the wine itself. A group of people were given an Argentinean red wine, a 2006 Clos de Los Siete Mendoza. A well respected wine critic had given this an exceptional rating of 92 out of 100. The scientists divided the the group into three subgroups: one group who were informed of this rating before drinking, another group who were told (incorrectly) that the critic had given a poorer rating of 60 out of 100, and a final group were not told anything about the wine before drinking. Each group was asked to rate the wine and state how much they would be prepared to pay for it. The first group consistently rated the wine very highly and were prepared to pay the most. The second group was the exact opposite. While the final group provided an average reaction to both questions.

“Bally nonsense!” exclaimed Herman in outrage.

He continued as follows:

0) Contrary to the circumstantial evidence given in the article, the quality of wine is not “subjective” as such. The quality of the wine is a function of the Mind, but the article merely shows that the people, though equipped with the ability to taste (and reason about taste), do not yet have an experience of Mind for wine tasting.

1) There are differences in types, qualities, forms and enjoyment of wine, but the general public (including those irritating poseurs who pretend to know their wine) is largely uneducated: hence a majority never directly experience true enjoyment and knowledge of wine, and instead simply follow blindly recommendations contained within a book espoused by a critic (who is trusted, we must infer, purely based on orthogonal, if not random, properties, e.g., the recommendation of others, the size of his following, his clothing and presentation, etc).

2) Palettes can be educated: but to do this fully, one must look beyond ordinary books to and seek the Clear Wine Guide.

This Heavenly Guide cannot be purchased through Amazon or at Borders or WH Smiths. It is not simply a taxonomy of ratings, as ordinary guides are. The Clear Guide provides the true knowledge of wine — or I should say, of vinology — for in place of a taxonomy of ratings of particular bottles, you will find within this Guide the principles of wine making — the whole process — from the growth of each of the grape varieties, the relationship between earth, sun, season and harvest and the barrel aging process. The Clear Guide might be said to be a Book of Creation, in fact.

Reading even one leaf of this book Book will imbue the subject with an understanding of the “how” of wine: that wine is not a drink but a process. A creative process: there are brands and bottles, styles and types, but the wine expert does not rate them (as was done in this experiment) but traces their relations of influence. Because the History of winemaking, from the Georgians to the Romans, from Old World Bordeaux to New World Barossa Valley, is one of poetic lineage, of an unfolding discourse of influence and competition, geography and culture.

Poetic lineage of colonies: the New World begins in colonial nostalgia for European precursors, but enters into its own when it ceases to imitate — in turn, Europe begins to take on board New World techniques. At a microeconomic scale, consider the rivalry between chateaus, the economics of running a business. At the scale of the solar system, the influence, exploitation, struggle and utilization of sun, earth, seasons and climate change. All these examples, amongst countless other, are genealogies of poetry.

It is this genealogy that marks out all History (tracing the genealogy is not a study of the History of winemaking as such, rather, winemaking is the History of humanity).

And to open the Clear Wine Guide is to grasp this.

The subject will thus taste for the first time, for this comprehension is precisely the nature of True wine tasting. To imbue is to imbibe.

3) The Guide is something you can seek out: by the Grace, we can learn to taste.

But what about wine criticism in general? Clearly there are a great many bogus critics. Are there any genuine critics, you might ask? What are the preconditions for an authentic wine review?

Again, it is better to ask the question in general, because the general solution follows from the specific solution.

Let us ask: what is review and criticism? If there is a Reality of taste, how is it possible to write that Reality down and convey it with authority and authenticity to the general public? How is such a communication possible?

We can give an explanation of is that all criticism and all reviews derive from wine criticism — or rather, through our passing through an archetype, a symbolic function of a certain privileged critic. This pioneering arch-critic should not be properly referred to as an archetype, because his “archetype” is his physical body itself, for he ascended bodily, physically into the abstract meta-metamodel — conceptual space — of wine production. And, by virtue of his state, all criticism became possible (including, retroactively, his own original physical nature as a critic).

The form of the critic became one of wine, so that we might be able to write criticism. To be a good critic, to write an authentic review of anything (from a company audit, a school inspection report to a philosophical treatise on modal logic) is to do so through engaging with the physical-symbolic function of that arch-critic.

In a word, it is to write, understanding that wine flows from my pen, or perhaps, my pen flows from the wine — that wine is source of all my criticism. Given what we have said about wine, this means there is always a tension between creativity of the intoxicant, and simply getting lost and dislocated permanently. These are the dangers of intoxicants and the nature of wine as a sin.

The good drinker, rather than ascending audaciously to the position of the Arch-Critic, will instead be content with milk, understanding their relation to wine as one of generation. The good drinker will comprehend, but stay within one territory: they will not get Historical or Genealogical in the sense that the wine drinker does.

Things are harder for the good critic, who necessarily must drink that wine. He must engage with the Arch Critic first, which comes down to a very primitive and basic thanks to the Divine for providing us with wine. An understanding of the how of wine, and also an appreciation of the why of wine, which leads to the supplication of the visionary. Seen the unseen by Your Subtle Leave. But this is not sufficient for good criticism to be written. Two other forms of knowledge are required of the good critic: it is through understanding of sin, of Law, of repentance and submission on one side and engagement with a creativity that is channelled from the Light … through that diamond dialectic that the wine drinker has some chance of being saved.


3 thoughts on “Wine and wine criticism

  1. What do they know about wine, they who have not drained the cup to its lees? And “what is their opinion in their cups, those who have said that wine is an abomination?” The people of the tavern have no time for the critic, who uses his mind to discriminate and compare a thousand types of wine, but spits out his wine after tasting it. For it is of the essence of wine to bewilder the mind. And it is for that reason we beg the cupbearer to pour yet another draught.

    Muhammad offered his guests milk, echoing the abundance offered to the Israelites in the form of ‘a land flowing with milk and honey’. Yet Taqi ibn Muqallad, having dreamt of drinking this milk, vomited it up to prove his experience ‘real’, thus losing its real value.

    Jesus, on the other hand, offered his guests wine – transforming fresh water into wine for this purpose. And he will offer wine again, having promised: “I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom”.

    When my friend takes the wine-cup in hand.
    The market of the idols is bankrupted.

    I have fallen abjectly at his feet,
    May it be that he lifts me up.

    Like a fish I am fallen into the sea,
    That the friend might hook me.

    Everyone who saw his eye said,
    “Where’s the policeman to arrest the drunk?”

    Happy the heart of him who, like Hafiz,
    Takes a bowl of the wine of the First Covenant!

  2. “The people of the tavern have no time for the critic, who uses his mind to discriminate and compare a thousand types of wine, but spits out his wine after tasting it.”

    I like it 🙂

    James, I don’t know if you subscribe to SWB, but there is an interesting discussion going on there regarding the prohibition of Wine in Islam and for the Nazirite vow. I am interested to know your opinion on why John, for example, following the Nazirite vow, does not drink of Wine, whereas Jesus produces it from Water?

    Love and Light,


  3. Musa

    It was my impression that wine was not forbidden in Islam – only ‘fermented date liquor’. But of course ‘wine’ for the Sufis is not an alcoholic beverage made from the pressing of grapes, no matter how great the vintage.

    At the same time, though, the use of words such as ‘wine’, ‘cupbearer’ and ‘drunkenness’ is not purely metaphorical either. I have seen how the presence of the master makes people ‘drunk’: how it dulls the mind, enlivens the sensibilities, and has people ‘sleeping it off’ until midday. And I have to confess myself to be an unrepentant toper.

    ‘Water’, ‘Wine’ and ‘Milk’ have different significations. Moses, for instance, strikes the rock with his staff and causes a spring to gush forth. Water washes away, and it also falls from the heavens giving life to the ‘dead earth’ (as in Qur’an 16:65). But at Cana Jesus turns water to wine – this is his first miracle – and it is deeply significant. As is the offering of wine in the last supper: Jesus’ mission is thus described by an arc of wine, and it is a very frequent image in his discourse. For Muhammad, milk is divine knowledge, and perhaps the most potent image is that which I mentioned previously, of Taqi ibn Muqallad, which Ibn al-‘Arabi discusses in the chapter of the Fusus entitled ‘The Wisdom of the Imagination in the Word of Joseph’.

    What might it mean that John does not drink wine, and Jesus does? John’s baptism was with water, but he indicates that he who will come afterwards will baptise with ‘Sspirit and fire’. These are stages that every traveller on a way of Truth must pass, and when one is at the stage of water, one must drink water.

    At one of the stopping places of the Mi’raj, the Prophet Muhammad was offered water, wine and milk. He chose milk. Jibrail said to him: “O Messenger of Allah you chose the best drink. Had you chosen water, your followers would have drowned. Had you chosen wine your followers would have gone astray.”

    Milk was the appropriate choice for the Muhammadan Ummah. But when Jesus comes to seal the age, he will serve the ‘new wine’ of the Kingdom.

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