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Questions of Taste: The philosophy of wine (March 14, 2008)

book review
by Dean Tudor

Questions of Taste: The philosophy of wine (Oxford University Press, 2007, 222 pages, ISBN 978-0-19-533146-2, $34.95 hard covers) has been edited by Barry C. Smith, an academic who teaches philosophy at the University of London. It is a collection of 10 essays, by different people, dealing with the philosophical issues of tasting wine.

Each contributor has something to say about how we taste wine, based on the quotation from Voltaire, "Taste invites reflection." It obviously sets us apart from any other living creature, that is, the ability to discuss merits.

The essays are based on the proceedings of an international conference entitled "Philosophy and Wine: from science to subjectivity," held in December 2004 at the University of London. This makes it all scholarly, with end notes and bibliographies for further reading. It is meant for the serious wine consumer, especially the ones who read about wine.

Five philosophers, a linguist, a biochemist, a winemaker (Paul Draper, who got his college degree in philosophy), and a wine writer (Andrew Jefford) try to illuminate the philosophical issues surrounding a love of wine, always returning to the initial "why?" Questions posed include:

  • Can wines be brawny? (reflections on wine vocabulary by Adrienne Lehrer)
  • What good is knowledge in enjoying wine? (Kent Bach)
  • Does a wine expert enjoy wine more than a novice does?
  • How much should we care about what experts say about wine?

This is not an easy book to read; it is a bit turgid in places.

Audience and level of use: for philosophers, for advanced wine consumers.
Some interesting or unusual facts: Well, there is a famous quote that brings us down to earth: "What's all the fuss about wine? It's just a bloody drink."
The downside to this book: Jancis Robinson's name was prominent on this book, yet she wrote only a three-paragraph foreword (and one of the paragraphs is used as a logroller on the dust jacket). Editor Smith had previously written the "Wine and Philosophy" article for Robinson's Companion to Wine (2006), also published by Oxford. Hmmmmm...
The upside to this book: a great read on the experience of enjoying wine. Try to read it with a glass of great red wine next to you.
Quality/Price Rating: 90

 

 

 

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