On Snobs and Sauvignon Blanc
I’m a sucker for bomb throwers. That’s probably why I really liked reading Mike Steinberger’s article on Slate today entitled, "White Lies: Why Sauvignon Blanc is Overrated"
"Simply put, the grape (Sauvignon Blanc) is a dud, producing chirpy little wines wholly
devoid of complexity and depth, the very qualities that make wine
interesting and worth savoring. For years, this offensively inoffensive
grape has escaped criticism while chardonnay and merlot have been scorned. The free ride ends here."
Of course he’s wrong about Sauvignon Blanc, and I suspect he knows he is. But that’s not the point. Steinberger’s bomb is thrown with such aplomb and with just enough categorical statements that he clearly is looking for a response.
"Astonishingly, there are people, among them some wine writers, who
contend that sauvignon blanc creates wines of great character and
verve. I’d love to know which sauvignon blancs they’ve been drinking. I
taste dozens each year, and character and verve are two qualities most
of them sorely lack. Sure, they tend to have distinctive bouquets, with
heady aromas of grass, citrus, gooseberry, gunflint, and chalk—or some
combination thereof. But this excitement is reserved for the nose; all
the mouth gets is a limp, lemony liquid that grows progressively more
boring with each sip. Sauvignon blancs almost never evolve in the
glass—they simply fill the space."
It would be way to predictable to remind Mike about Mondavi To-Kalon I-Block, Rochioli’s Reserve, Voss’ great efforts, the Fume Blanc of Dry Creek Vineyards or any number of Sauvignon Blancs that deliver not just fine aromas, but wonderfully interesting and satisfying flavor. So I won’t.
Instead, I’ll note that Mike’s article did what it was supposed to do: it generated lots of passionate and considered comments. The type that intrigue me most are those that accuse him of "snobbery:
"I don’t know about Sauvignon Blanc, but I do know for sure one thing
that is overrated by far: pretensions of wine snobbery. Who cares?"
It should be noted that criticism, literary criticism, which Mike is engaging in, is no really about being a snob, though a certain amount of discernment (snobbery) is necessary to be a good critic. To accuse a critic of being a snob for voicing their opinion is like criticizing a football coach for developing a game plan: That’s what they do. And they either do it well or they don’t. Mike does it well.