Always Drink Responsibly

18 July 2013

Close Encounters of the Snobbery Kind- A Philosophical Examination of "Wine Snobs"

One can hardly attend a wine event these days without overhearing someone discussing an encounter with a wine snob and simultaneously experiencing one firsthand at some point in the evening. Such a scenario inspires me to write and so tonight I shall address this issue from my own philosophical path and ponder something we all love to hate- wine snobbery.

But first- it isn't just wine snobbery. Beer snobbery is out there too. And cider. And mead. And vodka, gin, whiskey- everything. Why? Because pretentiousness will exist on some level amongst any group of humans with a shared interest. Take any large meeting you've ever been in- there's always that one person who has to keep talking and talking for they can't resist the urge to show they are the smartest one in the room. Somehow the word "snob" has become conjoined to "wine" in our time- why is this, when snobbery is not exclusive to it?

Perhaps it is because of economic status and the associated imagery that comes to mind... the more affluent drinkers in the population sipping their glasses of wine, pinkies up, on their yachts or in their mansions while the rest of us pop open can after can of Budweiser trying to figure out how to pay the electric bill. "Bud? Eew!" - now that's what a "beer snob" would say...

Which brings me to my next point- it all depends on how you're defining "snob". I have friends who consider themselves wine and/or beer snobs, admittedly so. In this context, they are deemed "snob" because it refers to either extreme pickiness in what they choose to drink or the level of knowledge they have about the beverage. I am, by this definition, a complete and utter beer snob for I am particularly biased towards Belgian beer. Sommeliers and cicerones are totally screwed in this scenario because their wealth of knowledge and tasting ability makes them snobs by default. Yes, this seems unfair, for the more any of us taste, the more we will recognize, the more our palates develop, the more "snobs" we become. It is a part of the process.

The other definition is the one that gets under peoples skin- the attitude. And I must clear the air here and say, I have yet to meet a winemaker or brewer who ever came across as a snob to me; they love to share their experiences, knowledge and passion for the craft with those wishing to learn. No, most often the guilty are not the ladies and gents who actually do the work crafting your beverage- and make no mistake, wine making and brewing is a labor intensive process, not the misconceived glamorous hobby many think. Just try it next chance you have a volunteer opportunity at a vineyard or brew house. The pretentious attitude that carries on the wine snob stigma is propagated by the consumer. Yes, Joe Schmo consumer who thrives on being that one person who has to keep talking and talking because they can't resist the urge to show they are the smartest one in the room. Sound familiar?

The damage the wine snob stigma can do is affect the impression a first or second timer has before they ever walk in the door of a tasting room or event. I have observed it and overheard it. People shying away because wine tasting is "elitist" or "I don't know enough about wine to go in there", "I don't know how to describe what I taste", "I am no good at it and will be embarrassed" - Damn! Talk about taking the fun out of it! This is why I believe it is so important for shops and tasting rooms to maintain a friendly and inviting atmosphere that welcomes all levels of palates.

Unfortunately, it only takes that first bad experience to turn someone off, many times for good. And from the many stories I have heard, it is always the same snob- a consumer from Napa or Sonoma or someplace viticulturally superior, who can sniff the notes a mile away like a bloodhound and loudly proclaims all they taste upon one sip. Good for f***in you, I say. To the novice taster I say keep on tasting. Wine, beer, and spirits in and of themselves are no part of snobbery. Don't miss out just because of a few rotten eggs in the bunch.