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Articles, July, 2000

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YOU, that's who!

When I was teaching wine classes, I found that there was always some line that some student couldn't cross without saying or thinking (whether of me or some classmate) "Wine snob!" That got me to thinking. What's a wine snob? Ultimately, I defined the term as an epithet carelessly hurled at some point at someone who cared about what he or she was drinking, by someone who cared less.

Let's start at the top. You search out good value wines. You wince at spending more than $25 on a bottle of wine (retail, not restaurant pricing). You pick up copies of the Wine Spectator or the Wine Advocate eagerly searching for bargain wines. Along the way, you read these tasting notes about rare, very pricey wines. Do you harumph, "Only snobs drink that stuff?" Well, if you don't, some people seem to, judging by the small but regular number of letters the Wine Spectator gets along the lines of "Stop wasting my time reviewing all these rare and overpriced wines that I can't afford and no one but fanatics can find and geeks will spend the bucks for..."

Do you get annoyed at articles about some group of guys holding a tasting of forty vintages of Lafite Rothschild from 1800 to 1900, with an admission fee of $2,500 per person, plus dinner, tax, airfare and gratuity. You think, "wine snob!"

These are the most extreme examples, but a lot of the people who drink Lafite, Richebourg and Marcassin are not snobs even in these instances. They just have the money to experiment and an interest in experiencing something different. Those who are really knowledgeable will quickly agree that there is no one-to-one correlation between price and quality. Those who aren't, perhaps the real snobs, will always find that something tastes better when it has a few extra zeroes in the price tag. They validate their existence with their wallets, and pleasure is not their only goal. 

But leaving these extreme examples aside, I don't find that you have to attend 19th century Lafite tastings to be called a snob. When the wine waiter comes to take your order, and you decide to order a house wine, do you actually ask what it is? Or, are you just satisfied with "red" or "white?" Is not caring a virtue? 

You, of course, care. When you go into a wine shop, no matter how modest your budget, you are not interested in mass market jug wines. You are trying to find the most interesting wines you can for the dollars you have to spend. You do your homework, attend tastings, compare wines and values. You try to pick something interesting. True enough, Chateau Prat-Majou from the South of France isn't much more expensive than Gallo Hearty Burgundy in the grand scheme of things. But it is more distinctive, and more interesting. It's the type of thing that you look for.

When you go home, you try to protect the wine from heat, and give it a fighting chance to survive until you choose to drink it. When you uncork the wine you--certainly, you!--avoid the ridiculous rituals, but, hey, there's nothing ridiculous about swirling is there? It aerates the wine; it has a purpose. You taste. You smell. You don't drink it just because it's red and on the table. You don't drink wine as if you were doing shots at a bar.

And do you know what all that makes you? A wine snob. You have made the mistake of caring about what you drink, and treating it as if were something interesting and special instead of a Coca-Cola. To those who couldn't care less, that makes you a geek and a snob. You, in turn, hurl those terms at others, those who care a bit more and will spend $50 a bottle for wine. And they in turn accuse the tasters at the 19th century Lafite event of Ultimate Snobbery. 

So stopping fighting it. Be one of the few, the proud...the Wine Snobs. And if you'd rather not, heck, we'll even buy you a glass of jug wine (they sell no wine before its time!) with some ice cubes in it if you'll stop forcing us to waste on you the pours of the good stuff you keep pestering us to give you.  Drink up!


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