Judgment of Paris

The ‘cons’ of connoisseurship

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

Connoisseurship, the art of appreciating fine things and understanding their provenance, importance and distinguishing characteristics, is certainly a worthy way to spend one’s time. Connoisseurs learn about objects that interest them and use that knowledge not (only) to impress people but to make others excited and see what they find so unique and interesting.

Perhaps there’s an element of schadenfreude to it, but I’m always intrigued when self-professed “connoisseurs” reveal a lack of understanding that puts into question the knowledge they think they have. Two upcoming films about the ‘Judgment of Paris,’ the 1976 French wine jury that improbably found a selection of American wines altogether superior to French wines, reveals the conceit on the part of some of the jurors. From an article in Canada’s Globe and Mail:

No nose? Talk about calling the kettle noir. But then, I’ve always advocated calling connoisseurs “cons” for short. I’ve attended far too many professional blind tastings to have much respect for people who boast about their tasting abilities.

Am I being too harsh? I think not. Frankly, to confuse an aristocratic Bâtard-Montrachet from continental-climate Burgundy with a warm-weather Napa chardonnay is the wine equivalent of mistaking a Massenet opera for Cats on Broadway. The tasters knew it, too, which is why some tried to suppress or dismiss the Paris results after the bottles came out of their paper bags

As wines can differ so much by vintage, can we be really be critical of the connoisseur who occasionally gets it wrong? I’d say as long as the stakes are ‘impressing people at a dinner party’ and not ‘substantially misvaluing cases of wine for auction,’ it doesn’t matter that much if the connoisseur is occassionally wrong. He or she will be right most of the time, imparting wisdom and helping others learn about something worthy of connoisseurship.

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