I was reading a baseball chat last year with Keith Law, an ESPN writer who also answers cooking questions, when the following exchange came across (it’s from memory, so might not be verbatim):

Fan: Do all wine snobs always wave their pinkies in the air?
Law: I drink beer, so I don’t know.

The “wine snob” is a pernicious villain in modern America, a witch of Salem that must frequently be rooted out and publicly flogged.

Just like the witches of Salem, the wine snob exists mostly in our imagination. He (they’re always men) is a fictitious character, like Miles in Sideways, the Stepin Fetchit of the archetype. The sports fan above thinks you, dear reader, also constantly claim you taste “the faintest soupçon of asparagus and just a flutter of nutty Edam cheese.”

Hatred of a straw man is a powerful force. Search “wine snobs” online and you find many posts about these awful creatures. People love it when they’re humiliated. Some food critics make sure you know they’re not a wine snob, even in columns where they nitpick the hell out of some poor food truck’s cheeseburger.

What IS a wine snob exactly?

The first item that came up for my Google search—snobsite.com—opens thus: “Wine snob. Isn’t that a redundancy, like saying wet rain or nuisance telemarketer?” A little later, “Wine Snobbery is, therefore, the default state of the wine enthusiast.”

Really. So we have no choice, do we? Once we decide we’d rather drink something other than Two Buck Chuck—and have the temerity to say so—we’re wine snobs?

Joel Stein wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 2008: “When wine drinkers tell me they taste notes of cherries, tobacco and rose petals, usually all I can detect is a whole lot of jackass … I miss the days when we made fun of wine snobs for saying that a wine was ‘ingratiating without being obsequious.’ Now wine snobs are too boring to make fun of.” Stein goes on to blame the aroma wheel, which encouraged wine lovers to stop saying wine has a “shaggy nose” and to describe its components in a way that others could understand.

The way Stein felt about more accurate wine tasting notes, it was like telling Stepin Fetchit, “Stand up straight and stop saying ‘Yes massuh’.” Where’s the fun in that? C’mon wine snobs, get your pinkies out where they belong!

I can personally testify to the negative way wine aficionados are viewed because I’ve been opinionated all my life, and only got into wine in my late 20s.

I think 98% of all TV shows broadcast over the air are unwatchable crap. But nobody has ever called me a TV snob (even though, really, I am). I can’t watch an entire NBA game on TV because the 24-second clock makes the first three quarters meaningless. Nobody has ever called me a sports snob.

I’m much more open-minded about wine. You would need two strong men to drag me into Sex and the City 2, easier done if they’re armed. But I’ll try your South Dakota raspberry wine, and if I like it, I’ll give it a gold medal.

Yet if I dare suggest that I prefer Mosel Rieslings to California Rieslings because they have greater acidity and appealing minerality, I’m just not a man of the people.

I got inspired to write this post by something forwarded online by the Wine Library and by former Palate Press executive editor WR Tish: How to Deal with a Wine Snob, written by a site called Wine Folly.

From the first paragraph: “A know-it-all wine snob can ruin a wine experience by forcing the ‘right’ agenda down your throat, along with the ‘right’ wine … We’ve all been to a party where a wine snob is talking down their nose at the complimentary [sic] 2-Buck Chuck.”

This is the low hurdle for being a wine snob: Somebody who has an opinion and doesn’t want to drink 2-Buck Chuck. 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 …

Here’s an older man I meet now and then: “I used to buy cases of the first growths. You know what I paid for the ’61 Latour? $2.50 a bottle.” And that jerk, he never offers to open one for you. I hate those guys. But they’re not wine snobs; they generally can’t tell you what these wines taste like. They’re just snobs. Ask him about the car he drives. You’ll see.

But he’s not the one giving the rest of us a bad name. It’s just that we have the temerity to care about wine. We can’t win in this environment. Every single time I’m asked about 2-Buck Chuck—it has been hundreds—I answer respectfully that it’s amazing value, is the best wine you can buy for $2, and that I love the fact that it allows teachers and social workers and other underpaid people to have a bottle of wine on their dinner table that’s actually drinkable. I’ve never talked down my nose at it, not like I will about American Idol or Jersey Shore or other programs people love. But still.

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.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://palatepress.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/blake2.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Wine writer W. Blake Gray is Chairman of the Electoral College of the Vintners Hall of Fame. Previously wine writer/editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, he has contributed articles on wine and sake to the Los Angeles Times, Food & Wine, Wine & Spirits, Wine Review Online, and a variety of other publications. He travels frequently to wine regions and enjoys coming home to San Francisco.[/author_info] [/author]

24 Responses

  1. Dr. Wilf Krutzmann

    Blake, how timely that I should read your ‘right on’ article. I was at my son’s house for Father’s day dinner. Great food he and his wife had prepared. I suggested that I would bring the wine, knowing that his choices are really not that exciting. I could not believe my ears when my son called me a ‘wine snob’. What? Get outta here! I just like a good wine….have for years and years. Why bother drinking crap? Life indeed is too short to drink bad wine. I write and teach about wine, humbly so, I might add and never before have I been called a ‘snob’. Even though it is hard to be humble when you are a wine snob!

    • Scott Dunbar

      Geez Wilf, in reading your comment that ‘knowing your son’s choices aren’t going to be that exciting’, it’s no wonder he called you a snob. I hope he does’t read this because you sir, may not get another invite. Drink well my fellow snobs!

      • Wilf Krutzmann

        Oh, but he did read it, Scott, because I send the link to Blake’s article to him as well as to my other son in Toronto. Toronto immediately called my son in Victoria. Then I was called by my son here in Victoria and I humbly sat through a tongue lashing. And that’s OK because I had just opened an ‘exciting’ wine and enjoyed it on my patio while contemplating what trouble I could get myself into at a wine tasting I am attending today.

      • Scott Dunbar

        So let me get this straight, you go on a blog and proceed to rip into your son, then you call him and tell him to read it??? Stay classy Wilf! Remind me never to get on your bad side.

      • Wilf Krutzmann

        Lighten up, Scott! Its just a little family in-joke. My son and I are cool! We are still buddies and he likes my choice of wines on top of that. And I don’t have a bad side. Don’t forget I am a wine snob without humility !
        Cheers, my friend!

      • Tim

        Scott, sounds to me like the Doctor is kidding around, you need to go somewhere and comment on something that really matters.

  2. Harvey Posert

    Blake — As the pr person for Bronco I get notified about Charles Shaw posts — thanks for the comments; it’s the 10th anniversary of the Trader Joe-Bronco relationship and over 600,000,000 bottles have been sold. A happy anniversary for sure!

  3. Blake Gray

    Wilf: What a great Father’s Day present, huh? At least he brought his disdain out into the open, so maybe you can use it as a teaching moment. “That’s right, I’m a wine snob, just like you and your wife are food snobs. Because otherwise we’d be having frozen dinners, right?”

    Drink well, my friend.

  4. Maria

    Great blog! We appreciate that you gave our South Dakota winery a shot and seem to subscribe to our school of thought–if it tastes good, drink it. If it tastes bad, don’t.

  5. Madeline Puckette

    Hey Blake!

    Great article! It’s always great to see the other side of the coin. Really great writing, I look forward to reading more.

    I used to get accused of being a wine snob all the time… it doesn’t help that I’m a vegetarian too. I stand around at the party pretending to eat and drink to make my friends happy.

    • Jason

      I must say, I find it really difficult these days to drink bad wine at friends and family parties and not say anything. It’s hard to keep quiet and just ‘enjoy’ it. lol

  6. Phillip Anderson

    Excellent article! I like the comparison of picking a wine to choosing a bike or a video game. It is fun to argue about that stuff with people who care about it. It’s fun to argue about wine with people who care about it. That doesn’t make you a snob. It just makes you a fan. I might be considered a wine snob since I don’t like Yellowtail, but I am positive that I have tried more good & bad wines than most people & I’m always hopeful when I find a new wine to try. That’s almost the opposite of snobbery.

    Since I’m typing this at work, I should plug CapRock wine from Texas, so I can justify the time on the site. There are definitely some snobs who won’t try Texas wine, but their attitude doesn’t hurt anyone but themselves. That’s true of the 2 Buck Chucks fans who won’t try your Mosel Riesling as well. More for us!

    • Blake Gray

      Phillip: Every time I fly through Houston, I look forward to drinking McPherson Viognier from Texas at the Pappadeaux in the airport. Makes me salivate just thinking about it.

  7. Bill Eyer

    I’m a snob when it comes to wine, it’s a label I wear proudly. But I’m also a car-snob, a football snob, etc. So what?? [Ha]

  8. Erika Szymanski

    Sorry for coming late to the party, Blake, but I wanted to express my thanks for being our representative non-jellyfish. You should have added “grad student” to your list of folks who appreciate 2-buck chuck, I fear. I have, however, noticed that it’s a lot easier to be a wine snob when you’re an academic. Most people just assume that you’re a snob about everything.

  9. Tom Wark

    Ask yourself this question:

    When was the last time you saw a candidate for a state wide office, let alone a presidential candidate, hoist glass of wine in public?

  10. Ahli Anggur

    Most of us are wine geeks, but there are two types of not entirely straw folk who might be called wine snobs. Type 1: regular snobs, just being snobby about wine. They know all about a few labels and their prices, but not much about what’s in the bottle. Call them Silver Jokers. Type 2: relatively rare, these refuse to drink anything but wine. No beer, etc. Similar to baseball-only fans and fly-only fishermen. Lonely Winers?