Friday, May 22, 2015

The Quest for Certainty Blocks the Search for Meaning...

"The quest for certainty blocks the quest for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers." - Erich Fromm, 1947

That quote from Fromm's Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics is a peak into his into his views on human nature, but as I read it the other day the first thing that popped into my mind was the 100-pt wine rating system. I know, I know, this horse has long been dead. Perhaps this was my first thought because I actually found myself defending the system over the weekend. My friend, Jeff Siegel, made the statement that the 100-pt system is useless. I countered that it is quite useful as a means to convey information about one person's perception of a wine to another. However, I acknowledged that the system is quite flawed. Jeff, in all his wisdom, correctly pointed out that 'flawed' implies it can be corrected.

There is no way that this system of using numbers to portray an authoritative characterization of a wine's quality can be fixed to correct the false sense of certainty it has created. The true meaning of a wine cannot be replaced by a number, yet the wine world in which we live has been corrupted by the quest for perfection. Yes, information is conveyed but at what price?

There are those consumers and critics alike who understand that a wine's true worth is not found in the pedigree of the cultivar, or the reputation of the region, or the celebrity of the winemaker, but in the collection of traits that leads to an experience. A number draws a sand in the line; Whoever is not with me is against me (Matthew 12:30). Wow, I never thought I'd quote the Bible on this blog! Only by erasing the number from the equation can we erase this false dichotomy of good and evil, or right and wrong. Wine is neither good nor evil. Wine is communal. You have the right to love a bottle I can't stand.

Wine is meant to be enjoyed, shared, and celebrated. Arguments are part of the fun, but the quest for certainty and the quest for high scores has replaced the true meaning of wine for too many consumers, critics, and winemakers. Only naked from certainty that numbers imply, can we then drive forward to experience wine in its true beauty.


  1. Excerpt from Slate
    (posted June 15, 2007):

    “Cherries, Berries, Asphalt, and Jam;
    Why wine writers talk that way.”

    Link: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/drink/2007/06/cherries_berries_asphalt_and_jam.html

    By Mike Steinberger
    “Drink: Wine, beer, and other potent potables” Column

    . . .

    In his book The Taste of Wine, legendary French oenologist Emile Peynaud elegantly explained the conundrum. "We tasters feel to some extent betrayed by language," he wrote. "It is impossible to describe a wine without simplifying and distorting its image." This linguistic failure is surely one reason that NUMERICAL SCORES for wines have proven so popular; POINTS are simplistic and distorting, too, but they at least give you something to hold onto -- more so than, say, "spice box," "melted asphalt," or "liquefied minerals."

    . . .

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