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Published:  23 July, 2008

By David Williams

The embattled winemakers of the Old World may be rapidly losing market share to their Australian rivals but, at least according to philosopher Roger Scruton, they still have exclusive tenancy of the moral high ground. Speaking on the subject of virtuous intoxication' at the first-ever Wine and Philosophy' Conference at the University of London last week, Scruton argued that it was morally acceptable to get drunk in moderation on some Old World wines, but not on those produced in Australia, nor on strong liquors such as whisky. According to Scruton, fine wine is marked by terroir' and by the integration of the alcoholic taste so that one cannot notice it. Moderate intoxication caused by such wines is laudable because it enables the drinker to make communion with the immanent reality, history, geography and customs of a community. The flavour is imparted by the principles of settlement.' Examples of such wines can be found, Scruton said, in Burgundy and Germany, but Australia is a big problem. It is a landscape that has been dragged from hunter-gatherer to farmer in 200 years.' Australians have generally not, therefore, built into their wine "le gout de terroir"', choosing instead to make wines at 14.5% alcohol, and to brand them for sale in the moron market'. Scruton, who is chair in philosophy at Birkbeck College and wine columnist for the New Statesman, was one of four speakers presenting papers to an audience of wine trade professionals and philosophers at the conference, which had the full title: Wine and Philosophy: from science to subjectivity. Among the other speakers was philosophy graduate Paul Draper, of Ridge Vineyards in California, who discussed the distinction between the art of winegrowing and the craft of winemaking'. The conference will be covered in greater detail in Harpers in the New Year.