In Defense of Wine Snobs

winesnobs Wine writer Blake Gray poses a profound question—What is a wine snob and why are they the object of ridicule and vilification?

You can stand there at the same party expressing your opinion of, oh I don’t know, good and bad mountain bikes, or first-person-shooter games, or places on the body to get poison oak, and that’s okay. You can proclaim that any self-centered modern diet—50-mile foodshed locavore, Paleo, cruelty-free vegetarian—prevents you from being able to eat the snacks provided, and that’s okay.

But if you dare tell people they should seek out wines that are not just brand names, but come from a specific place, preferably a single vineyard …

He makes a good point. We routinely accept authority and expertise in other areas of life.  But not when it comes to wine. When I refuse to attend San Diego Padres games because they can’t play baseball I get nods of approval; when I refuse a glass of Yellowtail because it’s one-dimensional, sweetish, and soft I get fingers wagging with disapproval.

Why is it appropriate to judge baseball teams, mountain bikes, and health-centered diets but not wine?

I suspect the reason is the (wrongly) perceived  subjectivity of wine tasting and the resulting implicit condemnation of someone else’s taste which is alleged to be, therefore, beyond criticism. There are reasonably objective and widely accessible standards for judging mountain bikes (durability) and baseball teams (scoreboard!). It is easy to point to facts to back up a critical judgment that almost anyone can understand. And social norms now prescribe we persistently focus on health matters, so wildly implausible claims are excused as well-intentioned.

By contrast, wine expertise is hard to acquire and people who lack it have no way of judging that it really exists. The facts are not readily accessible (and expensive to uncover). So people think they are being hoodwinked by wine experts who are claiming expertise in an area where genuine expertise is alleged to be impossible.

Gray advocates that we who know better take pride in the derision:

There’s no way to avoid the definition, so we have to do what gay people have done with so many onetime slurs. In my neighborhood in San Francisco, there are parties called “fag Fridays.” This is our task: to adopt, redefine, and wear with pride.

I’m a wine snob. Yes I am. You are too. Together we are more powerful.

I agree. People won’t  believe what you say if you appear not to believe it yourself. Being loud and proud is the only way to convince someone satisfied with inferior wine that they are in fact missing something worthwhile.


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