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Wine as Art is Best Enjoyed on Its Own Terms

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Jan 5, 2009 12:35pm ET

I drank hundreds of great wines last year and it’s impossible for me to single out one wine or experience or memory over another.

I shared great wines with my colleagues, complete strangers and close friends. I drank serious wines in blind tastings at work. I drank excellent wines on vacations to Waimea Bay in Hawaii, the Caribbean, Lake Louise in Canada and New York on three occasions. I drank wine at the French Laundry and at many great dinners in the homes of friends.

But as meaningful as those wine memories are, today my thoughts return to a visit to Manhattan the week of the New York Wine Experience. There in one day I toured the city on one of those red double-decker sight-seeing busses – and had a wonderful history lesson about that great city. Earlier that day I had visited the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), where a long line formed along the sidewalk, with hundreds upon hundreds of people eager to enter and view the exhibits.

As I joined the throng it reminded me of the crowds I’d seen the night before at the Grand Tastings. Today I can’t recall the main exhibits at MOMA that day – it could have been Van Gogh. But once inside it ended up being one of those incredible experiences, where at each turn into a new room another classic appeared. From my notepad that day I scribbled the following names as they appeared: Chagall, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Kandinsky, Matisse, Picasso, Monet, Mondrian, Dali and Miro.

Could I choose which of the artists, or their creations, were my favorites? Yes. Could I say which were the superior works? No. And that’s one way to appreciate wine as well, as we move into a new year and perhaps a new era in our history. Great wines can be appreciated on many different levels. There doesn’t have to be a winner. When you drink great wines there needn’t be a best.

Lee R Barczak
Milwaukee —  January 5, 2009 1:28pm ET
So then why quantify the "enjoyment" of a wine as a WOTY? or even a top 100 list to begin with?
Brad Smith
Napa, CA —  January 5, 2009 3:10pm ET
Wow - it sounds like you have found religion. Have you talked to the editors of Wine Spectator about your realization?
Michael Padrick
January 5, 2009 6:25pm ET
Thanks for the observation Jim. Like viewing the break of day, some people breath a little deeper taking in the tapestry of its color and beauty, finding connection with their existence and the company they may be keeping. Others ask "what time is it?"
Scott Oneil
UT —  January 6, 2009 3:06am ET
Well said, James.
Jonathan Lawrence
January 8, 2009 9:45am ET
Thanks for the blog, James. To the first comment above I would suggest that, although ultimately a "best" cannot be established objectively, this doesn't mean that we can't say that wine (or artwork) X is better than wine (or artwork) Y. Both art and wine criticism are based on making informed discriminations. And that critical apparatus need not detract from the enjoyment one derives--in fact, it can heighten that pleasure. A quick question, though; I'm a little confused by the title of your blog; do you mean "Wine, like art, is best enjoyed ..."? Or perhaps "As art, wine is best enjoyed ..."? I guess I'm asking whether you consider wine to actually be "art" or rather that it is "like" art in that it "is best enjoyed on its own terms."
Ron Mcfarland
January 15, 2009 6:32pm ET
You might be on the path to simplify the language of wine. Yes, Smile or No, Smile

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