IF you drink bad wine long enough, will that eventually lead to drinking good wine? No, I don’t think so. Still, a couple of wine writers have recently tried to make the case that bad wine should be tolerated, if not embraced. They argue that it can’t be entirely bad if it appeals to large numbers of people. Drinking bad wine encourages the love of all wine, and, really, nothing is harmful about bad wine, so why not live and let live? I’m all for peaceful coexistence. I would never fault people for the wines they choose to drink, or for not making good wine a priority in their lives. But if you do care about drinking good wine, then you ought to take serious issue with these arguments, as I do. Just as important, these articles suggest that wine critics should not make reasoned aesthetic judgments about good and bad. Instead, critics should encourage drinking wine of any kind on the theory that wine culture will ultimately benefit from the quantity consumed rather than the quality. Aside from its patronizing nature, such a position conflates the role of the critic, whose aim is to encourage judgment and discernment, with an industry mouthpiece, whose role is to encourage sales. Critics, and all wine journalists, should owe no allegiance to the wine industry, nor accept the notion that consumption of any wine achieves a sort of ultimate good. As I wrote in March, the best way to improve the quality of what you drink is to think of wine as food. Simply applying the same aesthetic, medical, ethical and moral judgments to wine that many people do to food, as I suggested, results in drinking better wine. Coincidentally, a few weeks after my piece, the Opinion pages of The New York Times published “Ignore the Snobs, Drink the Cheap, Delicious Wine”. In it, writer Bianca Bosker made the case that wine lovers should not shun “processed wines”, products made of industrially farmed grapes, which are manipulated and tailored to fit predetermined specifications based on audience research. “These maligned bottles have a place,” Bosker wrote. “The time has come to learn to love unnatural wines”. The piece was adapted from her entertaining book, Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste. Bosker argued that applying technology to wine has democratized it by improving its quality and making what she called good wine accessible to more people at lower prices. “Thanks to pumps and powders, drinkers who can’t splurge no longer have to settle for plonk,” she added. “The gap between fine wine and commercial wine is shrinking as producers use chemical shortcuts, not only to avoid blatant flaws, but also to mimic high-end bottles.” This argument is wrong in almost every way. First of all, additives and manipulation didn’t improve the general level of wine. Science did. For centuries, nobody understood how winemaking worked. Fermentation was largely a mystery, as were the reasons that wine spoiled. Scientific breakthroughs revealed the role of yeast in fermentation and explained how bacteria converted harsh malic acid into softer lactic acid, which makes many red wines and some whites easier to drink. Science uncovered the pernicious effects of unwanted microbial activity in wine, the harm that comes from prolonged exposure to air and warmth and the benefits of scrupulous attention to cleanliness in winemaking. This all resulted in fewer flawed wines. Technological improvements were beneficial, too. Refrigeration helped to make fresh, fruity white wines, as did the wide availability of stainless steel. Yet, the technology for manipulating textures and flavors, and for taking away alcohol, hasn’t improved wine. It’s just made it more formulaic, like soft drinks and other beverages, by streamlining production for consistency and stability. It’s like saying the development of Wonder Bread made bread better. Advancements for eliminating flaws in wine, like volatile acidity, have not improved. Unpalatable wines are just less bad. There’s a difference. Finally, the notion that manipulating cheap wine to mimic high-end bottles benefits consumers is laughable. Few things have been as damaging to the American wine industry as its homogenization. Knockoff wines sell, but the American wine industry also craves critical approval. Imitation high-end wines may satisfy many people, but they are commodities, no more worthy of applause than the imitation designer bags sold on Canal Street. I take issue with people who ought to know better, those who confuse the differences between bad and good wines and critics and industry promoters. Anyone who is in the business of examining wine critically needs to actually be critical, not simply validate consumer choices, and looking at wine critically means understanding the chasm between mass-produced wine products and wines that are an expression of a place, a people and an aesthetic. Whether it is cheap or expensive, those who love wine live for the thrill of the surprise, the sense of discovery, the pleasure of knowing that the best wines can take you places that you never anticipated. It’s the unknown that makes fine wine, not the elimination of flaws or the popularity of flavors.