What Aristotle Can Teach Wine Critics


Warren Winiarski

Warren Winiarski

In an article about Warren Winiarski, Dorothy Gaiter asked the legendary Stags Leap Wine Cellars vintner about the process he used to evaluate his wines.

He [Winiarski] explained to me that “to be complete, a wine has to have three fundamental things. It has to have a beginning. It has to have a middle. And it has to have an end. If you don’t have the sensation of that because everything is in the beginning, then you don’t have the ingredients for perceiving completeness. What guided me in my thinking about winemaking was trying to achieve that sense of completeness, and I think the French tasters may have believed that they were tasting a French wine when they were tasting mine.”

Winiarski’s Cabernet Sauvignon went on to beat every French (red) wine at the Judgement of Paris in 1976 – the event most closely associated with putting American wines on the International map (and for allowing us to see what Captain Kirk would look like as a surfer). But his quote also reveals what might be one of the simplest methods for evaluating wine.

Chris Pine from the movie, "Bottle Shock."

Chris Pine from the movie, “Bottle Shock.”

Take a sip of your wine. Do you like it when you first taste it? Does the flavor change after a few seconds and do you still like it? Does it change yet again – perhaps a few moments after you swallow – and do you still like it? One. Two. Three. Beginning. Middle. End.

You could spend a lifetime pulling apart the reasons for why you might enjoy that sip of wine. Are the elements of the wine balanced, e.g., with alcohol, fruit, acidity, oak, etc., does one stand out or does everything seem to blend into each other perfectly? Does it express the flavors typical for the variety? Does it express a quality that is associated with a person or place?

Those are a lot of questions. But does the average wine drinker really need to ask them?

I think not.

As it’s often said, one should drink the wines they enjoy. And if, when you take a sip of your next glass, you enjoy the beginning, middle, and end – and each is distinct from each other – that might be as complex as you need to get. After all, the three act drama is still the benchmark for storytelling.  If it was good enough for Aristotle – and the man who beat the best French winemakers in the world – I think it’s good enough for me.


The SWIRLosopher is Sean Trapani, a professor emeritus of advertising who - despite a degree in philosophy - has abandoned all reason and is trying to make a living in the wine business.

Ape Artwork (c) 2014 Walter Moore, used with permission.