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Philosophy Professor Examines the Beauty of Wine

Published: January 12, 2009
Buttery. Complex. Oaky. Silky. Ample. Easy-drinking. But beautiful?

Take away the smooth, curvy bottle and classy label and can an Italian wine be considered beautiful?

“Of course, it can,” says Kevin Sweeney, University of Tampa associate professor of philosophy.

As a researcher of aesthetics, Sweeney goes beyond the boundaries of art and music, challenging scholars and others to find the beauty in such things as wine and food. He recently spoke at the Philosophy of Wine Conference in Pollenzo, Italy, on “Wine Evaluation and Expertise.”

“Traditionally, philosophers thought the concept of beauty could only apply to the senses of sight and sound, but an object of taste could not be beautiful,” says Dr. Kevin Sweeney, associate professor of philosophy.

There are two kinds of taste, he says: the taste that happens when you put something in your mouth (the gustatory experience) and critical taste (your taste in art or how you decorate your apartment). He argues that, once you get beyond your initial reaction to a wine, you can start to evaluate its beauty based on objective terms of critical taste.

“With the first sip of wine you’re just starting to get to know it,” he says. “It might take a little while.

You have to go back and taste the wine on other occasions to really come to a position about whether you think it’s a good wine.”

For instance, as a Barolo matures, it will have an aroma of violets and tar. It will develop more depth, qualities and smells.

“The wine develops a structure,” he says. “As you drink it, the tastes change, and you start noticing interesting relations to taste.”

Sweeney plans to compile his research efforts into a book on the subject of philosophy and food.