Let Your Wine Snobbery Run Free
There are three common and inaccurate accusations that are too regularly hurled at wine lovers and the wine industry:
Wine Snobs Abound
Wine is Overpriced
Inexpensive Wine Is As Good as Expensive Wine
Whenever you hear or see these accusations flung, you can be nearly positive that the person flinging them feels inadequate over their lack of a wine education. They shouldn’t feel inadequate about that lack of wine knowledge any more than they ought to feel inadequate over a lack of Modern Dance education. But, for some reason, they do.
Keep in mind what is meant when you hear or read these things. In almost every single case, a person who is labeled a “wine snob” ends up being a person with discerning and educated tastes. The problem arises when someone who happens to know little about wine is in a conversation with someone who does and feels inadequate over that lack of knowledge. The response is: “Snob!”
When a person insists wine is overpriced, it’s almost always a case of that person feeling inadequate for not being able to appreciate the differences between a $75 bottle of wine and a $6 bottle of wine.
When a person claims that inexpensive wine is as good as expensive wine, it’s almost always a matter of them feeling inadequate over not being able to appreciate the difference between expensive wine and inexpensive wine.
I don’t expect wine lovers or the wine industry to ever see a decline in the use of these verbal or literary tropes simply because I don’t think human nature is likely to change much when it comes to dealing with feelings of inadequacy. And don’t fall for the incoherent argument that the wine industry brings these accusations on itself by not understanding how to communicate to consumers about wine. Not only do we know precisely how to communicate about wine, we are able to communicate so well about wine that you can find bottles paid for at prices between $6 and $6,000.
Don’t get me wrong, there are poseurs out there who sometimes ACT like they know all about wine and want to try to impress people with their knowledge. Rarely do these people really possess the knowledge they claim to have and rarely do they actually work in the wine industry. They too suffer from fears of inadequacy.
That said, my point is that you ought not to stand for those people who seek to denigrate legitimate knowledge and expertise simply as a means to bolster their own self-worth. It’s an ugly trait with which no one who respects their own knowledge ought to put up. Instead, let your wine snobbery run free and dismiss the dissers.
From New York Times “Dining Out” Section
(May 7, 2008, Page D1ff):
“Wine’s Pleasures: Are They All In Your Head?”
By Eric Asimov
“The Pour” Column
Hmmm…Not sure that Wine Snobbery is a good thing. After all, wine is simply a drink. Okay, wine is a drink with psychographic impacts and a fair amount of complexity as a subject, but even so, it’s just a drink. I suppose feelings of inadequacy or superiority enter into the whole wine thing. And they shouldn’t. The best ‘wine experts’ actually want to share knowledge rather than exhibit it.
Interesting post – but I think it certainly goes both ways. I think that ‘wine snobbery’ continues to be a ‘real thing’ – folks can’t seem to think or see outside their own little bubble and realize that others are just not that interested in their Jura/Greek/Sardinian/Skin Contact white wine. I see it every day in my tasting room. This is not to say that the picture you’ve painted is false whatsoever – I do believe that there are many out there who react for the reasons you’ve pointed out. But ‘snobbery’ is real and still exists – which is why craft beer and distillations are kicking wine’s behind and why wineries are now looking to ‘mimic’ these other beverages by doing coffee-infused or whiskey barrel aged versions . .
Don’t base your perception of a wine or purchase a wine on some useless rating by somebody with no sensory relation to that of yourself. Some individuals are extremely knowledgeable, well-schooled and respected individuals. I myself have great respect for them as individuals, fellow cork-heads and their vast knowledge of wine and wine regions. My problem is, and always has been, that their proclamations from on-high about wine, is that all their knowledge doesn’t trump another person’s palate…or wallet. And those two factors don’t make you inadequate.
One of my favorite wineries produces a fantastic Cab, at least for my taste. I took a friend there and they said it was way too heavy for their taste. For me it was perfect. If I were to give this wine a rating I would probably say it was 97 or 98 points on my rating scale. The San Francisco Chronicle gave it a 92, and a blogger friend of mine gave it an 88. I’m sure my friend would have given it an 80 or less. So who’s right, and after hearing these assessments and their ratings, how would YOU decide on whether to purchase the wine or not? And, is my friend’s wine knowledge inadequate? Should he plunk down his hard earned dinero whether it’s, as you noted, the $75 bottle, or $6 bottle based upon somebody else’s perceptions of what his inadequacies?
Speaking about the Almighty Dollar, many times people will rely on their wallets, as I noted above, over ratings or even varietal, when it comes to purchasing wine. It does not make them inadequate from a palate standpoint. How many times have you heard a friend or somebody shout out to pick up a “cheap” bottle of red or white wine for dinner on their way home from work? Over time they may get accustomed to a monetarily pleasing, let’s say Two Buck Chuck. They like the price, and maybe they really like the wine. But are they missing out, or knowledge inadequate for not purchasing a $3,000 bottle of 2011 Screaming Eagle even if they’re “financially adequate” to do so? Once again, I’d say possibly…maybe…or even who in the Wide Wide World of Sports really knows…or even cares! This does not make anybody inadequate. But wait! How come so many critics say it’s the crème de la crème of Cabs and the best juice on the planet, and if you don’t agree with me your wine knowledge is inadequate? Here’s one for ya…How many people do you know that’s tasted this grand aviary cocktail from the vines of Napa? I always get a kick out of the answers I get when I ask the question, and I usually get something like “I know this guy whose bother-in-law met this lady in Maui that said her dad tasted it and said it was great”! I myself haven’t tasted this very possibly over-price nectar of the loudmouthed bird. Most people from what I read, seen and hear, pick up a bottle or case of this wine, or some other monetary moon-shot wines, usually hold them in their cellars just to show them off before the coming wine auction. In my opinion wine snobs. Also, in my humble opinion, it’s just supply and demand created by well-known wine critic’s 96+point ratings. But I would like to give it a whirl someday just to see what the big deal is with this “cult” juice.
My overall point is that you seek out the wine, you buy the wine, you smell the wine, you taste the wine and you drink the wine. So, who’s the “adequate” wine drinker? It’s not that 96-point guy, it’s not the synopsis of the 12 case critics or even your best friend or somebody else’s friend soaking up Mai Tie’s in Maui. So, if you say anybody other than yourself…I have an outstanding vineyard that produces 96-point wine to sell you…cheap!
The problem I see is the large number of producers who seek to capitalize on the idea that an expensive wine must be better than one less expensive. There is such a mishmash of real quality in the market place that a person who is interested in learning to be more discerning will have an almost infinite number of false leads to follow in their quest for knowledge. That, however, is the marketplace in our society.
A few things in response to your thoughtful comment:
1. I don’t hold anything against anyone who may have different palate preferences or wallet restrictions than does a critic or another wine lover. However, when a person makes blanket claims about a person be a snob or overpaying for a wine I find that to be atrocious behavior that can only be explained by their own lack of self-worth.
2. It’s not a question of who is right about the quality of a wine or preference for a wine. It’s about dismissing someone as a snob for liking something you don’t like.
3. The person who prefers the 2 Buck Chuck over more expensive bottles has every right to. But I dismiss them as problematic when they conclude that anyone paying more is overpaying for wine.
4. The person who claims Screaming Eagle is better than a $10 cabernet isn’t claiming anyone esle who disagrees is inadequate. They are simply stating their preference. They may in fact explain why the SE is a better wine than Chateau Whatever. If they are making their case based on a set of solid premises, it doesn’t mean they are dismissing other argument and it doesn’t mean they are snobs.
5. The person who buys an expensive wine, keeps it to sell later is better called an investor rather than a snob.
6. A wine is not overpriced if it sells out at that price before the arrival of the next vintage. In fact, if it does sell out before the next vintage, it’s more likely to be underpriced.
I’m tired of seeing the infographic of “This is How Much a Bottle of Wine REALLY Costs” which is in the same category as Wine is Overpriced. The analysis is often simplistic without taking into account custom crush fees, consulting winemaker fees, transportation costs, mobile bottling, time in inventory or a host of basic costs easily outlined by me or other small producers. The continued trope that “Wine is Overpriced” hurts small wine producers who don’t have the scale of a global corporation. I was written by one writer that “whatever their production costs, there’s no debate about what they’re ultimately charging for the finished wines – which for my purposes (writing for a consumer audience) is the crucial detail of their pricing scheme.” Full stop.The end price is all that matters, not the cost of production which is often misleading or inaccurate. Some wine writers and bloggers claim they want to help small producers but have poor or inaccurate information when it comes to the costs of actual production.If only the wine writing community would take a lesson from food writers and chefs outlining the costs and genuine hardships of starting a restaurant (or maybe a Netflix documentary, not about the glamour of Somms but the 2-job life of many winemakers), it might help for greater understanding in the food and beverage business.
This is a rapidly increasing problem at all levels of society, due in part to the “democratization of knowledge” created by the internet and the destructive impact of post-modernism on how we arrive at Truth.
Read the very interesting book “The Death of Expertise” by Tom Nichols to get this broken down by someone who has studied the subject.
So, after I let them know (and you know who them are, or is it is (?)) everything I know I know about wine, they usually respond: “You think you know everything there is to know about wine; and you’re just showing off. What a pompous tush (my know-nothing friends are too snobbish use the “A word) …”
Then when I tell them you know, the wine you’re drinking is from the 2014 vintage (“a very good year”) and tell them it’s from the northern reaches of Alto Adige (North Alto Adige?), and I see their eyes take on a certain sheen, I back off because I don’t want to offend (heaven forfend) my plebeian friends, I begin to tell them about the terroir of Northern AA, emphasizing my knowledge of how to pronounce terroir.
Does that make me a wine snob? I only want to help them help themselves and make sure — no, demand — that they enjoy this special wine from NAA (vernacular).
Mr. Tushman, Wine Parvenu
All that really matters in the great wine cosmos is “IS IT GOOD FOR ME?” Do I like it or not.? Is it pleasant experience that gels with my body chemistry and makes me happy that I am enjoying it. Who the hell cares if the harvester cuts his fingernails before he picks the grapes? Details shmetails!! Time for the common man to feel empowered to appreciate whatever his pocketbook dictates. Parker, Spectator et al be damned! Fly the flag for wine appreciation independence. We are free, free to enjoy what we like, not what someone else tells us to like. The real issue is that you have to open a bottle of wine to know what’s in it for you. Therein lies the rub. We need an effective scratch and sniff tag on each bottle. Until then…
It’s been over 30 years since I’ve had a $6 bottle I thought was worth a lot more but I still find $75 bottles not worth $6.
In reference to David’s comments about smaller wineries, this is a real problem. I try to promote drinking local wines but smaller producers generally have higher costs and the final wines are higher priced than many people think they should be. With so many less expensive wines on the market from all over, this is a huge challenge for small, local wineries. I am all for a Netflix film or series about small producers instead of sommeliers.
Thanks David for the reply. I don’t think you got my drift on every one of the five points. For example regarding the Screaming Eagle, I noted: “Once again, I’d say possibly…maybe…or even who in the Wide Wide World of Sports really knows…or even cares! This does not make anybody inadequate”. I actually believe that we have to more accurately define the term wine snob, which means different things to different people. I have friends that belly-laugh them selves silly seeing some French Chateau owner standing there holding a wine glass by the foot while posing in front of the cellar door wearing a blazer and ascot in a Wine Spectator photo shoot! I myself think holding a glass like that is kind of “snobbish” let alone silly. Anyway, keep up the great vibes and CHEERS!!!