Book Review: ‘I Drink Therefore I Am’, by Roger Scruton

Tabatha Legget 29 January 2010

Writing a book about the philosophy of wine is a great idea; most philosophers will happily admit to spending more time drinking than philosophising, and so the combination of the two is perfect. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that this book lives up to its full potential.

As a keen philosopher, and an even keener drinker, I was eager to see how Roger Scruton, former Cambridge student, would argue: “wine is an excellent accompaniment to food; but is a better accompaniment to thought.”

The first part of the book comprises a personal story of how Scruton became an oenophile, and moves on to give descriptions of wine regions around the world, focusing primarily on France. Although Scruton does offer some interesting facts, for example that “clay-baked hedgehog” is the best wine to serve with a white Hermitage, his musings become a little tedious. When he compares Chablis to Jane Austen’s Emma, on the basis that both “combine absolute purity with a rich and shallow-filled personality”, I found myself losing concentration. Scruton’s passion for wine is evident, but his arrogance prevents it from being infectious.

In the second part of the book, Scruton focuses on the philosophical implications of wine. He examines the status of wine within the community, alongside degrees of intoxication, and views drinking wine as a possible route towards moral development.

He asserts, “we can defend the drinking of wine, only if we see that it is part of a culture, and this culture has a social, outward-going, other-regarding meaning.” Whilst this part of the book is certainly more engaging than the part it follows, the reader must note that Scruton does presume the reader to have some prior philosophical knowledge.

The appendix is, in my opinion, the best part of the book. It entails recommendations of which wines to drink whilst reading the works of various philosophers. This is a highly entertaining idea, which is well executed.

Whilst we are advised to drink sweet, white wine whilst reading Hume, since “there is a leisurely wisdom in his prose that always warms the heart”, Scruton suggests that a deep Rhône wine will “compensate for the thinness” of Descartes’ ‘Meditations’. The humour of the appendix compensates for the rather dry introductory chapters of this book.

The subject of the book is excellent, and the appendix very funny. However, the opening chapters display a degree of snobbery, which is unappealing.

Although Scruton’s passion for combining expensive wine and philosophy makes interesting reading, I’ve yet to be convinced that Sainsbury’s ‘2 for £5′ deal on wine can be beaten.

Tabatha Legget