Subjectivity ain’t that simple

likeToday we shall take as our text verse 1 of The Nine Attributes of Greatness, a section of Karen McNeil’s The Wine Bible:

No one needs a wine book to tell them what they like to drink. Subjectivity in wine is pretty easy. But a wine is not great merely because we like it. Liking a wine is simply liking a wine – it tells you something about what you take pleasure in.

I disagree with most of that. I have also heard others being rather dismissive about subjectivity in wine so, without wanting to single out Karen for a fight, let me respond.

Taking a subjective approach does not necessarily equate to knocking back a glass and declaring whether you like it or not, any more than objectivity involves accepting that each wine has an immutable score. Even if we embrace subjectivity, we have the same basic perceptual equipment that objectivists possess, and we can chose to use it to analyse wine in great detail.

In fact, I would argue that a subjective approach is the more challenging path: after measuring the wine by conventional standards, there is an additional step to decide how much you like it. It may come as a surprise to some but this can be pretty difficult, particularly if you are tasting a less familiar style of wine. Natural wines, for example, fit very much into that category of unfamiliarity for me at the moment. Using so-called objective standards, a fair proportion would simply go down the sink as faulty. But if you believe a subjective assessment is important, it doesn’t go straight down the sink – you at least pause until you have figured out how much you personally like it. Not always easy for an open-minded person more used to conventional wine styles. And how will it be later in the evening, after exposure to air, with food, and at a different temperature? Even harder in such circumstances is explaining the reasons for you like or dislike, as you don’t even have the usual aesthetic language to rely on.

To understand, wine we subjectivists need good wine books as much as anyone else. But we also need to look beyond conventional knowledge. In my opinion that is.

About Steve Slatcher

Wine enthusiast
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