Philosophy and Literature 23 (1999): 17-31.

 

Alice's Discriminating Palate

Kevin W. Sweeney

 

Frustrated at not being able to follow the White Rabbit through the tiny door into the garden, Alice picks up a "little bottle" labeled "Drink me." She, in Lewis Carroll's words, "ventured to taste it, and, finding it very nice (it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pineapple, roast turkey, toffy, and hot buttered toast), she very soon finished it off." 1 A drink with such an unusual assortment of flavors might strike some as fanciful, although perhaps no more bizarre than other things in Wonderland. Yet Alice's report, I say this with a smile, sounds like a fairly accurate evaluative description of a distinctive style of white wine--a high-extract, large-format Chardonnay, probably a Grand Cru white Burgundy such as a Corton-Charlemagne.

Nevertheless, some might object that the terms used to describe what Alice tastes (pineapple, toffy, etc.) sound more like idiosyncratic associations than accurate positive descriptions. Wine rarely contains pineapple juice or toffy. In other areas of criticism, idiosyncratic association is usually warrant for discrediting the objective basis of a critical evaluation. Claiming that a portrait is a good painting because it reminds me of my grandfather condemns the judgment to being no more than a subjective preference. If wine tasting as an aesthetic practice is based upon fanciful associations, regularly using terms such as Lewis Carroll introduces, then it would seem to be open to a similar charge of subjectivity. Thus, there is a philosophical point to Carroll's description of Alice's "little bottle." By presenting a defamiliarizing description of what Alice tastes, Carroll draws attention to the seemingly idiosyncratic character of aesthetic encounters with the gustatory. In so doing, he raises the philosophical issue of the grounds for making objective critical judgments about what we taste, particularly about wine.

The extraordinary vocabulary of wine tasting has provoked suspicion in both popular and philosophical circles for centuries. In Hume's famous example taken from Don Quixote, Sancho's kinsmen are mocked not only because they offer differing evaluations of the wine. 2 They are also, I suggest, laughed at because the tastes of leather and iron are seen as the subjective associations of pseudo-experts. While "leather" and "metal" are not unusual terms in the lexicon of wine tasting, to those initially ridiculing the kinsmen's judgments, such terms seem to be no more than private associations. 3 Of course, the kinsmen show up their mockers once the key with the leathern thong is found; however, in the Wonderland example, the issue remains of what would count as supporting a judgment ascribing seemingly idiosyncratic tastes such as "roast turkey" or "hot-buttered toast" to a wine--that is, in the absence of a soggy turkey sandwich at the bottom of the wine barrel.

At one time, philosophical reflection on our valuative experience of food and wine played a central role in philosophical aesthetics. In the eighteenth century, many theorists held that our critical appreciation of the arts and Nature was metaphorically based on gustatory experience. Critical judgment, referred to as "fine taste," was modeled upon a fundamental characteristic of alimentation, the valuational nature of gustation. The hedonic assessment of eating and drinking--gustatory acquaintance conceived as the relishing of flavors, as pleasurably responding to the qualities of what we ingest--was considered the metaphorical basis for all critical appreciation.

In Spectator #409, Joseph Addison draws attention to the "very great Conformity between that Mental Taste . . . and that Sensitive Taste which gives us a Relish of every different Flavour that affects the Palate." 4 Voltaire, in his article on "Taste" in Diderot and D'Alembert's Encyclopédie (1757), also metaphorically links gustatory relish with critical experience. This metaphorical taste, he claims,

is a quick discernment, a sudden perception, which, like the sensation of the palate, anticipates reflection; like the palate, it relishes what is good with an exquisite and voluptuous sensibility, and rejects the contrary with loathing and disgust; like the palate also, it is often doubtful, and, as it were bewildered, not knowing whether it should relish or reject certain objects; and frequently requires the influence of habit to give it a fixed and uniform determination. 5

Voltaire is claiming that gustatory taste is more than just a discerning of evaluative quality. Our alimentary acquaintance has a valuational character, a hedonic response that occurs immediately on stimulus contact, prior to our reflecting on the warrant for any gustatory evaluation. Rather than valuing what we ingest after the fact, we taste and in so doing we hedonically respond as the valuative component of our tasting experience. 6 Our pleasure is the test we use for evaluation: what we ingest is good to the extent that we are pleasurably stimulated. Nevertheless, as Voltaire points out, the palate can also be unsure or "bewildered." While we are inclined to react pleasurably or displeasurably to what we ingest, some foods take some getting used to in order for us to acquire "a taste" for them. At first, coffee or spicy foods can seem peculiar; habit or training is needed to give our palate "a fixed and uniform determination" or preference for them.

While eighteenth-century theories of critical taste promoted the view that critical appreciation is metaphorically based on gustation, they did not overcome the skeptical view that critical taste is aesthetically idio-syncratic or subjective. Two tenets of Voltaire's account clearly encourage this subjective perspective. First, since our hedonic response is immediate, anticipating reflection, it precedes any cognitive scrutiny other than the immediate discernment that we like or dislike what we have ingested. Taste, on Voltaire's account, is naturally non-cognitive. Second, if when tasting we are bewildered as to the pleasurable nature of what we have ingested, we depend upon habit or training to change or develop our valuative response. Thus, taste is considered resistant to rational or argumentative influence. 7 Since these "non-cognitive" and "habitual" tenets also lie behind some of the skeptical challenges to the objectivity of wine tasting, let me discuss them in a little more detail.

(1) The Non-Cognitive Pleasure of Taste. Although, according to Voltaire, the pleasures of taste are naturally inclined to occur prior to reflection, our experiences of taste need not always conform to this restricted model. There is room for a continuous cognitive investigation of what we ingest. In their discussion of critical taste, both Kant and Alison distinguished simple sensory pleasures from those more complex pleasures which involve our cognitive and imaginative faculties: Kant considered the extended free play of our imagination that occurs in aesthetic experience to be a cognitive pleasure, and Alison separated delight with its more complex train of emotional associations from the pleasures of simple sensory stimulation. 8 One would be urging too restrictive a position to deny that at least some of our gustatory experiences could be the focus of a cognitive investigation. Sometimes, we take cognitive "delight" in what we ingest, such as when we sense a variety of tastes, the relationships among those tastes, and the evolution or emergence of further tastes from earlier ones. Other times, perhaps too often in our busy schedules, tasting is a matter of placing food in one's mouth and quickly reacting to it as we chew and swallow. On such occasions we show little interest in the pleasures of the palate. The hasty nature of those occasions seems to inhibit or derail our valuational investigation of what we ingest. Nevertheless, we do not have to respond in such a limited way, especially if we ingest food or drink that has been prepared for our critical scrutiny and pleasure.

Even granting that we always respond immediately to what we ingest, that does not preclude our further exploring nuances of flavor as they develop on the palate. In the light of such explorations, we might even change our mind about what we first tasted. For example, further reflection might convince us that a wine that at first seemed to lack intensity is actually subtle and complex. Or, we might decide that a wine that we initially liked because of its intensity now strikes us as one-dimensional or over-bearing and lacking in complexity or evolution.

(2) The Non-Argumentative Nature of Taste. There is an initial credence to holding that taste resists rational persuasion and does not respond to argument. When one is trying to encourage five-year old Billy to eat and enjoy his spinach, arguments that highlight the vegetable's flavor, or even its nutritional value, will almost certainly have little immediate effect in persuading Billy to abandon his disgust for spinach. We do not acknowledge the goodness of foods, Kant insists, solely because we rationally assent to arguments (CJ, p.148). The 1948 Taylor Vintage Port that the novice tastes and pronounces strange, strong, and syrupy is not transformed into a great wine of tremendous fruit, complexity, and length by the testimonials of experts who are distrusted in the first place. Nevertheless, we can and do change our preferences, amend our judgments, and develop an expanded appreciation of what we ingest on the basis of critical commentary. Gustatory aesthetic education is possible, especially for wine tasting, if one follows a program of tasting that calls attention to the various qualities of what one ingests and encourages one to sense these qualities in contexts of larger wholes.

In addition to these two points, other reasons for the popular view that judgments about gustatory experiences are subjective or idiosyncratic derive from the special nature of our alimentary experience. Although we pour our glasses from the same bottle, we taste what we ingest within the salivary medium of our own respective bodies. This internal and mediated nature of gustatory sensing is held to affect the range and valuative character of the qualities experienced, creating special problems for objective critical appreciation. Consequently, what we taste is held to be the private object of the taster's experience, and hence something for personal valuation, rather than a common object for mutual discriminating judgment.

The view that taste involves the assessment of a private object lends credence to the commonplace view that the taster is the final arbiter of his or her own gustatory experience, that taste is a subjective experience. If each mouthful that one ingests is a private object, and if one responds to it as either agreeable or disagreeable, then the taster cannot be mistaken in assessing what is ingested. There can be no rational disagreement between tasters about the assessment of what is gustatorily experienced. Kant gives the example of a difference of opinion about the agreeableness of "canary wine" as a primary example of a subjective disagreement. "It would be foolish," he claims, "if we disputed about such differences with the intention of censuring another's judgment as incorrect if it differs from ours, as if the two were opposed logically" (CJ, p.55).

Because of the imputed subjective authority of the taster, gustatory discriminations are also thought to be highly influenced by the taster's private associations. One's past experiences, even one's imagined experiences, are thought to influence current assessments and preferences. These associations often have a hedonic character. They often strike one as having a pleasing or displeasing quality and are taken to influence one's assessment because of that quality. One of the few checks or limits placed on what the subjective taster considers relevant in assessing gustatory experience is hedonic agreement: a very negative association would usually not accompany a positive evaluation. Assessments usually only recognize hedonically similar earlier associations. Nevertheless, the basis for recognizing agreeableness in both cases is the arbitrary decision of the taster. Thus, for the subjectivist, descriptions of tasting experiences such as appear in Alice's report reflect the idiosyncratic associations that often influence the assessments of what we ingest.

While I believe that aesthetic subjectivism about what we taste is mistaken--it is as mistaken as subjectivism about aesthetic objects of other sensory modalities--nevertheless, there is an important issue posed by Lewis Carroll's description of Alice's tasting. What is the nature of these extraordinary qualities mentioned by Lewis Carroll and routinely used to describe wines? What role do they play in critical experience? Are they, in fact, nothing more than a taster's arbitrary associations, having little role to play in illuminating or critically assessing what we ingest? Or, do they serve a legitimate critical function in the description and assessment of wine?

Despite the fact that we taste wine within our own bodies, specific qualities of taste are rather difficult for most people to distinguish as separate identifiable qualities. Instead, tasters have found it easier to identify qualities by noting their resemblance to the qualities that are salient or dominant in other tasting experiences. The dominant or salient taste one has when eating pineapple will be used as a benchmark quality to help identify a similar distinctive fruity taste in a wine.

These terms will also be used to refer to several different aspects of a wine's taste, collecting them together as a distinctive taste. These terms give the taster some guide to, or reflect a judgment about, the structure and gustatory evolution of the wine. Labels for tasting qualities such as those Alice notices strike some as idiosyncratic because they are not understood as referring to a wine's ordered structure of experience. They seem to be random associations rather than pointing out a coherent set of qualities that form an evolving experience. What the novice or skeptical taster needs in order to understand the role of these terms is an aesthetic model of wine as a gustatory experience. This model will challenge the view that one's gustatory experience with wine is a set of random associations. Instead, the model should provide a contextual framework for identifying and ordering the qualities sensed in a wine, giving them a coherence and structural identity. Such a structure would tend to discourage identifying these qualities as idiosyncratic because it would show that these qualities fit together in a stylistically unified way.

Some aestheticians have denied that tastes can form ordered aesthetic structures. In so doing they have implicitly disputed the existence of gustatory models that would encourage approaching wine tasting as a cognitive aesthetic experience. For example, D. W. Prall identifies tastes as elemental aesthetic qualities that are "not amenable to composition through intrinsically established orders." 9 Although Prall stresses that tastes and scents are aesthetic qualities, they do not, he insists, combine into larger complex wholes. He claims:

Cooks and perfumers are in their way refined and sensitive artists, as tea-tasters and wine-tasters are expert critical judges. But such art and such criticism have no intelligible, or at least so far discovered, structural or critical principles, simply because the elements they work with have neither intelligible structure nor apparently any discoverable order in variation. (AeJ, p. 99)

Monroe Beardsley also denies that scents and tastes can form larger aesthetic complexes. He claims that "we cannot, at least not yet, arrange them [scents and tastes] in series, and so we cannot work out constructive principles to make larger works out of them . . . there does not seem to be enough order within these sensory fields to construct aesthetic objects with balance, climax, development, or pattern." 10 This resistance to allowing that tastes can be experienced in larger, ordered, aesthetic wholes lends support to holding that wine tasting is a subjective experience. Those like me who urge that wine tasting be considered a cognitive aesthetic practice, should provide those skeptical of such a cognitive identity for wine tasting with a structural model of the wine-tasting experience. This model would show how the tastes of wine can form an ordered, complex aesthetic object, one capable of having "balance, climax, development or pattern."

In the case of visual arts and music, there are stylistic models which establish protocols for how one should experience particular sorts of paintings or musical pieces. These models need not prescribe a temporal structure for that experience. They might take the form of an analyzed paradigm: A critic's discussion of what is rich and rewarding about Picasso's Ma Jolie can serve as an instructive basis for looking at other Analytic Cubist paintings. Nevertheless, a structural model can show one how to organize or coordinate temporally one's aesthetic experience; familiarity with a formal musical structure such as sonata allegro form can guide how one listens to a Haydn symphony. Although comparable models for tasting wine exist, the skeptic tends to ignore their importance, thinking perhaps that they are only personal testimonials intended to prescribe a general form for such a personal activity as drinking wine.

A structural model for wine tasting is critically useful because it aids in our learning where on the palate (i.e., at what point, or points, in the temporal process of ingesting and swallowing the wine) certain aesthetic qualities are likely to appear. Merely being told that a wine has certain critically interesting features is of limited value if one lacks a gustatory "map" of where on the palate those features will appear. One can hear that one wine has tastes of flint, another of tar or violets (or even pineapple, roast turkey and hot buttered toast), and still another has an extended middle range or a long finish. However, such listing of qualities or features is of limited value to one who is doubtful of the vocabulary, thinks the terms are personal associations, and does not know where on the palate to search for these terms' referents. Familiarity with a structural model of wine tasting assists in promoting access to these reported qualities by alerting one where and how to search for the features. Of course, becoming familiar with the model takes time. Developing one's palate takes practice, as does developing one's eye with painting or one's ear with music, a sign that all three require certain cognitive skills of discrimination and synthetic ordering and assemblage. 11

To emphasize the importance of having such models for the aesthetic appreciation of wine, I would like to sketch out two prototypical models, a provisional and an amended one. As an aesthetic encounter, wine tasting occurs within certain functional, physiological parameters. The sequence and stages of sensing the wine, the process of appreciatively looking at, smelling, ingesting and swallowing the wine, provide the overall form and structural organization of the aesthetic experience. All of a wine's sensed properties (the tastes as well as the visual, olfactory and tactile qualities) are referred to as the organoleptic qualities of the wine. One senses these organoleptic qualities singly or in combination, with one or more sensory modality, and at various stages of the alimentary process. For example, while one senses basic tastes such as sweet and sour on one's tongue, sensing many other gustatory qualities depends also upon an olfactory acquaintance. 12 We tend to project these olfactory qualities onto what we think we are tasting.

This olfactory projection of smells onto tastes lies behind some of the seemingly strange vocabulary of wine tasting. Terms seeming to introduce subjective or idiosyncratic associations often denote these projected qualities that are smelled but appear to be tasted. Part of their value is to encourage the taster to develop a greater olfactory acquaintance with the wine. By being aware of the existence of these projected qualities, the taster will be more likely to anticipate and search for them. In the case of qualities such as "roast turkey" or "hot buttered toast," qualities that have this projected olfactory character, one needs to taste in a way that allows volatile parts of the wine to vaporize, so that one can smell and allow the quality to be projected as a flavor. It is because of these functional requirements of the tasting experience that wine tasting depends on temporal, structural models. They prescribe the form within which one identifies the elements and recognizes the aesthetic character of the wine.

Here then is a provisional model for tasting wine. The model, which can be found sketched in Brillat-Savarin's classic The Physiology of Taste (1825), will appear familiar to those acquainted with Deweyan and Beardsleyan formal accounts of aesthetic experience. 13 It recommends wine tasting as a controlled and structured aesthetic activity, and urges identifying aesthetic elements and larger structural units by their sequential place on the palate. This provisional model emphasizes the stages at which what we ingest reaches the sites of the various taste receptors and olfactory sensors that form the material basis of our palate. Proposed is the view that the gustatory experience of wine tasting is divided into three major stages: the initial or attack stage, the middle range, and the finish or aftertaste.

According to this theory, the four primary tastes encountered on the palate (sweet, acid, salty and bitter) all have their receptors on different parts of the palate. 14 Because sweetness is sensed in the initial experience of tasting, on the front of the tongue, the attack focuses on the wine's range of sweet or fruity qualities. Along with sweet sensors, the receptors for acidity are engaged. Having registered the initial fruitiness of a wine, one tastes to see if a balancing acidity emerges, preserving the sweetness as a lively and evolving taste. Lack of acidity will render the wine dull and flabby; too much acidity will overwhelm and obscure the developing tastes. Wines which are flabby, those that lack the compensating acidity, would be considered faulty wines. Sensing the balance between sweet and acid comprises the initial third of the tasting. It is the simplest part of the experiencing, typically lasting between two and three seconds. 15

In the middle range, the next sequence in the tasting process, bitter qualities, usually sensed on the back of the tongue, come into play, allowing for the possibility of an expansion of flavors and a heightened impression of complexity. Mineral qualities like flintiness and vegetal qualities like olive are examples. During this second stage, a broad range of olfactory elements of the wine are also engaged. Prior even to the first sip, tasting the wine actually begins with one's sniffing the wine trying to gauge the wine's fruity aromas or time-induced bouquet. Throughout the attack and into the middle range, our olfactory relationship with the wine sets up expectations about its further evolution. As mentioned earlier, a considerable amount of what we sense as taste is a compound experience of taste and smell, usually referred to as an experience of a flavor. 16 One can at this stage try to develop a greater sense of the wine's flavor by allowing the wine to vaporize and affect one's olfactory receptors. This process will also occur when one swallows, letting volatile parts of the wine be drawn up into the retronasal passages, and further developing the evolutionary impression of the wine. For example, in the case of tasting young Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine's initial blackcurrent fruitiness might give way to astringent qualities of cedar or even green olive. An evolving and increasing impression of complexity is a mark of quality. Lack of such aesthetic complexity is considered a defect in the wine. Having a short middle range, or even no middle-range, also counts against the wine. According to California wine educators Amerine and Singleton, "quality in wine is associated with complexity." 17

Finally, after one has swallowed, one enters the last third of the process, the finish or aftertaste. The evolution of flavor will continue for good wines. A finish can last from a few seconds or linger for thirty seconds or a minute or even longer. 18 During this stage, various overtones of the wine's qualities will emerge and develop. At this point, the taster has an opportunity to gauge the unity of the wine's sensory trajectory. On the Brillat-Savarin or provisional model, a wine's sensory structure is often assessed in terms of a hierarchical organization recalling Dewey's aesthetic model of an experience. The finish should have a unifying effect on the whole experience. If a wine presents itself to the palate with an initial lively and fruity acidity, followed by increased complexity in the middle range, only to cease abruptly and unexpectedly in the finish, the wine will lack structural unity. Off-tastes in the finish that check or drown out the evolution of the wine's emerging identity will also be considered faults or defects.

This tripartite model of tasting lays the groundwork for the evaluation of wines based on a formally related, unfolding structure; its criteria for success recall Beardsleyan aesthetic principles of intensity, complexity and unity. Although it is an established and frequently used model for wine appreciation, I nevertheless consider it provisional because its unitary focus promotes a single process of tasting for all wines. The functional parameters are held to elicit a single set of valuative criteria. In so doing, this unitary model does not distinguish alternative valuational criteria based on stylistic and structural differences in wines, differences that have historically evolved in different cultures and viticultural areas. Patterns of faults and virtues need to be identified in terms of these stylistic and cultural precedents, taking into consideration the specific kind of wine being evaluated.

As Emile Peynaud points out, "the smell of green olives, of new mown hay, or creosote" can be considered faults in some styles of winemaking, positive features in other styles (p. 57). The herbaceous, grassy nose of a Loire Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre would be considered a fault in a Sauvignon Blanc from California that is made in a style accenting that grape's ripe fig and melon qualities. The huge complex structure and final bitter aftertaste of a twenty-year-old Italian Amarone would certainly be at odds with the floral perfume and simpler fresh fruity acidity of a recent Beaujolais from Chiroubles. Even the tang of acetic acid, that vinegar-sourness, whose noticeable presence in any Californian Chardonnay would condemn the wine as defective, has a recognized role in those artisan-crafted Italian Barolos whose extravagantly complex middle ranges provoke flavors of wood, tobacco, tar, and violets.

The Brillat-Savarin theory's emphasis on receptor site specificity and a single trajectory for a tasting's sensory impressions has also recently come under criticism. The provisional model encourages a single temporal line of sensory impressions based on when in the process the impressions are received. Sweet or fruity qualities are sensed first because the receptors for sweetness, it was believed, are on the front of the tongue. Acidity is sensed next because those receptors are found on the sides and underneath the tongue. Bitter qualities are sensed still later because those qualities are sensed in the back of the mouth. One's sensory impressions should follow the wine's progressive arrival at these different sensory receptors.

Recent research on the physiological processing of gustatory stimuli, however, indicates that this site-specific account is mistaken. Rather than specializing in one particular taste (e.g., sweet), taste receptors can respond to the variety of taste stimuli. Concentration of a specific stimulus seems to have more to do with causing the order of a taste's sensed impression. The varying combinations of these material stimuli would then seem to produce differing orders and structures of sensory experience. Thus, the single sensory trajectory aspect of the provisional model needs to be replaced by a model that recognizes the possibility of different styles of wine with respectively different sensory orders. 19

Thus the Brillat-Savarin model should be amended to recognize the patterns of sensory difference that identify different styles of wine. In this respect, wine is no different from other cultural artifacts that attract aesthetic interest. A single visual aesthetic model for appreciating all painting would have extremely limited value as a guide to the myriad styles of painting chronicled in the world's art history. Pre-modernist, modernist and postmodernist paintings resist being equally accommodated by such a unitary model. However, the amended model (the Peynaud model) allows that being familiar with the paradigmatic, stylistic structures of various kinds of wine assists in identifying and appreciating the range of elements relevant to those structures. There are still functional parameters to tasting, but the organization and grouping of kinds of qualities depend upon various stylistic precedents.

In conclusion, my argument against aesthetic subjectivism with respect to wine tasting is directed specifically against the skeptical argument that tastes in wine are subjective because the elements of that experience are identified by idiosyncratic association and ordered on a non-cognitive or whimsical basis. 20 Structural models of wine tasting counter the subjectivist's position by urging that what appear to be idiosyncratic associations, to the extent that they are objective qualities, have a functional origin in the tasting experience. The ordered collection of qualities also depends upon functional parameters and stylistic precedents.

With an amended (Peynaud) model of wine tasting in mind, one which would allow a paradigm for a large-styled white Burgundy and the relevant flavors for that style, Lewis Carroll's initially puzzling description loses its fanciful character. First, he calls attention to the wine's fruit and acidity (the reference to a cherry tart), noting that the wine is not flabby, a hazard for large-styled Chardonnays. 21 Carroll then goes on to identify complex flavors associated with such heavy-extracted, ripe, high-glycerin and pronounced-alcoholic Chardonnays traditionally produced in Burgundy and lately in California. Qualities such as custard, pineapple, roast turkey, toffy and hot buttered toast are all commonly identifiable, middle range, projected features of this particular style of wine. As flavors, they also point to a complex evolution to the wine. So, while I am amazed that Alice would have developed enough of a palate to identify these features, I only wish she had evaluated the bottle a little more glowingly than just to say it was "very nice." But, perhaps that is simply her own inimitable habit of understatement.

University of Tampa

Notes

1. Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865; rpt. New York: Random House, 1946), p. 10.

2. David Hume, "Of the Standard of Taste" (1757), Essays, Moral, Political, And Literary, ed. Eugene F. Miller (Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1987), pp. 226-49.

3. For an example of a taste like iron, consider the following description of a Swiss wine from M. F. K. Fisher's only novel: "Jennie had eaten slowly, a fastidious, gluttonous meal, and drunk a small bottle of metallic red wine from the Valais. She felt good inside" (Not Now but Now [New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995], p. 49). For leather, Robert M. Parker, Jr. describes Giacomo Conterno's 1982 Barolo-Monfortino, an Italian red wine from the Piedmont, as being "exceptionally concentrated with the classic Barolo aroma of rose petals, tar, dried cherry fruit, and saddle leather" (The Wine Advocate, February 28, 1990, p. 9).

4. Richard Steele and Joseph Addison, Selections from The Tatler and The Spectator, ed. Angus Ross (London: Penguin, 1988), p. 364.

5. Voltaire, "An Essay on Taste" in Alexander Gerard, An Essay On Taste, 2nd ed. (1764; rpt. New York: Garland, 1970), pp. 209-10. See Walter J. Hipple, Jr.'s "Introduction" to Gerard's An Essay On Taste, 3rd ed. (1780; rpt. Delmar, NY: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1978), p. xxi.

6. Voltaire claims: "To have a taste, supposes something more than merely to perceive, and to discern with accuracy, the beauty of any work or object. This beauty must be felt, as well as perceived; the mind must be touched and affected by it in a lively and sensible manner" (p. 210).

7. Although Voltaire makes this claim for gustatory taste, he resists extending this claim to critical or "intellectual" taste. He says: "The intellectual taste is much more formed by education and culture, than the sensual one; for though the latter may be brought, by habit, to relish what at first excited loathing and disgust; yet it does not seem to have been the intention of nature, that the generality of mankind should acquire by custom and experience those sensations and perceptions which are necessary to their preservation. It is otherwise with the intellectual taste: its formation requires time, instruction, and experience. A young man, uninstructed in the arts of music and painting, let his natural sensibility be ever so quick and lively, will not immediately distinguish, in a grand concert of music, the various parts whose connexion and relation constitute the essence and charm of the composition, nor will he perceive in a picture the gradations of light and shade, that harmony of colours, that correctness of design, which characterise a finished piece; but in process of time, and also by degrees, he learns both to hear and to see in a more perfect manner" (pp. 211-12).

8. See Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment (1790), trans. Werner S. Pluhar (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987), pp. 57-64; hereafter abbreviated CJ. See also Archibald Alison, Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste (1790; Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1968), pp. 113-21.

9. D. W. Prall, Aesthetic Judgment (New York: Thomas Y. Crowall, 1967), p. 68; hereafter abbreviated as AeJ.

10. Monroe C. Beardsley, Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism, 2nd ed. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1981), p. 99; hereafter abbreviated as APoC.

11. One can learn these skills in a variety of ways. On one's own, one can learn about the model and seek to apply the complementary aesthetic vocabulary to what one experiences as one tastes a wine. A variety of wine-tasting course books are available; I refer to several in this essay. Or one can learn by having an experienced taster "walk" one through an encounter, reporting where on the palate certain qualities emerge and valuatively describing the wine as the tastes evolve. This latter approach is an easier and preferred way to acquire the skills because one can ask questions and check one's experience with that of the guide.

12. We acknowledge the importance of smell in tasting when we have a cold and our nasal passages are blocked and we recognize that we taste very little. As instructors of wine appreciation courses are fond of pointing out, vanilla is a quality that appears to be tasted but is exclusively sensed through smell.

13. Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste, trans. M. F. K. Fisher (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978), p. 40. John Dewey's classic account of aesthetic experience is stated in chapter three of Art As Experience (New York: Putnam, 1958), pp. 35-57; Beardsley's statement of his position can be found in APoC, pp. 500-556 and in The Aesthetic Point of View, eds. Michael J. Wreen and Donald M. Callen (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1982). Although Beardsley resists acknowledging that gustatory experience can entertain ordered, complex, aesthetic objects, his aesthetic theory, nevertheless, is compatible with the aesthetic analysis of wine, at least with the provisional model.

14. I have left out discussion of salty tastes in wine because of their rarity. Nevertheless, John and Patricia Gottfried claim that salt can be detected in some Spanish sherries and Portuguese red wines vinified near the ocean (A Wine Tasting Course [New York: David McKay, 1978], p. 30). Emile Peynaud points out that low levels of mineral salts with "a distinctly salty taste" occur in wines and although masked by other flavors positively highlight a wine's flavors and contribute a sense of freshness (The Taste of Wine, trans. Michael Schuster [San Francisco: Wine Appreciation Guild, 1987], pp. 69-70).

15. Peynaud, pp. 69-70.

16. See Marian W. Baldy, The University Wine Course, 3rd ed. (San Francisco: Wine Appreciation Guild, 1997), p. 22.

17. Maynard A. Amerine and Vernon L. Singleton, Wine: An Introduction, 2nd ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977), p. 299.

18. Peynaud, p. 70.

19. For a summarizing discussion of the criticism of the "taste bud map" or site-specific theory, including bibliography of physiological studies of sensory processing, see Baldy, pp. 24-25.

20. For a broader and more encompassing discussion of the limitations of aesthetic subjectivism, see Donald W. Crawford, "Causes, Reasons, and Aesthetic Objectivity," American Philosophical Quarterly 8 (1971): 266-74. I have not discussed the subjectivist position, brought to my attention by John Bender, that takes a negative attitude towards any wine or wine in general.

21. I had some initial doubts about whether cherry tart was a quality consistent with this style of White Burgundy. It is not uncommon to identify a cherry fruitiness in Red Burgundy from the Côte de Beaune. However, recently I have noticed that several wine critics have identified cherry as a quality of white wine indicating a balance between fruit and acidity. For example, Robert M. Parker, Jr., reviewing a Fontaine-Gagnard white Burgundy, says: "The 1992 Chassagne-Montrachet-La Maitroie is . . . ostentatious, with a heady, intoxicating nose of cherries, oranges, apples, and butter" (The Wine Advocate, June 26, 1993, p. 12).


Copyright 1999 Johns Hopkins University Press. All rights reserved.