By Stéphane Beauroy March 17, 2014 Comments Off
QUINI_Illustrations_001_Is Wine Tasting Subjective?

(Read Part 1 here. )

Philosophy to the Rescue

Critics, neuroscientists and psychologists of wine, unwittingly parrot the ancient view that taste, smell, touch (what we mean by “taste”) are more subjective than vision or hearing. Philosopher Carolyn Korsmeyer fights this tendency by identifying four different meanings of subjectivity in taste. Just the first below is true about wine tasting basics:

  • The taste of wine in your mouth is your own reaction as a subject
  • Taste is only about your response, not about the world
  • Taste is unlike other senses, because it’s private, not shared
  • Taste is relative, always personal, and preferences divide, don’t unite us

Taste is only subjective because it’s what happens to you. The rest are wrongheaded since taste is shared, tells us about the world, and preferences unite us more than they separate us.

Realist or Relativist?

A philosophical Realist believes there’s a “wine object” we can discover according to our skills, while Relativists hold that we create personal versions, our own inevitably individual Merlots. For the Quini wine tasting app, and the scientifically informed philosophers here, the Realist view is truer to the evidence, to a shared wine landscape.

The Qualities of our Preferences

Barry C. Smith, Realist philosopher, says the job of neuroscientists and psychologists is to illuminate the variation between tasters, while wine chemists match the molecular components to the actual flavours in wine. Understanding tasters scientifically, analyzing the molecular makeup of wine, should allow more accurate, more pleasurable tasting. (For more Smith, see ‘Perspective: Complexities of Flavour’.)

With Quini’s support, our palates are tuneable to the reality in wines.



Stéphane Beauroy

Stephane Beauroy

Stéphane Beauroy has an Advanced Certificate in Wines and Spirits from the WSET, and he’s writing a book on the philosophy, history and science of wine tasting. Stéphane believes we should improve our tasting accuracy before wine tasting robots outstrip and replace us.

See all of Stéphane's posts


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