The death of the winemaker?
Ladies and gentlemen, I confess. This photo convicts me of the most heinous vinous sacrilege. For the glass in the middle contains: a blend of the two wines either side of it!
Nor was this errant up-topping; this was a most intentional act. I was tasting the two wines separately, pitting New World versus Old, when it struck me that a combination of both would provide the ideal combination of the Chablis' steely austerity with the Margaret River Chardonnay's luscious richness.
Rewind to Paris, 1967. Literary theorist Roland Barthes publishes his seminal paper, The Death Of The Author.
Fast-forward to Leeds, 1997. I'm being introduced to it in an English Literature seminar as a precocious undergraduate and I think to myself: sheesh, when will I ever find a use for this crap?
Nineteen years later, I have the answer to that question. Barthes argued that our knowledge of a writer should have absolutely no bearing on any interpretation of their work. Instead it is the reader who is the ultimate arbiter, at liberty to construe meaning however they please. Whatever intentions the author might have had are rendered irrelevant.
I doubt Barthes was a laugh-a-minute kinda guy, but I hope he appreciated the perfect irony of writing something declaiming that an author's meaning must be disregarded.
Anyway, his theory relates to wine in several ways. Firstly, it's an interesting philosophical thought that wine has no meaning until it is opened and tasted; that it can only be the taster who imbues that wine with meaning.
Secondly, it has implications for the perpetual blind-tasting debate. Many people believe that wine is better assessed when its author is known; that the context of production has an essential bearing on how a wine should be scored. Others argue that this merely facilitates bias, and therefore diminishes the taster's impartiality.
Thirdly, it lends wine drinkers the absolute authority to interpret wine however they wish - and this returns me to that photo. Normally, blending bottled wines together is considered anathema; as an affront to the winemaker's supreme judgement. Whereas applying Barthes' philosophy empowers the drinker to approach wine however they please in order to maximise their enjoyment of it. Why shouldn't someone blend together Pétrus with La Tâche, if they think it improves the wine? We could call it Pétrâche.
Merely suggesting such a thing would make most wine lovers wince, and I understand why. Nobody would seriously suggest cutting a Tarantino together with a Spielberg, or making a collage from a Rembrandt and a Monet. Okay, some people would, but most of us believe that artists know best, and their work should not be tampered with.
However, this can result in the unhealthy veneration of the creator, whose work never gets questioned, thereby fostering self-indulgence and resulting in a decline in quality.
If wine drinkers demonstrated a bit more irreverence and unconventionality, it would challenge the omniscience of the winemaker and would give drinkers greater freedom to enjoy wine. If you buy in to Barthes' proposal, this means drinkers would no longer be intimidated by their lack of wine knowledge. It offers far greater equality to wine, and to wine drinkers.
Then again, if you buy into Barthes' proposal, you are free to interpret this piece in whichever way you wish.