Wine: An existential tasting?


“Paris, near the turn of 1933. Three young friends meet over apricot cocktails at the Bec-de-Gaz bar on the rue Montparnasse. They are Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and their friend Raymond Aron, who opens their eyes to a radical new way of thinking. Pointing to his drink, he says, “You can make philosophy out of this cocktail!” which led to Sartre’s historic quote, “Existence before essence”.

So, this glass of wine before me “exists” ….. but how do I describe it phenomenologically, never mind what is its essence!?

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I could describe it in terms of its chemistry and the botany of the vine, adding more about how the wine is made, or the global wine trade or regional classification systems. Maybe I could add a description of how this bottle was opened and poured, or how about the effects of alcohol on the human body? But none of this would describe this particular wine, my experience of it as an immediate phenomenon.

“Husserl, The German philosopher who established the school of phenomenology, said that, to describe a glass of wine, I should set aside both the abstract suppositions and any intrusive emotional associations, whatever they are! Then I can concentrate on the bright, fragrant, rich phenomenon in front of me now. This ‘setting aside’ or ‘bracketing out’ of “add-ons” Husserl called epoché –a term borrowed from the ancient Sceptics, who used it to mean a general suspension of judgement about the world. In other words describe don’t judge, something the BBC could do a little more of! He sometimes referred to it as a phenomenological ‘reduction’ instead: the process of boiling away any extra theorising about what wine ‘really’ is, so that we are left only with the intense and immediate flavour –the phenomenon. The result, he asserted, was a great liberation. Phenomenology frees me to talk about my experienced wine as a serious topic of investigation.”

So, back to my OWN glass of wine which “exists” ….. how do I describe it phenomenologically, and as already said, never mind what is its essence!?

“The glass is ice cold, frosted even. The first aroma is of honey, almost like an English Mead which is to be expected from a Malaga sweet wine. It’s colour is brown, not like a red wine, but clear and bright, “sticking” to the sides of the glass which is often referred to as “having legs”! It is very sweet, cloyingly thick with a burnt taste that lingers on the palate and tongue even after swallowing. As a chilled sweet wine it is a perfect match for a warm and sunny afternoon in Spain, sitting in the middle of a Malaga town centre terrace looking up at the Moor Alcazar, a historical central feature of the town”. Time to sample a few more!

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