‘Wine snobbery’ is perhaps the most negative and often a loosely used term to denote actions related to appreciation and enjoyment of the beverage, along with the verbal and written expressions about the subject. Its usage has always been a sort of cliché in the wine world although a fair analysis will reveal that there is indeed a thin line between humility and ostentatiousness when it comes to displaying one’s wine knowledge. How you navigate this thin line will decide whether you belong to the ‘wine snobs’ club.
Wine is a highly specialized subject and those in the knowledge of the technicalities surrounding its production and appreciation often tend to express themselves in a way that may sound like unnecessary show-off to most who consider it to be just a fermented byproduct of grape juice. Nothing wrong with that but on the other hand, it is common to come across numerous instances of apparent ‘scholarly sounding’ practices, either in written wine literature or physical actions, which smack of snobbishness and in rare occasions, arrogance. A good example would be the highly intimidating and sometimes almost unfathomable tasting notes found in many wine dedicated magazines and websites. Here is an older post on a similar topic.
So, who is an actual wine snob? To understand the psyche that makes such a person, we must first highlight and eliminate a few myths:
■ Myth number 1: “Every wine qualified person is a snob to some extent” – This is simply a gross generalization, something like saying that everyone who visits a casino is a compulsive gambler. The wine world is brimming with extremely highly qualified and genuine wine experts who are also the most humble ambassadors of their respective areas of expertise.
■ Myth number 2: A perception that wine snobs belong to the well-heeled section of the society – Money or wealth has nothing to do with pretentious wine behaviour. Drinking expensive wines is a part of the lifestyle of people who can afford it. Even a supermarket wine can be a subject of snobbishness.
■ Myth number 3: “Wine snobbery is a way to stamp one’s authority” – Ridiculous! On the contrary, whoever takes this approach to ‘get noticed and valued’ is limited by their reach and influence. Stalwarts like Jancis Robinson and Michael Broadbent would not have reached their coveted position if the larger wine world believed that their thoughts reflected any form of snobbery.
■ Myth number 4: “Using technical wine terms and heavy jargons in conversations and writings amounts to snobbery” – This is only but partially true. Most conscientious speakers and writers will firstly identify their target audience and accordingly adjust their language. For instance, if the audience is not so wine savvy, they will make sure that their message strikes chord with everyone through elaboration and relevant examples.
Now, let us turn our attention to the crux of the matter, i.e. the traits (or more appropriately, ill-traits) that define a wine snob:
- Anyone who talks down to others on wine related matters without bothering to take on board any other perspectives.
- Anyone highly opinionated on contentious wine issues where the topic in question may have many credible arguments.
- Anyone who lectures others into submission by deliberately using terms and phrases which can otherwise be described in simple language.
- Anyone who dismisses a ‘not so expensive’ bottle of wine as ‘plonk’.
- Anyone who claims to have the nose and palate for only fine wines.
- Anyone who demands to sniff a cork after a bottle is opened only to reject it as spoilt without even bothering to smell or taste it.
- Anyone who pretends to be a master of the subject (even Masters of Wine cannot afford to be under that illusion!).
Wine snobbery is not the natural state of a wine lover, rather a perceived notion that has inherently accompanied the rituals of appreciation and expression of the beverage. Hopefully the myths and facts outlined above will help to reinforce this argument.