Let Us Praise the ‘Wine Snob’

By Tom Wark

Look around the wine Blogosphere and youll see a consistent message from wine bloggers: This blog is not about wine snobbery.

I think Id like to come to the defense of wine snobbery not only as a self-identifying moniker, but also as an approach to wine appreciation. But, since wine snobbery is a notion that really has no certain definition, Id like to come to its defense on my own terms.

Wine Snobbery: a relationship with wine that embraces the idea that wine is more than a drink and that there is a wine knowledge base and wine vocabulary one can only appreciate and wallow in after considerable study.

Notice that this definition of “wine snobbery” does not include those dreaded people who simply name-drop or dismiss certain pedestrian wines for the sake of self-aggrandizement. They give a bad name to wine snobbery. They are in fact commonplace boors, a condition found among people who often have appreciation for nothing other than their ego.

However, the true Wine Snob is something much more.

My contention is that certain wine lovers get branded with the derogatory Wine Snob label by those who simply dont understand what the snob is talking about. This is as much a defensive position of the label slinger as it is anything else. We simply dont like finding ourselves in a conversation with others in which we dont understand the vocabulary, and hence the ideas, that are being bandied about. And wine appreciation does come with a set of fairly arcane ideas as well as a specific vocabulary.

Yet, so do Egyptology, physics, baseball and most other avocations that people find themselves involved with. Yet, when the baseball lover starts talking about On Base Percentage or swing velocity vs. the Williams System Swing you rarely have these aficionados branded as Baseball Snobs. When you overhear two people discussing intricacies of the middle period vs. late period in the ancient Egyptian mummification rituals, you again rarely hear these people called mummy snobs.

Why are the wine lovers who dismiss Yellowtail as pedestrian wine manufactured to a formula that dismisses terroir and plays to our basest palates considered wine snobs?” Why, when you hear wine lovers dismiss any desire to delve into over extracted, high pH, New World wine, do you brand them wine snobs?

Its likely because you simply dont understand the conversation.

Yet wine still carries with it the unfortunate perception of being a drink those other people consume. This is changing in America, but it is a notion that still wields considerable weight with the people.

Yet here on the Internet, in the blogsphere, there remains a considerable number of sites, perhaps the majority, that claim to be the wine blog for the masses; the place where you can get information and recommendations about wines that dont come with ’snobbery’ . Im tempted to suggest that many of these bloggers take this stand simply because they dont have the wherewithal to be genuine wine snobs and in the end write down to themselves and with the hopes that they will be providing information to a collective of readers who also dont have the ability to be true and genuine wine snobs. I dont think this type of person really wants to spend much time on a wine blog.

In the end there is a great deal to admire in the genuine wine snob. Theyve pursued their interests with a depth of consideration and thoughtfulness we apply only to those subjects that truly captivate us.

Lets hear it for Wine Snobs and Wine Snobbery!

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Reader Comments

You see, Tom, I usually use “wine geek” to describe people like myself (who you would define as a snob in your original definition).

I think snobbery IS about those snooty fools!

Great post…

While I agree with most of your premise, Tom, I think that some of us take a more basic approach on our blogs (and for some of us, podcasts) to break down the elitist image of wine in the U.S. that leads to it only being consumed on special occasions. Id like to see wine as a daily beverage like it is in Italy or France, where you can drink wine with your Big Mac at McDonalds. I dont think we will likely see fast food wine in this country for complicated social and historical reasons, but I can foresee a time when wine is accepted by most Americans as a complement to food and a part of a healthy lifestyle. Too many people think they need to study wine for years in order to truly appreciate it, a point of view advanced by many “wine snobs” (I prefer “wine geek” to avoid confusion with how most people define snob). Im not one of them because I believe the more people included in the conversation, the better for all. And I do consider myself a wine geek, but try to control my tendencies at being pedantic about wine

Wine snobs - like snobs of any sort - are boors. I don’t believe that having a great appreciation and love for wine makes you a snob. What can make you a snob are the things you mention - dropping names, dismissing a lower end wine as pedestrian just because it’s lower end - but also the inability to be gracious about other people’s likes, dislikes or understanding of wines.

In most of those other professions or hobbies you mention if you asked the person questions they would probably be excited to explain to you (maybe in too great of detail!) what they were talking about - they don’t expect everyone to be at their same level. A wine lover (or that geeky, Lenn) will do the same. A wine snob will sigh and roll their eyes and answer with disdain dripping from every syllable.

~ B

OK, I don’t consider myself a wine geek at all, nor do I consider myself a snob. I love wines in all price ranges, areas, and styles. I simply consider myself a wine lover. Like any other passion, I just love teasing out different qualities, profiles, and characteristics, the same way I do with literature or films. I despise the snobbery attached to wine; I can’t tell you how many time I’ve had older men (sorry, guys) talk down to me when I enter a shop. As I say to customers every single day, wine should be ENJOYABLE! And, my god, of course a customer doesn’t know what I do; I’d be out of a job if s/he did! (And similarly, I know jack about his or her job.) It’s most important to never proclaim yourself an expert - there’s always more to learn.

Jay…you’re a wine geek. Just admit it.

Seriously though, when I call myself a wine geek, it’s because my love of wine tends to be a bit on the obsessive side shall we say. 99% of the books I read are about wine. 99% of my Internet time is spent either writing, emailing or reading about wine.

Perhaps I should just call myself wine addicted or wine obsessed?

And yes…ALWAYS more to learn. That’s why it’s such an addictive hobby!

Yes, Jay is a wine geek (but really more of a lover) whether she admits it or not, but you have to understand that in our world, there are many degrees of wine geekism:

-those who do not enjoy wine, but actually seek to suffer from the wines they drink. These are the geeks who complain that 2003 pineau d’aunis from the Loire was too opulent and prefer the scathing nature of the wine in more “normal” vintages. If you’ve had these 2003s, you’ll know that while the wine is bigger than usual, they still provide you with invigorating doses of black pepper.

-those who are obviously over 30, still living with their mothers and who approach wine with the same zeal as the Dungeons and Dragons games they play in the basement.

- those who look up Parker scores on their palm pilots because they couldn’t possibly buy a 96 pointer when a 98 pointer might be in their midst. This might be my least favorite kind of “wine geek” because I’m not sure they really know anything.

For more information about extreme wine geekism, please see one of Jay’s inaugural posts, http://thewinechicks.typepad.com/my_weblog/2005/05/.

My dictionary defines “snob” like this:

a person with an exaggerated respect for high social position or wealth who seeks to associate with social superiors and dislikes people or activities regarded as lower-class.

with adj. ] a person who believes that their tastes in a particular area are superior to those of other people

Not that I qualify for either but if I did, I would choose geek over snob any day.

OK, since the term “wine geek” is being thrown around here quite a bit, I must say that Lenn Thompson got it right and Kristen got it wrong. Kristen, what you are describing are wine snobs not wine geeks.

What wasn’t discussed in the original blog was the worst kind of wine snobbery, the elitist attitude that some people take to anyone who can’t carry a conversation about Kimmeridgian. Yes, wine is based upon tons of info that can take years to learn, and I love it and love the challenge of knowing that I can never know everything. But it seems that too many wine “lovers” (this includes store clerks, servers and patrons) act as if they are better than the rest because they know more about wine than the next person. Deriding someone because they like YellowTail is elitist snobbery. Quoting Parker and bashing the 96 pt wine in favor of the 98 pointer because you can’t think for yourself is snobbery. Same goes with bashing vintages or regions. There will always be great wines from “poor” vintages or regions.

A wine geek is a true enthusiast, and need not throw it in someone’s face. This is the difference between a love for something, and a love for showing how much you know about something. By the way, running a successful wine website, as well as buying wine for a store with over 1,500 labels, and having a true love for wine makes me a “wine geek” and I embrace the title, hence the name of our website. Now, if only I could move out of my mom’s basement…

Hear, hear Thomas! Raise a glass to the snobs!

Heavens, why would anyone want to bite the head off a chicken and then drink wine? I say!

And judging from the level of discourse above, I’m not so sure these chaps would know that Cheval Blanc is not a white wine! Chortle, chortle . . .

Oh dear, I’m positively splitting myself right down the middle . . . chortle, chortle . . .