The Educated Palate, Or the Aesthetics of Ick

Women. They are always so damned pragmatic.

By women, I mean my wife, Marta. By always I mean “any time we are in disagreement about anything.” And by pragmatic, of course, I mean “right.”

The other day, while I was taste-testing the Australian Liverwurst, I wanted a second opinion, so I asked Marta to taste it. Mind you, this was after I had thoroughly aerated the wine, and had written in My Blog about the “finish of sour cherries” and let it off the hook with the self-deprecating “too tart for my taste buds.” Meaning, I’m obviously just a wimp. After all, a real man would take it that tart, and like it.

She swirled the glass. She sniffed.

“Ick,” she said.

She touched the wine to her lips and drew a tiny mouthful. She let the flavors blossom on her palate. Her eyes screwed up tight, and her lips puckered.

“Ick,” she said, and handed back the glass with her eyes tight-shut, as if to say, “Take this out of my sight. Better yet, get it out of my house.”

There really should be a revered position in the academic study of Aesthetics for the word, “Ick.” It cuts directly through all the geometric misdirection of ellipses, parables, and hyperbole, instantly resolves the ambiguity of simile and metaphor, transcends all fable, lore, and myth, and lays waste to paradigms, philosophies, creeds, and Schools of Thought.


I’m even willing to wager a fair sum that it translates directly and without ambiguity into every language known to humankind, past, present, and future.

Ick is a valuable corrective to pretensions.

You see, there is this concept of the educated palate, which is somehow able to relish the subtleties that the uneducated palate cannot, and which presumably vastly expands the field of what is pleasurable to the taste. Indeed, it creates the entire hypothetical class of tastes which are “accessible” only to the educated palate. By the usual and ever-popular application of the Fallacy of the Inverse (or Denying the Antecedent) we arrive at the idea that therefore, if you find the taste inaccessible, you must not have an educated palate. You are a Philistine.

I’m hardly an accomplished oenologist, but I am a musician with a highly trained musical ear, and exactly the same fraud has been going on in the world of music for at least a century. Most music composed in the 20th century — apart from “pop” music and movie scores — is “inaccessible” to any but the most rarified of educated musical ears. If you don’t like Bartok, you are by definition a Musical Philistine.

I remember once commenting, shortly out of college, that Dmitri Shostakovich was a talentless hack, and being told in response that I was the “most arrogant man in the world.”

It was a strange insult. After all, if it were true, it would be a compliment. It’s only an insult if it isn’t true, which takes all the sting out of it. Furthermore, although Donald Trump had not yet intruded on the national scene, I had already conclusively theorized his existence, so I knew I could not possibly be the most arrogant man in the world.

Arrogant or not, the fact remains that most of Shostakovich’s music evokes an instant response of Ick.

By contrast, the second movement of Beethoven’s seventh symphony has never, to my knowledge, resulted in Ick. To the contrary, the first audiences stomped their feet until the balcony swayed, and ceased only when the conductor returned to the stage and performed it again. Nor does The Moldau, by Bedrich Smetana, ever invoke Ick: indeed, that one is enough to get you laid, if you play your cards right (I speak from personal experience).

The educated ear lets me enter into the joy of music more fully, yes. And it can occasionally — occasionally — take me past a visceral Ick into an appreciation of something playful or haunting, such as certain passages from Sergei Prokofiev’s two violin concerti. But it also makes me more aware of the Ick, not less.

An educated palate should not draw me away from a good wine, which I consider one which a dinner party of my friends will clamor for a second (or third) bottle to be opened, though hopefully they will refrain from stomping their feet until the balcony rattles. It should also lead me to appreciate a great wine, which is not one which I must struggle to get past the Ick through aeration of the wine and proper preparation of the senses: it is a wine that begins at good and then carries my educated palate into ecstasy.

Even if I’m belching garlic after a liverwurst sandwich on rye.

So back to women. And their damned pragmatism.

After we exchanged a few animated presentations of Various Points of View, Marta took the pragmatic stance of saying she would be picking wines from here on out. Like it’s that easy. Fine. We’ll just see how that goes.

So we came back from Wilbur’s with a box full of under-$10 wines.

yhst-128588312714207_2232_25584436Yesterday, Marta’s son and our grandson came up to spend the night — mom is in DC at a scientific conference — and I opened a BV Coastal Estates 2011 Zinfandel that Marta picked out. Under $10. Cheap, factory-bottled California swill. Marta had a glass, and made only faces of delight. Her son — a sparing drinker even on his wild nights — said, “Say, I’ll have another glass of that.”

And you know, it brought me all the way back to earth. Is it a great wine? Probably not. It’s a run-of-the-mill good wine, drinkable straight out of the bottle with no aeration, no special crackers or food pairings, and no fancy discussion of nose or legs or bloom or finish. It smells good, and it tastes good.

I think I’ll have another glass, too.

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