The Reification and Hierarchization of Wine

With his customary stinging wit, Franco Ziliani — the top Italian wine blogger in my book — posted this insightful and hilarious post on The Wine Spectator “Top 100 Wine Countdown” in which he aptly compared the marketing ploy to a striptease.

I greatly appreciated the analogy because it captures the absurdity inherent in the hyper-commercialization of wine in our country. After all, at the end of the day (literally), wine is something that we put into our bodies. Beyond its inebriating effects (which many of us enjoy), it is a source of nourishment that complements the food we eat (at least for those of us who drink food-friendly wines, i.e., wines with reasonable alcohol content and healthy levels of acidity that stimulate our digestion).

Just as the striptease represents a reification (read dehumanization) of the female body, so The Wine Spectator “top 100” list and “countdown to the wine of the year” represent a hierarchization of wine. This hierocracy reifies wine by telling us that there is one wine superior to all others and by implying that the so-called superior wine is the one that all other wines should aspire to. Such static quantification opposes the very nature of wine: the quality of wine lies in the foods with which we pair it, the ways in which and places where we consume it, and — most importantly — the people who make it and the people with whom we share it. Wine is a dynamic “living” substance. It evolves with time (and changes radically from the very moment a cork is pulled and the liquid begins to oxygenate). The intrinsic value of wine exists not in an abstract hierarchy but rather in the moment that we drink it — whether an under-$15 bottle of young Chinon or a 1990 Bruno Giacosa Red Label Barolo.

Time for me to stop pontificating? Yes and thanks for reading.

In other news, I gave a talk on Italian Renaissance cuisine Monday night at a Beard Foundation event.

Above: a scene from the Beard House. I will always think fondly of James Beard. I never met the man but my mother (an excellent cook) loved his cookbooks and crafted many of her best dishes from his recipes. Her “James Beard” meatloaf is always great. We won’t be eating meatloaf at Thanksgiving this year — my first time back for the holiday in more than six years! But maybe I can talk her into making it on another night while I’m in Southern California next week.


“Will you take me as I am?”

Sitting in a park in Paris, France
Reading the news and it sure looks bad
They won’t give peace a chance
That was just a dream some of us had
Still a lot of lands to see
But I wouldn’t want to stay here
It’s too old and cold and settled in its ways here
Oh, but California
California I’m coming home
I’m going to see the folks I dig
I’ll even kiss a Sunset pig
California I’m coming home

I met a redneck on a Grecian isle
Who did the goat dance very well
He gave me back my smile
But he kept my camera to sell
Oh the rogue, the red red rogue
He cooked good omelettes and stews
And I might have stayed on with him there
But my heart cried out for you, California
Oh California I’m coming home
Oh make me feel good rock’n roll band
I’m your biggest fan
California, I’m coming home


Oh it gets so lonely
When you’re walking
And the streets are full of strangers
All the news of home you read
Just gives you the blues
Just gives you the blues

So I bought me a ticket
I caught a plane to Spain
Went to a party down a red dirt road
There were lots of pretty people there
Reading Rolling Stone, reading Vogue
They said, “How long can you hang around?”
I said “a week, maybe two,
Just until my skin turns brown
Then I’m going home to California”
California I’m coming home
Oh will you take me as I am
Strung out on another man
California I’m coming home


Oh it gets so lonely
When you’re walking
And the streets are full of strangers
All the news of home you read
More about the war
And the bloody changes
Oh will you take me as l am?
Will you take me as l am?
Will you?

— “California,” Joni Mitchell

2 thoughts on “The Reification and Hierarchization of Wine

  1. Jeremy:
    I found this entry while musing through your ‘selected posts’ section and found it thought-provoking, especially with the inclusion of the Joni Mitchell lyrics.
    Does the hierarchy of wine ranking take wine “as it is” or do it/they seek some higher intrinsic value or standard, a standard which they have a direct hand in setting?
    no answers needed for this one.

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