All you need to know about Wine and Cognition
The Cognitive Background to the Aesthetic Problem
Using the thought experiment of an artificial reproduction of specific wines, we showed that wine is not only a ‘vague’ object (if not insuperably so), but also a ‘rich’ one. By this we meant that wine is valued not only for the properties that inhere within it as a physical object, but for features that might initially seem extraneous, such as the ephemerality or rarity of the experience, as well as broader cultural, historical or social reasons. What is already clear, though, is that for the model of aesthetic cognition that we develophere to be adequate, it needs to accommodate those experiential or cultural factors. We begin this article by looking at some of the scientific studies concerning the perception of wine. We then develop and pursue the implications in the shape of a phenomenology of wine experience. Towards the end of the article we are going to discuss several distinctive affective aspects of aesthetic projects: privilege and responsibility, normativity, and surprise or risk.
A study by Gil Morrot, Frédéric Brochet and Denis Dubourdieu has been the main focus for the discussion about how wines are perceived and described. In the first part of their empirical work they used 54 oenology students in Bordeaux and gave them two local wines, one red and one white, and asked them to make lists of aroma descriptors for them. One such list was also provided by the researchers, and the respondents were free to use this or one of their own making. This first part of the study led them to the hypothesis that visual information, chiefly color, drove wine descriptions, since the white wine was generally described with terms naming yellow or clear objects, and the red wine with terms naming red or dark objects. The second, and deceptive, part of the experiment was carried out with the same white wine as in the first experiment, but in two versions. One version was the white wine that came out of the bottle, and the other one was the same white wine but artificially colored red with a tasteless and odorless coloring agent. The respondents were then given their own lists of descriptors from the first part of the experiment in alphabetical order, and asked for each one of their descriptors which of the two wines most intensely presented the character of this descriptor. It turned out that the respondents used red-wine descriptors to characterize the white wine colored red. The results were summarized thus: “because of the visual information, the tasters discounted the olfactory information.” In New Zealand, Wendy Parr conducted experiments with 29 wine experts that appear to confirm this conclusion: Their descriptions of young barrique fermented chardonnay dyed red was more accurate when served in an opaque glass than when it was served in a clear one.
If the competence to determine whether a wine was a white wine dyed red or a genuine red wine was not present among 54 oenology undergraduates in Bordeaux, this view would appear to be undermined. We decided to test Morrot et al .’s conclusions through an alternative set-up. In May 2008 we conducted two experiments at Staffordshire University with students and staff as respondents. These could be characterized as varying between having moderately low to moderately high involvement with wine, and there were no students of oenology among them. None were neophytes, and none would describe themselves as experts. Two separate tasks were set. The first task was to determine, using both smell and taste, whether the single sample was a red wine or a white wine dyed red. It is important to note here that the set-up thus invited conflict between several senses: The respondents could see, smell and taste the wines.
The single sample ruled out any influence from possible slight variations in color between the dyed and the non-dyed samples. The wines were served at the same temperature (15–17 °C). In the experiment with the dye the 40 respondents were not told the likelihood of the sample being an actual red wine or a white wine dyed red (which was, in fact, 50:50). Respondents’ success rate in this first experiment was very high indeed, 37 out of 40 (above 90%) in the experiment as a whole, and 19 out of the 20 who got the white wine dyed red, identified the color of their wine correctly.
To make absolutely sure that the dye had not influenced the judgments, we set up the second experiment, involving 20 respondents, with no dye at all, but with a proper blindfold. The blindfold could in itself be distracting, but in this experiment there would at least be no inter-sensory conflict with vision. The task was the same: Is this a white wine or a red wine you are smelling and tasting? As in the experiment with the dye, these 20 respondents were in the dark as to the likelihood of either alternative – which also in this case was even. Again, the wines were served at the same temperature (15–17 °C), which is higher than one would normally serve the white wine. 11 Again, the number of correct judgments was significantly better than chance, with 17 out of 20 (85%) correct judgments.
These two experiments show, we think, that non-experts do not have significant problems identifying the type of wine involved even when the color is manipulated or withheld. This does not in itself invalidate the conclusion Morrot et al . reached about color being the chief organizing principle for wine odors, but it does show, we think, that the task set has a major influence on which of the properties of a perceptual object, such as a wine, is noticed and considered significant. Morrot et al . claimed that “the access to color, or lack thereof, leads to the cognitive construction of two distinct representations of the same object,” but we have shown that this is more likely to be the result of deception than of the access to wine color.
There is an old trick that some wine sadists will play on their unsuspecting friends. One takes a magnum bottle of wine (1.5 liters) and pours it over into two decanters. One then presents the same wine implicitly as two different wines for comparison. Given the task of looking for differences and comparative evaluations, the unfortunate guests almost invariably judge the same wine different to itself in a number of different ways. Here again a project (compare two wines, which implies there being two distinct wines) motivates the identification of differences.
In “The odor of colors” Ballester et al . tested the hypothesis that “ people have stable 15 mental representations of the aroma of the three wine colour categories (red, white and rosé) and that visual information is not a necessary clue to correctly categorize wines by colour.” 16 They used black glasses (Riedel) to hide the color of the 18 wines – 6 each of white, red and rosé – and, in a significant departure from our experimental setup, only allowed the respondents to smell the wines, not to taste them. Since they could not see the wines either, this experiment – unlike our own – was not an example of what Charles Spence 17 calls “conflict study.” There was only the orthonasal information take into consideration, so no “conflict” between the senses could possibly obtain. The results were, however, similar to those we obtained with the dye and the blindfold. Without seeing the color of the wines in the black glasses, they were nevertheless correctly identified as white or red both by a group of experts and a group of novices – contrary to expectations. The experimenters concluded that “contrary to Morrot and coworkers’ conclusions, odor representations of red and white wines exist independently of a visual activation.” The rosé wines, however, were not correctly identified by either of these groups, or by a control group made up of trained assessors. One reason advanced as an explanation for this was that all respondents were Burgundy based, and in this region of France few rosé wines are made and few consumed.
Stable categories exist where crude determinations, such as red or white, can still be made based solely on smell, or on texture and taste as well as smell. The color of the wine does not (as in our experiment with the dye) condition the respondents to judge the wine to be of a particular type. The significance of the task (or ‘project’) is thus paramount. Visual clues appear to overrule taste or smell clues only if the respondents are deliberately deceived. When subjects are correctly appraised of the situation they are able to attend to different aspects of the experience, compensating if necessary for possibly deceptive visual clues, and employ stable concepts of the object. Our experiments show that critical attention can compensate for any conditioning effect from color.
The crucial factor is attention. Out of everything that at any time is sensed by us, we only focus on a fraction. We do not perceive all we sense, and this is by and large a good thing since it allows us to concentrate. The center of attention, around which the object perceived crystallizes, tends to consist of those features we regard as most relevant because of the task or project in which we are engaged. Here is William James’s famous definition of ‘ attention’:
It is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration of consciousness are of its essence. It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others.
Notice that in this passage there are two contrasting movements. The first is a positive, “taking possession” of – as if the mind reaches out and grasps its chosen object. The second is a negative, “withdrawal from,” an act of excluding that which is not deemed relevant. One of the most widely noticed examples of this is the so-called ‘cocktail-party effect.’ You are in a room with many people talking. The other conversations are just a humming noise in the background since you are attending to the one of which you are a part. But suddenly somebody you were not listening to has just mentioned your name, and after this you can only hear the conversation in which your name came up. Previously you were not aware that you heard, or sensed, this conversation. But you must have heard it – sensed it – there is no other explanation for how you could have noticed your name and automatically latched on to this more salient conversation. This was neither the conversation you attended to (that fraction of the total sensory field that you were concentrating on), nor what you perceived (a meaningful conversation). It was just part of the general hum and hubbub in the room, which for itself is only perceived if it is distracting. We employ ‘salience filters’ 21 to weed out what is not necessary. This is the negative, ‘withdrawing’ aspect of attention. However, one’s own name is always salient and thus attention-grabbing, and motivates the positive ‘taking possession of’ aspect.
As wine is a vague object – difficult to describe and determine at the best of times – so there is every reason to believe that similar relationships between sensing and perceiving obtain in the appreciation of wine. One can only attend to a sub-set of what one senses, and this sub-set is likely to be determined by expectations, knowledge and relevance.
The salience filters function more or less automatically, which is why the various effects discussed above appear surprising to participants. However, something very similar can also be employed as a conscious strategy. The operations effected by salience filters can, in many cases at least, be ‘duplicated’ at higher cognitive levels. This may be one reason why the filters can be compensated for when the assigned task is not a deceptive one. In our version of the red/white experiments, the participants had to deliberately ‘withdraw from’ potentially distracting pieces of information such as colour or temperature, in order positively to ‘take possession of’ that which they were asked to determine. For more experienced wine tasters, their accumulated cultural and practical competencies may have evolved into a set of complex decision trees, of which they are aware, and which they can choose to bring to bear. By ‘decision tree’ we mean a process where certainly highly typical features of the wines tasted are sought out, in order to close in on a result. The logic comprises sets of typical and excluded elements for any given grape, vintage, region, etc. That this is operative is particularly clear when a taster is trying to identify a wine. Does this wine smell a bit like cat’s pee on a gooseberry bush? Yes? Then it is probably a Sauvignon Blanc. Is it also fresh and acidic – not overtly fruity? That increases the probability of it being from the Loire, probably a Sancerre or a Pouilly-Fumé. A similar procedure would be followed for a wine known to be a Sancerre, where the assigned task is to determine if it is a typical or good example of this region. However, while the use of such a mental tool requires both cultural and practical competencies, thinking about how judgments happen in this way has limitations. The binary logic of included or excluded elements of odor or taste will make it difficult to represent the qualification ‘not overtly’ in our example above. Such a phrase reflects something like a relation of the fruitiness to the whole. So, we will have to return later in this article to the process behind our judgment. However, the notion of a decision tree has at least made plausible our claim that our odor or taste prejudices can be raised to the level of higher, conscious cognition, and thus corrected. What this means is that those experiments which involve deception concerning the project have no clear implications for wine tasting more generally.
A related issue is the practice of blind tasting. The idea behind such a practice is that tasters will have prejudices for or against certain producers, regions or whatever, but these prejudices can be eliminated if all information about the provenance of the wine is removed. However, if your only loss from tasting wines blind is your prejudices, the examples we have discussed above cannot be explained. Rather than being an obstacle to a true and open-minded appraisal of a wine, knowledge both of a cultural and a practical kind is needed in order to attend to the relevant aspects of the wine in the glass. However, comprehensive knowledge about an object may carry its own problems, chiefly that the critical faculties tend to be blunted. Knowing ‘too much’ may strengthen the top-down filters to the extent that what we know makes us so lazy that we do not attend properly to what we taste. In a study 23 using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of respondents who were given two well-known brown soft drinks, Pepsi and Coca Cola, with and without knowledge of their brand names, one brand was preferred when incognito, while the other (better-selling) brand was preferred when respondents were told or shown (on a screen) what they were drinking. Different parts of the brain were also more active during the two tasks.
The reward centers were more active when the soft drinks were assessed incognito, while centers associated with cognitive functioning were correspondingly more active when the identities of the two drinks were known, leading to the conclusion that “cultural influences have a strong influence on expressed behavioural preferences.” 24 It is important to note, however, that this situation is akin to deception. Familiarity with a brand name, like Coca Cola, does not amount to cultural knowledge in our terminology, because there is no sense in which this experiment relied upon or tested the respondent’s competencies with tasting colas. It only tested the power of a name. Suppose the respondents were told that “Most people like Pepsi better when tasting blind, but Coca Cola better when knowing what they are drinking. This effect is what we are testing for. Now, taste this sample.” This would perhaps be ‘non-scientific’ in one sense, but only if one is dogmatic about the belief that tasting blind overrules all prejudices. We propose, then, a modification to the set-up of the experiments of McClure et al ., on the analogy of our ‘non-deceptive’ red/white experiments. To our knowledge, this experimental modification has not yet been carried out.
With regard to blind tasting, we think that its proper place is when assessing a series of tokens of a type of wine for purchase or enlightenment – such as when The World of Fine Wine brings three experts together for a ‘single blind’ 25 tasting of a vintage or different renditions of a vineyard. ‘Single blind’ means that only the identities of the producer and the cuvée are withheld when the experts are tasting Napa Valley Cabernet or 2009 Bordeaux, for example, while the experts enter their comments and ratings into a computer without conferring with one another, and without the opportunity to change anything afterwards. This magazine also conducts open tastings where the wine’s identity is known to the tasters beforehand, and they are free to confer during the procedings, in order for them to be able to “draw on their experience and expertise to discuss the wines in their proper context.” Both these methods of conducting tastings are in keeping with our view that conceptual knowledge and experience are not just sources of prejudices, but that activating the competencies help us to focus on those aspects of the wines that are relevant, and that make them interesting. Rather than being a source of prejudices that lead one to misrepresent or not attend to the wine at hand, practical and theoretical knowledge about the wine and what it represents make possible one’s perception of it. What distinguishes wine experts from non-experts is experience and knowledge thoroughly intertwined. That is to say, it is not a superior physiological capacity, but one that has been trained, that is experienced, that is backed up by conceptual knowledge and a language, that pursues its task according to established practices, and that is capable of engaging in sustained and highly focused projects of tasting. Tasting blind reduces perception to mere sensation, and it turns appreciation into mere detection. This is why the experienced taster will, when served a wine blind, start trying out different hypotheses about what kind of wine it might be. If served the wine by a friend, the experienced wine enthusiast will probably start with the knowledge about the proprietor’s preferences. The aim of the blind tasting in this case is to pinpoint – as closely as possible – the identity of the wine, but in ‘sighted’ wine appreciation, knowledge and experience helps the experienced and knowledgeable wine taster attend to the wine in a way that brings its relevant properties into conscious perception. The same, we argue, holds true for aesthetic attention: It is not ‘naïve,’ but rather founded upon competencies.
Wine, Cognition and Philosophy
That wine could be an aesthetic experience, and that such an experience requires certain types of knowledge, are points that have been disputed by philosophers such as Roger Scruton and Kent Bach. Scruton makes the following claims. First, “the object of the sense of smell is not the thing that smells,” as opposed to “visual experience [that] reaches through the ‘look’ of a thing to the thing that looks.” In other words, like sounds, smells are “ secondary objects,” and thus “the thing is not represented in its smell.” 29 Below, we will argue using phenomenology that intentionality – the looking through the sensations towards the sensed – is a basic feature of conscious acts. However, it is certainly true that the intentional object need not be identified with the physical object. Perhaps, as Scruton suggests, the smell has to be considered an object in its own right, separate from what emits it? Let us put the question this way: Is it is more difficult to separate the visual property from the thing than it is to separate the smell property? If so, this would probably be because there are fewer occasions for our attention to be drawn to the fact that, on an objectivist standpoint, color is a secondary property also. Light travels rather faster than wafts of air; and light does not linger. However, dim light or light with an unusual color can make me say “It looks green to me.” When composing a photograph of a landscape I might treat it simply as an image and not a thing, applying compositional principles like the rule of thirds. Likewise, there are frequent optical effects such as a glancing reflection or an unexpected refraction that give me opportunity to see a ‘light effect,’ ascribing it neither to the reflective object nor to the object reflected, but to the light image itself as an object. In all these cases, hardly unusual, the ‘look’ has become detached from the thing that has the look. Moreover, it is perfectly normal for me to say “Your perfume smells lovely,” or “Something in here smells horrible.” In contrast, it tends to be under special circumstances that I speak of the smell separately, as in “I cooked fish in here last night.” In other words, normally we do not think with the detached objectivity of classical empiricists, and our experiences have as their meaning that the smell is assigned to the thing that smells. Wine represents itself to us in its sensory properties.
Using his first result that smell is a “secondary object,” Scruton then argues that certain important types of perception events are impossible for smell. Because of its importance for contemporary aesthetics, he picks ‘ smelling as’ or ‘smelling in.’ I can say of something that it can smell (Scruton says “taste”) “ of chocolate or that it can taste like chocolate, but not that I taste it as chocolate.” 31 Expressed differently, a wine critic, unlike a critic of poetry or painting, cannot meaningfully be said to interpret and, moreover, it follows that “winespeak is in some way ungrounded.” 32 Apropos a similar topic, Barry C. Smith writes “I may judge what is in my glass as pretty poor for a champagne, but come to see it as rather good when I realise it’s a Prosecco.” 33 Imagine that we prepared a sample of wine by carefully mixing two wines that were very typical of their underlying grape varieties. Competent tasters would get an ambiguous message, and might well interpret the wine dramatically differently. Like Wittgenstein’s well-known use of Jastrow’s duck/rabbit figure, 34 this wine really is both. If one taster decided it was a Pinot Noir, he or she would be interpreting all the other smells of the blended wine as unusual for Pinot Noir, but unimportant for identification.
Now, it might be argued that we are creating a situation of deception here, and thus are not paying attention to our own argument. Also, it might be claimed that this analysis is using ‘interpretation’ in a limited sense. 35 In other words, that our examples and analyses concerning smell do not constitute cases of perceiving as or perceiving in, but just of proposing different causal explanations for some effect. Thus far, though, we have only shown that it is not entirely obvious that we can rule out perceptual ambiguity and interpretation in smell perception.
Todd goes further in his analysis of the famous spat between Robinson and Parker concerning Château Pavie 2003. He reads it as (using our terminology) a case of two aesthetic communities which do not share precisely the same competencies, especially the same paradigm cases. He concludes that the debate shows that, in wine, there might be “incompatible but equally well-justified – and hence ‘objective’ – judgements.” 36 It is hard to see how this is not a case of ‘seeing as’ or interpretation, and one that does not suffer from the above weaknesses. Finally, whatever other merits the ‘different causal explanation’ objection may have, it no longer applies in the case of an attribute like ‘harmony.’ We say the wine “is harmonious,” but that is not meant in the same way as saying “has a taste of lychees.” An analytical chemist might be able to point to the presence in the wine of the latter (the particular molecule(s) which have this smell), and thus to the causal explanation, but not the former. Nor is ‘harmony’ a set of such chemically correlated properties. In this we are broadly in agreement with Kevin W. Sweeney’s analysis of what he calls “analytical interpretavism” and with John W. Bender’s quite bold discussion of wine metaphor. We talk about this ‘perceiving as’ or ‘perceiving in’ issue in our discussion below, when we are treating attributes like ‘balance’ as intermediate intentional objects.
Scruton’s third argument also fails to convince us. Smells he claims are like sounds, except that smells are not organized or interrelated as sounds are. Smell and taste are non-cognitive senses and for this reason, while the experience of wine is of considerable symbolic and even spiritual significance to us, it is not and could not be aesthetic. While sounds can be organized, smells and tastes cannot; similarly, the latter cannot be “arranged along a dimension, as sounds are arranged by pitch.” The argument is similar to that put forward by Mark W. Rowe. We will return to and develop more fully our answer to this argument below in our investigation of the phenomenology of wine experience. There, we shall claim that attributing ‘balance’ to a wine, for example, is meaningless unless the competent taster is able to apprehend relationships among elements in precisely the way Scruton seems to be ruling out.
Kent Bach’s challenge to the view that wine appreciation can be an aesthetic practice stems from a similar commitment to the non-cognitive nature of wine experience. 41 Because it is purely sensory, neither knowledge nor any employment of wine language will directly enhance the wine experience, which is thus ‘naïve’ in the sense we suggested above. Bach accepts (1) that there can be cognitive projects vis à vis wine, such as comparing, recognizing or evaluating against given standards; (2) that all of these projects require prior knowledge; (3) that all such projects might themselves be productive of other types of pleasure; and (4) that in some cases at least such knowledge can guide one towards noticing aspects that might enhance the purely sensible pleasure of wine. With all these careful qualifications of his basic thesis, Bach’s position is more difficult to argue against because it is not at all clear exactly what he is arguing for . For example, he argues that these projects and their outcomes are essentially different from the purely sensory pleasure of tasting. What, then, can be meant by “essentially different from”? I can get pleasure from working through a particularly knotty philosophical problem. Still, I can also distinguish the cognitive element of this experience from the affect of pleasure. Presumably, however, this distinguishing does not make such a pleasure “purely sensible” in Bach’s sense. Rather, insofar as we tend to think of pleasure as a different kind of mental phenomenon from thinking, all pleasures are “sensible.” Bach needs to argue that the same sensible pleasure is still possible in the absence of any cognitive input, ceteris paribus . However, we know that a wine taster’s ‘tastes’ – that is, from what types of wine he she receives sensory pleasure – change as expertise is accumulated. Moreover, we have shown above that my cognitive beliefs about an experience can change the way it is sensed and even the way that it pleases me. That, after all, is the upshot of all the experiments discussed above. So, Bach’s thesis starts to look empirically unlikely, at best.
Most writers who disagree with Bach’s position do so by way of his claims concerning wine language. Keith and Adrienne Lehrer 42 provide ample empirical evidence that wine experts, within the range of their expertise, make productive use of wine language to guide themselves and others. However, Bach can (and indeed does, as we have seen) agree with this, without it affecting his basic thesis. He argues that wine language doesn’t describe what the experience is like – from the ‘inside,’ so to speak. But one may legitimately ask whether any descriptive language could do that – provide some vicarious route to a sensory experience. Descriptions are of things and experiences, they do not provide those things or experiences. Bach’s point is that the language one uses in describing a wine at best facilitates, but is not part of, the experience. Given that he accepts (4) above, that knowledge may guide attention in a way that enhances pleasure (i.e., more generally, enhances the experience), that is all we require language to do in order to establish wine appreciation as an aesthetic practice. The view that language should be part of the experience is not at issue from our point of view.
A more telling counter-position is put forward by Tim Crane. Crane’s work is primarily directed to rehearsing and evaluating the arguments that suggest that wine is, or is not, a work of art. However, his conclusion is that however we resolve this debate, we can claim for wine “many of the privileges of works of art.” 45 Specifically (and this is what interests us here), that wine experience demands that we return to it, in pursuit of further “understanding.” 46 That is to say, Crane implies that the distinctive experience of wine is in part cognitive, in that it sets up a project of inquiry. One may learn more from a wine, he implies, but he does not address the question of whether or not this knowledge may enhance in some non-trivial way your enjoyment of this wine as well as others.
The Phenomenology of ‘Projects’
In order to explore how the type of attention we give wine, or more generally the ‘project’ we are engaged in with it, interacts with our knowledge and experience of wine, we will initially employ a phenomenological description. 47 This section will outline what a phenomenology of wine tasting might look like, show the necessity of the concept of ‘projects’ to that account, and thereby give a more satisfying explanation of the experimental results discussed above. In the context of wine, the project can be any one or several out of a long list: to identify a wine, to describe it, to evaluate it, to take it as typical of this or that, to decide how much to sell it for, to pair it with a dinner menu, to evaluate it aesthetically, to judge its aging potential, to impress a colleague or seduce a dinner companion with it, or simply to enjoy it in company with bowls of pasta. For simplicity’s sake, let us think in terms of one project at a time, although many real situations involve several overlapping projects.
This latter notion provides us with a useful model for how ‘the end we have in mind’ bridges between our initial knowledge and expectations and the activities or particular experiences we undergo ‘on the way’ towards that end. The intentional object may be a particular entity in space and time such as when I am seeking to evaluate a bottle of wine, or it may be a type of which the particular object is a token, like when the end I have in mind is to grasp what is typical of wines from a particular region or grape variety. Now, it is a characteristic of objects of the senses that they are encountered, at any one time, as views or aspects. Take for example an object apprehended visually in space. At the moment, we are looking at this side of a spatial thing. These aspects are understood to be aspects belonging to some further entity, the object itself towards which I am intentionally directed. We look ‘through’ the aspects, as it were, to the object itself.
Sartre found a nice way to sum up the notion of the intentional object: If I love her, I love her because she is lovable. Of course we can analyze love as a subjective affect. However, the point is, it is not experienced in this way, as a mental state. That would be as if we were outside of experience, looking in. Rather, within experience, her lovableness is a property of someone in the world. Now, this object is ‘ideal’ at least in the sense that it is never encountered all at once, but rather in a more or less ordered, and generally continuous, sequence of parts or aspects. The things I notice about her (her smile, her laugh) are not originally neutral, and then interpreted by me as ‘lovely.’ They are aspects of her as lovable. Similarly, an object in space such as a table, for example, will have sides that I cannot see, but which are intended when I look at it. We do not normally attend to the aspects qua individual bits of sense data at all. That is, my present view of the table is not an isolated datum from which I infer a table. Rather, each view is understood to be nothing other than a view on the table, continuous with and brought together with previous views. Normally, it takes a special effort to focus attention on just the aspect, rather than the table. Thus, I describe my experience like this: “At the moment, I see the table.” Only if questioned, or in rather special circumstances, might I subsequently admit “I see the table from this angle .” It is less normal to perceive the present aspect on its own, as isolated; and still less to perceive discrete, individual sensory elements such as colors, shapes or sounds. Again, the intentional object may, as in this case, be identified with a particular object. 53 And this in turn may be an intermediate object which is the character or style that the table exemplifies, such as ‘Victorian.’ By ‘ intermediate intentional object’ we mean an object of consciousness which a project aims at, but only insofar as it is a way of getting to a broader or more abstract object. The chair is such an intermediate object for the project of describing styles of furniture. A particular wine being tasted might be an intermediate object for the project of identifying a ‘typical’ dry German Riesling. Some recent research indicates that ‘mineral’ is a higher-order feature of the wine, and not at the same level as more straightforward elements such as fruit flavours. 54 Thus ‘mineral’ would designate a set of discrete sensory elements; it would be a character of the wine, rather than a single element. It would thus be an intermediate object for a descriptive project.
Consider how we perceive a melody. The note now playing has its meaning for me as part of a melody, and it is the melody 55 to which I am listening. It takes a special act of attention to tear the individual note out of the melody and focus on it – as a violin teacher might have to do to correct some technical error. This is particularly obvious if the melody is familiar. But even in the case of an unfamiliar tune, I am not surprised by the fact that it is a melody. That is, I don’t tend to think of the note in isolation. The intentional object may be unclear and carry surprises, but I still experience the note as part of it. Nor, indeed, do I experience a melody in isolation – it is in all likelihood an intermediate intentional object on the way to some more ‘complete’ object like the first movement of a sonata, or a more abstract kind of object such as types of melodies that can be described as cheerful. These general observations are also relevant in relation to wine tasting.
To every project there will correspond a type of intentional object: the wine described, the wine evaluated or the wine identified. The intended object may be fairly empty to begin with, in the sense that I know little about it and have experienced nothing. It is never entirely empty, though. Even if we are blind tasting a wine, then in advance we know that it is a wine we are tasting, and its features will belong under given headings, such as ‘color,’ ‘nose,’ ‘viscosity’ and so on. So, even in that case, the project is able to anticipate – to ‘leap ahead’ of itself towards its object. Alternatively, we may be in a situation of knowing the wine already, in which case the intentional object will be already defined, although not yet experienced in the present. Then, the ‘leaping ahead’ might function as a prejudice, preventing us from attending properly to the experience of the wine, unless I am willing and able to let my existing familiarity be challenged. As we experience the wine – or learn more about it, or as our project advances towards completion – the intended object is ‘fulfilled.’ That is, I experience further aspects of it, and thus confirm or confound my expectations. Thus, at any given point, the intended object is a product of the interaction of our projects, our existing knowledge of or competencies with certain kinds of phenomena, and the object already partially fulfilled. For simplicity, we implied that for a project there is ‘one’ intentional object. There could easily be more than one. Suppose, for example, that I am uncertain whether the wine is from X or Y. I might have both in mind as possibilities, accumulating aspects and checking them against ordered sets of defining characteristics of both X and Y that we might call templates, until my decision tree provides a solution – or, equivalently, until one or the other object is fulfilled.
Now, returning to our example of the table, to ‘experience’ the table is to perceive a certain adumbration as continuous with previous adumbrations, as I entered and walked across the room. Adumbrations are encountered as ‘belonging to’ or ‘on the way to’ the intentional object. Some elements will be given to me as a passive subject, they are just there in front of me when I open my eyes. Other elements may be accessed by particular acts such as looking under or behind the table. There are, in other words, often interactions between bodily movements, the adumbration given and the intentional object. This can occur to such an extent that my bodily movements can be deliberate acts of investigation, as when I move my head from side to side trying to get increasingly adequate views of something glimpsed but partly hidden behind something else; or physically turning something over to look at the reverse side, as when reading the blurb on the back of a book. We guide our perception both cognitively, by the kinds of filtering we discussed above, or physically by moving our bodies. This guiding is what we might call conscious ‘attention’ or, speaking more broadly, ‘project.’
In wine tasting, likewise, we have some control over the sequence, both by prolonging the inspection of the wine in the glass before taking it into the mouth, by attending to specific qualities in such a way as to bring them ‘ forward’ by blocking out other simultaneous qualities, by physical manipulation in the mouth to drive off more aromatic compounds, and of course by repeating the tasting. When attending to wines for aesthetic enjoyment, an informal but still rather inflexible procedure has developed over the years to allow the wines to show themselves to (what is believed to be) their best advantage, opening out for the appreciation of wine the dimensions of space (noticing location in the oral or nasal cavities) as well as time (the development and successive release of the wine, permitting a temporal organization of elements and permitting us to notice phenomena like attack or length).
Competency in tasting also opens up still other quality ‘spaces’ or ‘ dimensions,’ often with several senses working in close conjunction, and various elements of the wine strengthening, weakening and obscuring each other via different senses. 57 Different sense modalities are thus encountered not as discrete qualities, which can vary only in terms of intensity, and be related together only as ‘different from.’ Rather, they are encountered as qualities that can shade into one another. A dimension of perception opens up that is akin to the color spectrum. Such qualities can be ‘near,’ ‘far’ or ‘between’ with respect to others, can diverge or converge, can ‘stand in contrast,’ ‘set each other into relief’ or subtly mix to create a new perception. This leads to a richness of possibilities that is orders of magnitude greater than the standard ‘wine aroma wheel’ might lead one to believe. The competent taster is able to locate sensuous elements within such dimensions, and perhaps also relations along them, just as competency in the appreciation of painting grants the ability to notice subtle differences and relationships of color, texture, depth and so on. There is cognitive work to be done – employing competencies as well as memory 58 and imagination – if the object I intend and which is becoming fulfilled is to be as complex and interesting as it can be, and especially if it is to exhibit a particular kind of attribute – the aesthetic. Realizing that there are such quality dimensions here is important. It is the supposed lack of such dimensions in the perception of wine – or more generally for the senses of smell and taste – that leads some philosophers to argue that wine experience can not be organized, patterned or worked on imaginatively. Writers such as Mark Rowe or Roger Scruton, who claim that wine experience is entirely non-cognitive, must have simply overlooked the above types of analysis.
As we have already said, to each project there will correspond a type of intentional object. That object might be the wine in front of me (whether I think of that as the 10 ml in my mouth, the glass or the whole bottle). It is experienced through an overlapping series of sensations: the sensations I am experiencing now, the ones I experienced a few moments ago but which have faded, except in memory, and also the sensations that are yet to come. With respect to my experience of it, the wine is an ideal, whole object, in the sense that I cannot experience it all at once. The wine will have revealed parts of itself to me in the past, and parts remain for me in the future. However, not all projects, by any means, have the wine in front of me as an object. Not noticing this fact can lead to serious misunderstandings. A descriptive project, such as writing as neutral as possible a set of analytical tasting notes for a wine, has for its intentional object the wine insofar as it exhibits a certain sensory profile. We might even suggest that, strictly speaking, it is not the wine that is the object here, but rather the series of experiences itself, unbundled and laid out in terms of discrete elements. The object is a contingent configuration of discrete, identified tastes, textures and scents. Each of these may have a correlate in the wine considered as an object of spectrographic analysis.
But the correlate is not really the point of descriptive tasting; rather, the experience is. The purely descriptive taster would then tend to take the extra step and ascribe the series of experiences to the wine. Arguably, in this case it does not matter if it is in fact a wine we are tasting, or an artificially extracted essence, or if we are plugged into some science fiction experience machine.
On the other hand, an identifying project intends an object that can be assigned a definite place in the world of wine, with configurations of tastes, textures and scents that ‘make sense’ in terms of my developed competencies. Its object is not the experience, but nor is it this particular physical wine before me. Rather, its object – what is being tasted – is more likely the whole vintage of a cuvée from a particular producer. This particular bottle of wine is just a ‘vehicle’ through which the vintage is tasted. Even though we have pointed out that there may be considerable variation between bottles, and that this increases with time, the wineworld 59 takes single bottles or even mouthfuls to be representative of the particular cuvée in a given vintage.
An evaluative project can be several things. First, just a report on the affect of agreeableness or disagreeableness of the wine (“I like it”), which may also be a liking that I take to be normative for others (“This is the best of the bunch”). This project might have as its object a particular sample, or even the output of several producers or a region taken together. Second, it may be an evaluation of the perfection of the typicity match (“This is a good example of X”). Third, an aesthetic project is evaluative. However, it is evaluative only insofar as it takes the intentional object to be of that kind that could exhibit aesthetic attributes. The aesthetic project will no doubt have to include within it acts characteristic of other projects, the descriptive and evaluative particularly, but as a whole it is distinct from them. The intentional object in the case of identifying the wine as being of such and such a type from this region, producer and vintage, is a quite different one from the intentional object in the project of aesthetically evaluating it. In the latter case, the wine is one that can be harmonious, intense, complex – and a range of other aesthetic attributes.
As we suggested above, if my project is merely trying to describe the wine, putting together a detailed and ‘neutral’ set of analytical tasting notes, then the intentional object is “this wine as it is experienced or as it reveals itself to me.” Still, I certainly do not perceive the properties as if they fell from the sky separately ; they are perceived as belonging to the wine experience. Nevertheless, when undertaking analytical tasting one consciously resists as far as this is possible any determination effects from the intentional object back to individual perceptions. So, for example, I may know it is a 2003 white burgundy, but as a descriptive taster that is irrelevant information (or cheating!) and I must try to put out of action any effects of such information. The intentional object is not in this case an intermediate object on the way to something else, such that I could say “That scent is important” or “That taste is typical.” The same is true if I am learning analytical, descriptive tasting and am not interested in the particular wine as such, but only in learning to recognize some odor or other element of the sensory impact of wines. I learn badly if I only learn a particular odor in isolation, and then rely upon my memory of that specific instance. Instead, I apprehend this odor or taste as already an instance; it might be a strong or weak, particularly sweet or harsh instance. This particular smell is on the way to an intentional object which is no longer a specific wine, or even a type of wine, but the object ‘ liquorice-like odors.’
We are put in mind again of the ‘delicacy’ of taste as Hume described it. It is our culturally acquired competencies that tell us what to look for in this project of disentangling components and relationships. Likewise, there will be practical competencies such as the experientially acquired ‘know-how’ to actually carry out this delicate disentangling. However, for many projects it is no less important to hear the various distinguished elements together in appropriate ways, and corresponding to these ways there will be competencies. Thus, the project of listening to the music aesthetically requires an activity and a competency that is clearly contrasted to the activities and competencies demanded in the project that occupies the recording engineer at the mixing desk, who to a great extent needs to be listening to a soundscape, not music.
The phenomenological approach makes such a statement meaningful since the intentional objects are different. However, our approach also allows us to comment briefly on the objectivity and relativism debate. This debate has been staged, most recently and eloquently, by Smith and Todd. So, imagine two tasters, each with a different project. Do they have the same experience of taste with respect to what they agree is the same element (e.g. the ‘fruit aromas’), but then evaluate that taste differently (this, broadly, is the objectivist position)? Or do they have different experiences of taste, and therefore evaluate them differently (again, broadly, this is the relativist version)? This is a perfectly legitimate and very important philosophical issue. However, it is interesting to note that, broadly speaking, Smith and Todd agree on the conditions that can lead to agreement or disagreement in wine tasting – for example, personal preferences, personal sensitivities or expertise. Likewise, they broadly agree on the implications of agreement or disagreement – for example, the care that tasters must take in their practices. Thus, given that our concern here is with the aesthetic possibilities of wine experience, we hope to temporarily bypass the debate by using phenomenological descriptions.
If we, as philosophers, decide that the real thing is the wine as it is encountered in an act of tasting, then we would be described as realists with respect to wine experience. If as philosophers we decide, on the other hand, that the real thing is the separable, physical thing and nothing else – the sort of project an analytical chemist might take up with respect to wine – then one might conclude that we are relativists, for our experiences of the wine would be secondary with respect to the real thing. From the point of view of a phenomenological description of my project and the intentional object, however, this decision does not matter. Phenomenologically, everything under discussion is experience, and if my experiences are always intentional then my perceptions really belong to the intentional object. However, we are aware that the intentional object is not uniquely real, because other projects are possible. In other words, depending on the project, there are different ways of deciding what is a real and what is a derivative phenomenon. The philosophical debate between objectivism and relativism amounts to a question of which project is the most fundamental, which one deals with wine as it really is. However, our phenomenological inquiry concerning the nature of wine appreciation happens entirely within the sphere of experiences and their meaning, for me and for others. Obviously we take as a primary object of investigation the aesthetic project. Whether, metaphysically, that project should be interpreted in a realist or relativist manner is a separate issue.
If within a project of appreciation, two realists agree about a wine, it is because they simply are tasting the same wine. If they disagree then they will pursue shared deliberation, each trying to convince the other; if this fails, then they will likely conclude, more or less amicably, that one of them is making a mistake. If, taking up the same project, two relativists agree about a wine, then they are tasting the same wine but not ‘simply’ – rather, its sameness is nominal and the result of a fragile coincidence of experiences, operative norms, bodily states and preferences. If they disagree, shared deliberation would still be advisable since such a fragile coincidence may still be possible to attain; and if agreement proves elusive, then they may give up without acrimony. In either case, aesthetic experiences occur, agreement or disagreement concerning aesthetic evaluations are both possible, the critical rhetoric of persuasion meaningful, and thus aesthetic judgements can at least aspire to inter-subjective validity. Within this sphere of analysis, aesthetic experiences are neutral with respect to the objectivity/relativism debate.
Let us continue our discussion of projects of wine tasting and the way that wine as intentional object reveals itself to me. At any point of one’s experience, the elements make sense insofar as they are ‘on the way to’ the whole wine. Those parts will thus have a relation to the intended whole. In tasting, I am not primarily sensing a liquorice smell, or a roundness in the mouthfeel, rather I am sensing a wine which is given to me through that smell, this mouthfeel, and so forth. This is the insight that many writers have arrived at in saying that, whatever metaphysical difficulties are raised by the notion of secondary properties, the ‘taste is in the wine’ or ‘the taste says something about the wine.’ 63 The meaning implicit in a wine taster’s statement “I am getting liquorice” is thus that “This wine exhibits, at a particular point in its sequence of adumbrations, a liquorice scent and/or taste.” Thus, the smell is seldom just a smell, which is to say that it is rarely encountered initially as a discrete noetic term. 64 Rather, depending upon the project in which I am engaged, it occurs as partially fulfilling an intentional object, meaning that it is sensed as something. For example, it is perceived as suggesting that the wine is from some region/grape; or as being out of balance with respect to some other aspect, or with respect to the whole. The intentional object is always ahead of my perceptions, and is partly constructed on the basis of my developed competencies – including my stock of relevant experiences. This may be why one keeps searching for the wine’s identity when tasting blind – what is the category or type which makes sense of what I am tasting? – rather than sticking to an analytic tasting mode which will most often provide the clues to the type.
Of course, even after the experience has run its course, I still cannot experience the wine as a whole in the same way I can experience a specific taste or scent. The wine as intentional object can be fulfilled in the sense of my experience of it ‘just having run its course,’ but it cannot be present all at once. Thus, as we noted above, even where the intentional object is this wine , it has an element of ideality, of always ‘transcending,’ so to speak, what I am experiencing at the moment. So, as the wine gives or reveals itself, the intentional object is also changing in response. This is especially clear in the case of purely descriptive tasting, where the object is supposed to be nothing but the series of experiences, discrete elements teased apart, and carried to exhaustive completion. Even if I know exactly what the wine is, the intentional object that is this particular wine is becoming fulfilled. Moreover, it may contain surprises. For example, it may be corked, have some other bottle variation or have aged in an unexpected fashion. This in turn would force a change of intentional object or even of project. Thus, the specific quality of the elements I sense depends upon the intentional object, but also the other way around. The intentional object is where I think I am headed; it may not be where the wine leads me. “Ah,” I might say after a blind tasting, “the wine was a Y not an X, after all. It’s strange then that I am getting licorice notes. The producer must be doing something different with this vintage.” Even after the experience has run its course, the intentional object may change. It may take me a while to think through the wine; I will probably repeat the tasting several times. Returning to the wine later perhaps I find that it has collapsed completely, changed from ‘mute’ to ‘definitely corked,’ or gone from ‘tight’ to having opened up to reveal a real wonder of a wine. Perhaps a tasting companion asks an unexpected question – e.g. asks me “How much do you think I paid for this?” rather than “What do you think it is?” – that flips me from one project to another. Perhaps during a later tasting I recall an episodic memory of the first wine that causes me to rethink my evaluation of it.
Similarly, many wine experts and enthusiasts report having had a ‘ conversion experience’ with wine. Jancis Robinson, MW, writes about a bottle of Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Les Amoreuses 1959, tasted in 1970, as her ‘conversion.’ “Here was a wine that positively demanded attention … that wine did make me realize that wine can enhance life for far more and nobler reasons than its alcohol content alone.” ‘Wine conversions’ are occasions when one particular tasting reveals the specifically aesthetic possibilities of wine, that is, reveals the availability of a whole different project of tasting that might meaningfully and rewardingly be carried out with respect to wine. These are instances when some set of perceptions not only dramatically affects the intentional object, but even forces a change of project. A more or less quotidian project is taken by the scruff of the neck, so to speak, and forced into recognizing the existence and validity of a distinct aesthetic project. We should keep in mind, though, that conversions to the aesthetic happen to tasters who are already to some degree experienced, possessing some basic cultural and practical competency with respect to wine in general.
Moreover, just by being a member of their wider culture, they will have some measure of those competencies associated with the aesthetic, broadly speaking. This will include what is meant in broader aesthetic categories by ‘harmony,’ for example. So, while it is true that the conversion experience is in the main forced by the phenomenon, that does not in turn entail that we have to think of the aesthetic phenomenon as simply ‘in’ the wine in the same way as with more straightforwardly sensed properties, such as ‘liquorice.’ Even so, though, such conversions are rarely if ever complete, in the sense that the ‘more and nobler reasons’ are only glimpsed, but not fully and articulately revealed. As Robinson writes: “This was brazen and fleshy and each mouthful entranced me, even if I found it impossible to describe. I doubt we even tried to discuss the wine other than to grunt and drool.”
One of the advantages of the phenomenological approach is that it gives us a way of understanding this dynamic cognitive interaction within (or even after) the activity, between the project I am engaged in, what is expected as an intentional object and what is experienced.
Having explained the phenomenology of projects and intentional objects, we are now in a position to return to the tasting experiments discussed above. In the white wine dyed red experiments, the project is a description of an obviously red wine, and thus respondents unreflectively employ the cognitive resources of such a project – ‘resources’ here meaning the salience filters that belong to the stable category of its color. Since respondents were required to describe the wine, they used the language that comes with those filters. In the non-deceptive versions such as our own, however, the project is to determine color. Therefore, while the color perceived is normally the chief organizing factor, here it can be discounted by an act of reflective attention. The result of this is that the intentional object is a wine the color of which must be decided on other criteria. The decision tree (as we termed it) is initially more open, meaning that the respondents can allow the other, normally less dominant, features of the wine to determine where the tree commences. Clearly, the project determines the approach to the object and thus the significance of perceptions thereof. Moreover, we have seen that the project determines whether some elements of the wine are even noticed at all; and at least in some cases the assigned project appears to ‘manufacture’ perceptions. It is also worth adding here that the level of regard we have for expertise has something to do with guided perception and trust. Experiments that involve a situation of deception may in fact be telling us more about the role of trust than anything else.
The project is not just an aim towards a particular intentional object, it must also comprise a set of activities such as decanting, pouring, swirling, smelling, sipping and aerating. Likewise, it will include or assume a set of competencies, such as my conceptual or experiential knowledge of this type of wine, my ability to have and employ stable categories and to communicate them to others, my knowledge of what will impress my date and so on. Our claim, then, is that the project of aesthetic appreciation is not naïve but requires and presupposes competencies, such as we have already outlined, together with a set of inter-subjectively agreed-upon practices, and an inter-subjectively meaningful descriptive and evaluative language. Without these, my project of aesthetic evaluation probably defaults to an entirely subjective reaction, and is certainly at much higher risk of being over- determined by contingent features. 69 My competencies allow me to ‘leap ahead’ with generally greater reliability to an anticipation of the wine as a whole, and thus also to direct attention onto features that are relevant to the project. Where the project is aesthetic, this will likely draw on the accumulated tasting experiences of generations, which I have internalized through my previous wine experiences and my cultural knowledge. While a competency is something that I, as an individual, have, it is acquired through tastings of wines others have tasted, and have talked or written about, through my proficiency with epistemic instruments such as classifications and ‘aroma wheels,’ and by way of a set of overlapping comparisons with other instances of wines, types or techniques. Typically, competencies are acquired through tasting with others, at least one of whom is likely to be more competent than you, but in the age of the internet this is unlikely to be the only way through which one acquires competencies, and it may not even be strictly necessary. Tasting with others, though, makes ‘guided perception’ possible. This involves communicating about our sensory and aesthetic observations in such a way as to aid each other to see them, and this is a key form of critical rhetoric in any area of aesthetics. We communicate not to blankly express our preferences, but to influence how others perceive an object in a kind of ‘ triangulation’ between me, you and the object. This means that as a competent taster you are in any case a representative of a tradition or a community.
Competencies have various functions: to activate expectations concerning how the object will reveal itself; to enable discoveries or surprises vis à vis expectations about a wine’s elements; to lead us to new intentional objects and new expectations; to prescribe, more or less rigorously, certain procedures by which tasting might have inter-subjective validity. Competencies, then, allow for top-down salience filters to be appropriately active. However, they also mean that it becomes possible to give attention to an object such that bottom-up cognition is not over-determining. For example, my competency means that I can overrule any natural determination effects from the color or temperature of the wine, such as those outlined above. Clearly, what we have been calling competencies, considered as an essential aspect of projects, are vital to an adequate understanding of situated perceptions and interpretations.
The Aesthetic Project
The need for competencies is still more clearly the case with regard to aesthetic experience. An aesthetic project is required, together with the activities and competencies that underpin it as a practice, because aesthetic attributes are not straightforwardly sensed . That is, they are not perceived as elements common to a range of projects, including especially the descriptive and analytical. ‘Harmony,’ ‘intensity,’ ‘transparency,’ ‘finesse’ or ‘complexity’ are not individual sensations, nor sets of sensations, nor could they be correlated to or entailed by any chemical analysis of the wine.. Such attributes involve, at the very least, relations among sensations. Harmony is seen in the various sensations, which in turn are then ‘part of’ or ‘contributing to’ a harmony that belongs to this wine. That is, aesthetic attributes are intermediate intentional objects, encountered with a positive evaluation (or a corresponding negative evaluation). As we have seen, intentional objects correspond to projects. Only within an aesthetic project, either one consciously adopted or ‘forced’ by the phenomenon, could aesthetic attributes emerge. This is why there must be a distinctive aesthetic project and a distinctive aesthetic competence.
The ‘aesthetic attitude’ comprises an attempt to describe what is distinctive about the approach one takes to aesthetic objects. It is an old chestnut in aesthetics, but what is becoming clear in the context of ‘projects’ is that although the taster’s approach probably involves particular mental stances, more fundamentally it must be a developed ability to draw on relevant competencies to apply and defend aesthetic judgments, and an associated set of mental and physical activities. This difference alone justifies us abandoning talk of ‘attitudes.’ That aesthetic experiences involve all these things does not mean that aesthetic attributes are any less real, or not experienced, or ‘merely subjective.’ It does, however, mean that aesthetic attributes, and thus aesthetic experiences, occur within the aesthetic project of tasting. 70 The project assumes both a set of practices and a set of competencies. So, for example, the attribute ‘harmonious’ is no more a possible attribute of the intentional object of a purely analytical tasting, than ‘regret’ is a possible attribute of a mathematics paper.
Most of my aesthetic experiences are ‘mixed.’ In practice, it may happen that affects forced upon me by other non-aesthetic projects may interfere with my sense of the object as aesthetically successful, as when I say I can appreciate the beauty of a film-maker’s cinematography, but find the content simply offensive. 71 Often two elements within the aesthetic project are at odds: The wine’s tannins are beautifully and pleasurably finessed, but its fruitiness is distressingly out of balance with the whole. It seems likely that most of our aesthetic judgments are ‘mixed,’ either in the sense of involving more than one project, or involving both positive and negative evaluations, or both. Just as one has to distinguish between judgments of preference and aesthetic judgments, so one needs to distinguish between their negative incarnations too. We suspect that this distinction may be more difficult on the negative side. A thoroughly aesthetically unsuccessful wine would not even be a good glug at a barbecue; indeed, in these circumstances it is very unlikely one would even consider an aesthetic project. Perhaps one would tend to use negative aesthetic attributes only either where one was expecting much more (a disappointing bottle from a top-drawer producer), or in mixed judgments (‘beautiful tannins, but the finish is incoherent’).
Let us compare the aesthetic project to the more loosely defined project of drinking a wine for sensory pleasure; for example, having an inexpensive glass of wine while at the family dinner table eating a bowl of pasta. Assuming I pay attention to the wine at all – rather than to the overall experience – the intentional object here is the wine insofar as I (as an individual subject) do, or do not, happen to like it. I’m not even looking for aesthetic attributes. If I do like it, or if it nicely complements a meal, then that’s all well and good. If I do not like it, it is not a great loss (provided it did not cost too much!). However, as a taster with an aesthetic project, because of the normativity exhibited by aesthetic judgments, and because of its dependence upon inter-subjectively held cultural norms and practices, I am not tasting this wine ‘alone,’ but rather I serve as a competent representative of a community. I feel myself under a constraint or burden of responsibility formed by the collective previous judgments of my peers and ultimately by the aesthetic norms of the cultural group whose representative I am. The aesthetically unsuccessful wine is a disappointment, not just to me but, in effect, to the whole wine-appreciating community. The hope for an aesthetic experience has faded away. Previous judgments concerning this producer or vintage might even be called into question. The wine that is judged aesthetically successful, on the other hand, is a precious gain for the others. And for me it is a privilege to be my aesthetic community’s representative here, when a fine and aesthetically successful wine is revealing itself. This sense of privilege might seem related to the object’s exclusivity and ephemerality. Wine is an intrinsically ephemeral object, and my tasting it brings its existence to an end. The sense of privilege remains, though, even if I am the hundredth or thousandth person to taste this wine. Not everyone who could in principle experience this wine aesthetically will ever be able to. In addition to the privilege of doing so, I also feel the responsibility of judging the wine aright.
In the 2030 scenario, privilege or rarity are strictly speaking removed, and ephemerality becomes largely irrelevant. As long as we thought of these factors as contingent and undesirable elements of aesthetic experience, then so much the better. Our analysis of the 2030 scenario, however, suggested that something important would be lost under those conditions. Thus, we conclude that, curious as it may sound, the feeling of privilege is essential to our appreciation of wine. Interestingly, aesthetic success may also be emotionally shaded: some wines with particular aesthetic attributes are encountered as ‘joyous’; others, typically with different attributes, might be met with a calmer, more reflective pleasure; others are experienced with surprise or wonder.
We maintain that all of the above affective responses could meaningfully be said to be an essential part of the aesthetic experience of wine, and thus normative for others. Pleasure, though, is not. The concept of pleasure goes back a long way in aesthetics, of course. It was seen as a sign that aesthetic qualities had emerged, a marker of aesthetic success, the reason for seeking aesthetic experiences, and the motive for the experience to be repeated or prolonged. We suggest that not everything that might serve as such a sign or such a motive could plausibly be called ‘pleasure.’ What drives me to run yet another mile on a treadmill is not pleasure or necessarily the anticipation of pleasure, either. Certainly, the aesthetic success of much art in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries could hardly be greeted with pleasure. Similarly, the concept of ‘beauty’ as a name for aesthetic qualities belongs to a long aesthetic tradition, but no longer seems relevant in many cases. The attempt to reduce all such signs and motives to pleasure may be a historical consequence of prominent models of psychology in the modern period, and later prominent movements such as utilitarianism. To be sure, the aesthetic success of the wine is encountered as a good and valuable thing, for us and for others. These values might themselves be greeted with pleasure. But that this value be accompanied by anything akin to pleasure is not necessary; attributes and their value might be welcomed in some other way. Likewise, the wine might be pleasurable in a purely sensory way alongside its aesthetic qualities. However, it is possible for a competent critic to judge a wine aesthetically even if they simply don’t like the style. Some wines just are difficult and hard to like, but may still be aesthetically successful.
Moreover, again, the aesthetic evaluation is normative for others, and so is the associated affective response. I expect others to agree with me, ceteris paribus . However, of course, other things are not always equal. Thus, A can agree with B that the wine is harmonious, and yet also and without contradiction declare that “As a whole it is a failure,” or even that for other reasons it “It’s not my kind of thing.” Still, when aesthetic attributes emerge within the experience, that experience is considered normative for others; and the same is true for the pleasurable response to them. “How can you not find this great?” B says, suspecting a misunderstanding, an error, or a failure of competency or practice. 72 The normative force of aesthetic judgments thus demands that we distinguish between aesthetic judgment and personal preference. When there is disagreement, we can debate the reasons for it – something that is pointless if the issue is a matter of personal preferences. Through this debate, we may perhaps even be guided towards a change of judgment. This might occur if originally we failed to notice something important, or if the reasons for our first judgment are found wanting because they were not aesthetically relevant.
Notice that in the discussion above of aesthetic evaluations being normative, we still tended to think from the point of view of the taster, and work outwards to others who, subsequently, are expected to understand and respect the judgment, and to agree (provided, again, all other things are equal). The same ‘working outwards’ is characteristic of classic treatments of the ‘aesthetic attitude.’ However, working in the other direction should be no less valid. When forming aesthetic judgments, I experience myself as being under a constraint, or as bearing a responsibility: Others who have judged will be expecting my agreement. Imagine that I have purchased a novel on the basis of a detailed and positive review of it. I will start reading the novel as on the way to a particular intentional object, based upon the review. Soon, though, I will have two intentional objects: the one founded on the review, and the one that is being developed through my own reading. The meaning of what I read oscillates, it is ‘on the one hand’ this and ‘on the other hand’ that. But these two do not sit neutrally alongside one another. To the extent that I consider the reviewer competent, I treat the second intentional object with some suspicion, I double check the validity of the project I am undertaking – is it genuinely aesthetic in nature? – whenever the two diverge. Sometimes it might even feel as if the reviewer is breathing down my neck, judging me as a competent reader. In any case, the evidence suggests that the intentional object which is emerging through my own reading may be mistaken, and thus I’m taking additional care.
This feeling of being watched may be literally true if I am a junior member of a wine-appreciation group, say. The normative constraint I feel for aesthetic reasons is likely to overlap with my feeling myself under authority and power relations: that is, a patent social pressure, and perhaps the fear of looking a fool, neither of which is aesthetic in nature. The constraint is no less real, though, if I am the first to taste a new vintage, or if I am the senior member. As aesthetically competent, it is impossible for me to be the first person to have used the aesthetic term ‘harmonious,’ and thus I take on the inter- subjective conditions of the valid use of this term.In the aesthetic project I am not ‘here’ tasting on my own, but rather as a representative of nested series of communities of tasters and ultimately of my aesthetic culture. This happens through the competencies I have acquired through guided perception, especially with respect to generally accepted examples of partly or entirely aesthetically successful wines. Also significant will be the language and concepts that I share with other tasters, and the practices in which we all engage.
A project posits ahead of itself its intentional object, in whatever form is appropriate to that type of object. In the case of aesthetic appreciation, this is the wine as a whole, insofar as it is possible for it to exhibit aesthetic attributes. As we have noted previously, surprise is always possible even in a wine we know well. In that case our experiences force the project to aim towards a different intentional object. In the case of the aesthetic project, the surprise element is more radical. In an important sense, I take a risk in engaging in an aesthetic project: The likelihood of success may be rather slim, or success may take a different form from what I expect. Serving a wine to friends or acquaintances, I have to ask myself whether this bottle will live up to my expectations, based upon the previous bottle tasted from the same case; and whether the environment I have created will be amenable to the wine revealing itself fully. Similarly, even if tasting a wine with respect to which I have few such worries, it remains impossible to determine in advance exactly how the aesthetic experience will emerge from within the flood of sensory elements. Of course, I can still enjoy the wine in all the usual ways; but I take the risk that it will turn out that I can also experience it aesthetically with a sense of wonder, surprise or even relief.
Part of how the aesthetic tradition described aesthetic delight was in terms of disappointment or surprise. Something appears, suddenly or briefly, in the ordinary world, our quotidian existence, that ‘transcends’ it. Thus, for example, the cliché of the ‘flower in the gutter’ – something beautiful found unexpectedly in the most grubby or ordinary of contexts – which we take to be related to the Platonic and anti-materialist roots of the English aesthetic tradition beginning with Shaftesbury. Similarly, the ‘uncommon’ or the ‘novel’ was a category of aesthetic experience in Addison. 73 We suggest that this surprise is an inherent aspect of the aesthetic experience, and not just a bit of additional spice.
Our discussion of aesthetic attributes may appear to be moving towards an account of the aesthetics of wine that is essentially formalist in character. Formalist aesthetics tends to think of aesthetic objects as defined primarily by internal formal structures or relationships. For example, we might think of the notion of ‘harmony’ in an abstract painting simply in terms of the distribution of masses of color across the canvas; likewise the ‘complexity’ of a piece of music is understood in terms of the diachronic relations among sequences of notes and the synchronic relations of chords. Above, we claimed that aesthetic attributes are ‘aspects’ of the intentional object – is this not treating of formal features as internal to aesthetic objects? However, in formalism the form is thought to be simply there in the painting or the music, separately from my judgment of it. Likewise, the aesthetic object considered as form is seen as being cut off from the traditions of art or aesthetics, from any historical or political contexts (e.g. religious practices or political engagement) and also from any cultural expectations that the viewer, listener or taster might bring with them. Above we argue that aesthetic attributes depend upon the object as experienced, but also upon capacities and competencies, and on the shared cultural knowledge of an aesthetic community. Form, then, is not simply there . Rather, aesthetic attributes emerge from the experience of the object by a subject who brings with him or her knowledge, know-how and experience.
We suggest that formalism – and, more generally, the concept of ‘form’ in aesthetics – carries a visual or aural prejudice. Since these senses ‘act’ at a distance, and deal with objects that are understood to be more publicly available, visual and aural objects seem to have a greater independence from the judging subject – in other words, a greater objectivity. Consequently, we argue, aesthetics tends to think of all aesthetic attributes in such a manner; or, indeed, thinks of qualities that lack such independence as incapable of aesthetic form. In other words, aesthetics has backed itself into a corner where it finds it difficult to entertain the possibility that objects of the proximal senses could exhibit aesthetic form. This visual or aural prejudice needs to be questioned, and clearly the investigation of wine appreciation will do just that. We believe we have already shown the necessity of contextual relations for aesthetic appreciation of wine. Even formal qualities should not be understood to be ‘there’ in the object. They emerge so as to be in the intentional object, certainly. However, as discussed above, this is quite different from ascription to the physical object or to what we have been calling ‘ straightforward’ sensory experiences.
However, we argued there that we should not be unreservedly positive about those scenarios. This provides further reason to investigate the phenomenology of wine tasting with a more ‘contextualist,’ and not exclusively formalist, aesthetics in mind. In our discussion of the thought experiment, there were two types of objections. The first type of objection had to do with certain cultural values, for example a loss of the direct connection to terroir (that is, the specific geographical and cultural site of production), or the loss of the experience of wine as a changeable and ephemeral phenomenon. From the point of view of aesthetics, these objections only make sense if our aesthetic model is contextualist – aesthetic responses emerging from the way the object occupies a place within culture, society and history – and not simply formalist. It is not the object in and of itself that is experienced aesthetically, but the object as set into its context. The second set of objections were of a more practical nature, and the chief example of this was that the relevant tasting competencies needed to appreciate the wines after 2030 would be impossible to develop under those conditions. We suggest, though, that even these considerations are incompatible within an exclusively formalist aesthetic model.
Wine is not an object that belongs in the laboratory, but rather among human subjects, tasting and learning together. Aesthetic experiences certainly involve types of cognition, both the ‘lower’ cognitions explored by cognitive science, and the ‘higher’ cognitions that have been the traditional preserve of philosophy and aesthetics. But, as we have shown, we need more than cognition, narrowly considered, to grasp the richness of wine as an object. We also need to bring in culture, tradition, language and communities; we need to think of the taster as a representative of his or her peers and ultimately of his or her culture, and of the responsibilities and privileges this position brings. In this article we have attempted a phenomenology of wine tasting, in order to provide a model that can bring together the cognitive, cultural and communal sides to wine experiences.