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Philosophy and Wine: an emerging topic of study

March 29, 2007

Photo of a glass of white wineDoes knowledge of wine make it taste better? How meaningful are wine ratings? Are tastes and aromas in the wine or in the head? These are among the questions that 14 distinguished philosophy scholars, a wine tasting expert, two vintners, a sommelier and a wine critic will address April 4 at an all-day conference on "Philosophy and Wine" at the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco.

The conference, part of the annual meeting of the American Philosophical Association's (APA) Pacific Division, is co-sponsored by the SF State Philosophy Department. About 1,300 philosophers are expected to attend the full annual meeting from April 3 to 8.

Speakers at the wine conference include Ann Noble of UC Davis, inventor of the Wine Aroma Wheel; winemakers Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards and Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard; Rajat Parr, wine director of Restaurant Michael Mina; and Gerald Asher, contributing wine editor of Gourmet Magazine. Other speakers come from as far as away as Florida, Toronto and London.

Professor Emeritus of Philosophy Kent Bach, who has published journal articles and presented lectures on philosophy and wine, is the chief organizer.

"The idea behind the conference is to use the example of wine to give focus to broader questions about the least studied of the senses, taste and smell, and about the relation of sensory experience to language, knowledge, evaluation and appreciation," said Bach, an avid wine collector. "Most of the speakers are wine-loving philosophers."

In a paper to be published in the forthcoming book "Wine and Philosophy," Bach discusses how talking about wine knowledgeably adds to one's ability to enjoy and appreciate a good bottle.

"There is pleasure, not just aesthetic but even sensory, in being able to compare a wine with relevantly similar wines, such as previous vintages of the same wine, other wines from the same vineyard and/or vintage, and other wines that may be interestingly similar," Bach writes. "Without being able to remember the specific wines by name and vintage, one could have only vague recollections. Part of the pleasure one has in savoring a wine is comparing it with wines that one has tasted previously, especially similar ones."

The philosophy of wine is an emerging topic of study. The April 4 conference is the second of its kind, after a 2004 London University conference where Bach was among the presenters. Topics included philosophy and the intoxicating properties of wine, the effects of wine education on one's enjoyment, assessing wine quality, and beauty and wine.

Members of the general public may register for the APA/SF State wine conference without registering for the full meeting. Registration is $10 at the door. A tasting, with a fee of $50, will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Contact Linda Smallbrook at

Session topics include: detecting tastes and aromas in wine, the nature of taste, analyzing and categorizing wines, evaluating wines, and the aesthetics of wine.

For more information about the conference, visit the APA Web site.

-- Matt Itelson
Photo: Rena Buchgraber


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Last modified March 29, 2007 by University Communications