Why the Charge of Wine Snob is Out of Date

wine snob 2People outside the wine community tend to look at wine lovers, especially wine lovers who like to talk about wine, as wine snobs. I suppose many years ago there was some truth to the aspersion.  As wine was  growing in popularity in the late 20th Century it was an aspirational beverage and thus sometimes consumed by people who boasted about vacation trips to Europe and wanted to be seen as having good taste.

But for several reasons that image of wine as a playground for the wealthy or wannabe wealthy no longer applies.

— In affluent countries wine is consumed by people from almost all social classes, and certainly the middle classes.

–Due to advances in technology and global distribution networks, wine is no longer identified exclusively with European taste but is produced and available throughout the world.

— Wine knowledge is widely available and can be acquired by almost anyone for a relatively modest expense.

–There is no evidence that wine tasting ability requires remarkable sensory abilities or cognitive skills.

–Wine expertise requires only dedication which can be sustained by most people with access to the necessities of life.

–Wine appreciation involves knowledge and skills that can be communicated to anyone with an interest in them, and judgments about wine are widely shared.

This is not to say that there are no barriers to someone with an interest in wine. The cost is not negligible and at least average sensory abilities and cognitive skills are helpful. But that is true of any human practice. Wine has become thoroughly democratized. There are of course snobs but there is nothing about wine that makes wine lovers particularly susceptible to snobbery.

5 comments

  1. Hi Dwight

    I wish I could agree. I would like to live in a world where the wine snob is extinct, but we do not. And you can find this snob everywhere:

    >> In the seemingly infinite number of articles and blog posts about “mistakes” you make either drinking or serving your wine. These articles are not worded to encourage you to enjoy your wines at their best. They are worded to frighten and intimidate you into re-thinking how you drink your wine. In short, intimidation and snobbism. And a quick Google search will overwhelm you with results. And let’s not forget that not so many years ago, we were all being “instructed” to drink our sparkling wines from flutes, not coupes. And now, of course, that’s wrong. We should use a basic white wine glass, if we don’t want to do it WRONG.

    >> In the also seemingly endless numbers of articles about wines you MUST have in your cellar, or HAVE to drink. Again, if these were worded in a way that expressed enthusiasm and joy, they would not be snobbism. But they are not. They are worded in a way that makes the reader feel insecure and uneducated: Again, snobbism. And also again, if these were written about ten wines I really love and wished they got more attention, fine. But that’s now how they’re written, or titled. Again, Google provides the proof. And this includes the use of an infinite array of various wine glasses for specific wines.

    >> In the universe of idiotic tastings notes that focus on arcane, obscure, and even non-existent descriptors for wine, from polished barley to stone roses. And let’s not forget the ones that offer no information whatsoever: white flowers? These notes are so prevalent that they have now become a topic of conversation, which is good. But they still continue, seemingly unabated. Which is bad. Snobbism

    >> In the huge number of articles about wine that explain why drinking very popular wines is a big mistake/bad/silly/pointless/uneducated. We are told in no uncertain terms that we should avoid White Zinfandel, Anything But Chardonnay, Commercial Wines (whatever the hell those are.) and the list goes on and on. Let a wine get a certain acceptance in the world market, and there you will find the experts, explaining why it is not good. White Zinfandel? If you want something light, fruity, fresh, sweet and fun, White Zinfandel is a good choice. Chardonnay? Please. And yet these articles are found everywhere.

    I recently had a conversation with one of the better known wine writers in America. I pointed out that the co-host of my podcast, Rick Kushman, was for many years a television writer for a major syndicate. In that role, he was expected to review all the popular shows, because that’s what people were watching, and wanted to know. And yet in the world of wine, the most popular wines are never written about, reviewed or discussed. And that celebrated wine writer made it very clear that he wasn’t going to do that, either. Because he knew better.

    Your obituary for wine snobbism is premature, and the reports of the death of wine snobbism are greatly exaggerated. sigh.

    1. Paul,
      Well there is one thing I agree with in your comment. I detest the “you’re doing it wrong” headline, as if there is only one way to do something. I don’t know that its snobbery but it seems designed to intimidate. The point of my post was twofold (1) wine appreciation is no longer about social class, and (2) wine appreciation does not require special abilities or arcane, hard-to-acquire knowledge. It’s available to anyone who wants it. The essence of snobbery is that one’s knowledge, social position or taste is beyond what ordinary people are capable of. I don’t think wine is any longer that sort of thing. (Which of course is not to deny that some people are assholes.)

      As to the rest of your comment you seem to be arguing that (a) there are no standards of quality when it comes to wine or (b) it’s wrong to articulate standards of quality or (c) wine writers should be writing for the general public, not for wine lovers. I don’t think any of those claims are true. Neither do I think people who do try to articulate critical standards are snobs. There is of course a question about the best way to get one’s point across. Knowing your audience is the most important thing. If you’re turning your audience off that’s not good. Sometimes that’s not snobbery; it’s just bad writing.

      By the way, although I still drink sparkling wine from a flute and drink all wines from the same glass type, I think white zinfandel lacks flavor. I struggle to describe what’s distinctive about a wine using a conventional vocabulary, and find most large production wines available in the supermarket uninteresting. (In fact we both know they’re not designed to be interesting) Why on earth would it be snobbish to point that out?

  2. HI Dwight

    I do disagree with your definition of snobbery. You wrote: “The essence of snobbery is that one’s knowledge, social position or taste is beyond what ordinary people are capable of. I don’t think wine is any longer that sort of thing.”

    I would suggest that snobbery is using that knowledge (or assumption of knowledge–in the wine world, there’s plenty of THAT) to intimidate others and make them feel uncomfortable. And by that definition, there is plenty of snobbery in the world of wine. And yes, that includes the assholes.

    I would also disagree with your position that the only people deserving of the term “wine lovers” are those who match your aesthetic, while you toss the rest into the category of general public. I think lots of people love wine and drink it every day with joy. They drink inexpensive, commercially viable wines, and they love them. So yes, I think that wine writers should write for these people. If wine writers wrote for the general public, they would go out of business, because the general public, at least 75% of it, doesn’t drink very much wine at all.

    I do like your tasting notes, Dwight. I use them as examples of how one can write about wine with joy. But your tasting notes are the exception, not the rule. And whether we tell people they “need to drink” certain wines, that they “should never make these wine mistakes,” or we talk about wine in terms that do more to establish our own pretentions of linguistic superiority and arcane tasting experiences (often complete misguided, as I note) we are being snobs. And golly is the wine world full of them.

    Tell us what you love. Do it with joy. And do it in a way that makes people feel included, rather than excluded. Feel free to tell us what you love—but please don’t tell us what’s wrong with what we are drinking. That’s all I’m asking. But it’s a lot to ask of those who get into the world of wine geekdom.

    1. Hi Paul,
      Thank you for the kind words about my tasting notes. I think the phenomenon you’re referring to is real. But it isn’t necessarily snobbery. It’s more like overbearing arrogance. I know lots of people in the wine industry who are arrogant, overbearing and as a consequence belittling to others, but are not the least bit snobbish because they’re not perpetuating an in-group that others don’t have access to. They’re quite willing to share information–too willing in fact. To my mind, snobbery differs from arrogance in that snobbery is class based.
      As to my use of the term “wine lovers”, I just don’t think casual drinkers who like wine are wine lovers. There is an obsessiveness about love–it’s a pursuit and there is nothing casual about it. Wine lovers are drawn to pursue wine knowledge, to expand their sensibility, etc. It’s a project for them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.