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A Short Conversation Between Wine Writers About Wine as Art. Or Not.

If there's one thing that Twitter is good for, it's having meta conversations quietly in a room full of people talking about something else. Yesterday I posted Gerald Asher's keynote speech to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers. Towards the end of that speech he said something which sparked a conversation between a few of us attendees on Twitter.

He made the statement: "I'm not very sympathetic to the world of wine criticism. It's not like music criticism, or any of the arts" in response to my question about whether he distinguished wine writing and wine criticism.

The resulting silent conversation on Twitter was great (if I do say so myself) and reminded me of a little 21st Century virtual version of the group interviews/discussions that Harper's Monthly occasionally publishes, where they get a bunch of really interesting people in a room and get them to talk about some topic.

Now I don't pretend that the players involved here represent luminaries of any kind, nor do I entirely know whether you'll find the conversation as interesting as I did, but I went to the effort of extracting it from Twitter and cleaning it up a bit for your reading pleasure.

For your reference, the primary folks involved are myself; Howard Goldberg, a wine writer for the New York Times; and Bruce Schoenfeld, the food and wine columnist for Travel and Leisure Magazine. We are joined partway through the conversation by Lenn Thompson, fellow wine blogger at the New York Cork Report, and Amy Cleary, blogger and marketing director at U.C. Press, chimes in at one point as well.


Howard G. Goldberg: I disagree with Gerald. Wine criticism and music criticism, addressing flowing, elusive, unreproducible phenomena, are parallel.

Alder Yarrow: I also disagree with Gerald, on that point. I think there are strong parallels between wine criticism and art criticism

Howard G. Goldberg: I've shared that idea but stumbled on a key element: You can return to the changeless artwork to say more. But never the wine.

Alder Yarrow: Well put, but I think they share a unique challenge: translating a wordless emotional experience into words, insufficiently

Bruce Schoenfeld: And also, art plays a vastly different role in life than wine, don't you think? Though they share elements.

Howard G. Goldberg: Exactly. There's an art of winemaking. The result can be artful. But wine itself is not art.

Alder Yarrow: Absolutely, wine is not art. Wine becomes part of our bodies, it is food. Art is always outside us.

Bruce Schoenfeld: But 99% of wines are just something to drink. No greater ambition is sought. All art is ambitious.

Alder Yarrow: Hmm, not sure I fully agree with the point about ambition.

Bruce Schoenfeld: Art is attempting to do/say something. Most wines are made like most bread is made. Just a food.

Bruce Schoenfeld: I agree w/ Alder. Art is outside us. Wine is something we ingest, and think about or not.

Howard G. Goldberg: Agreed, Bruce, just a food. But I feel that some vintners strive to make philosophical statements.

Lenn Thompson: Don't agree that all art fits the "attempts to do/say something" characterization.

Alder Yarrow: Some kinds of art can simply be about evoking something, some pleasure. Not narrative.

Lenn Thompson: I think that truly great art (as with wine) does get inside us, moves us.

Howard G. Goldberg: I find that great wine moves me considerably. Any critic who has a prostate feels that way.

Bruce Schoenfeld: But the artist aspires to evoke the pleasure. It's purposeful. That distinguishes art from nature.

Lenn Thompson: Winemaking is purposeful. It doesn't happen on its own. Purpose varies of course.

Alder Yarrow: Agreed. Intention may distinguish art from nature, but it doesn't distinguish art from wine.

Bruce Schoenfeld: It does! Art is an attempt to create emotion + can be judged by that standard. Most wine can't.

Lenn Thompson: Right, Alder. Wine is not nature.

Howard G. Goldberg: "Wine is not nature" is a position likely to invite a hand grenade from "natural-wine" champions.

Lenn Thompson: All wine creates an emotion.

Amy Cleary: Really? All wine? I'd say good or even interesting wine. But not all.

Bruce Schoenfeld: NOT all wine creates an emotion in most people. Very few do. And that's just fine with them.

Alder Yarrow: But the critics job is to perceive things that many consumers don't notice, right?

Bruce Schoenfeld: A wine WRITER's job is to use wine to tell stories + stories to explain wine. Not sure what a wine critic does.

Howard G. Goldberg: Critics can't know fully what consumers notice or don't. Their duty is to discover what they haven't noticed.

Bruce Schoenfeld: In art, yes. But in wine, I'd say that isn't the critic's job. Which circles me back around to my 1st comment.

* * *

How about continuing the conversation. What do you think?

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud