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Why do “wine snobs” have such a bad name?

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Wine snobs–the concept of, and accusations of who is and who isn’t–have been much in the online discussion rinse cycle lately.

In this article, the Indy Star’s outspoken wine columnist, Robert Scheer (nice dome, dude, even though you didn’t name me one of your favorite wine bloggers), takes “know-it-all snob”s to task.

In this one from Down Under, the Mercury’s beer blogger says the thing he “hated more than anything else about the wine world was the wine snob.”

There there’s this op-ed piece from New Zealand, headlined “No time for wine snobs.”

Lord knows, wine snobs are an easy target, but what does the term really mean? Who are we talking about, and why are people so angry, anyway? I Googled “wine snob” and got 250,000 results, suggesting that lots of people have something to say about the topic. (Incidentally, one of the best wine books ever written is the Official Guide to Wine Snobbery. Seriously. Check it out.)

There’s clearly something negative in the public’s mind about wine snobs. Wine snobs are derided as arrogant, unreflective fools whose faces you want to throw a pie at. The origin of the word “snob,” in my Webster’s dictionary, is obscure; of the three definitions listed, the one that seems to come closest to the present context is “a person who feels and acts smugly superior about his particular tastes or interests.” Nobody likes smug people, especially here in the good old democratic [with a small “d”] USofA, where All Men Are Created Equal, and we don’t like aristocrats.

There are different kinds of snobs besides wine snobs. A quick Google search of “___ snob” produced results for rock [music] snob, classic music snob, social snob, movie snob, rich snob, coffee snob, beer snob, vegetable snob. Sometimes, true snobs self-refer to themselves as snobs, in a sense defusing the epithet by embracing it. Rave Snob’s tumblr account unapologetically delights in electronic music wonkery.

Clearly, one can be a snob about almost anything about which people are capable of holding viewpoints. As I wrote the preceding words, I wondered if Trekkies could be snobs, so I Googled “Star Trek snob” and came up with 1,460 results, including this one, where the writer says, “I’m afraid I’m a bit of Star Trek snob. Not proud of it but there you have it.” And that’s it in a nuthshell: “not proud of it…”. Why the embarrassment? Why not glory in being so highly specialized? Is there some remnant of the old Protestant Ethic (upon which, actually, the nation was founded) that sees the Sin of Pride imprinted on accomplishment–and the greater the accomplishment, the greater the sin?

Still, for all these forms of snobbery, “wine snob” seems to be used the most derogatorily. If someone’s a Deadhead snob, nobody really cares; they see that person as having an intense interest in, and knowledge of, something the rest of us find arcane, and that’s it. No hard feelings, no resentment, go and do your thing.

It’s different with wine snobs. They (we?) are really despised by a certain class of America, and, being so despised, a little self-loathing is apt to creep into the back door of our own self-accounting. Thus the hint of shame, of apologia, that so many knowledgeable wine people feel and exhibit.

I personally don’t feel at all like a “snob.” I’m not smug and don’t profess to tell anyone what to think. I know a lot about wine, but far less than some others do, and I am acutely aware of all that I don’t know, which keeps me humble. What I find amusing, really, and culturally relevant, is how easy it is for some writers to criticize “wine snobbery” while at the same time writing and blogging about wine, including reviewing wines. That’s having your cake and eating it too. If you purport to educate the public about wine, you’re as much of a snob as the next guy.

 

  1. Hi,
    interesting point of view, however I cannot agree that everyone who writes wine reviews and educates about wine. Snobery isn’t about reviewing or teaching is is about the attidute towards wine and other wine lovers. A wine snow for me is someone who takes wine too seriously, who drinks only “the best” wines (most expensive and with 90+ scores), who drinks only with people who he/she thinks they are worth drinking with.
    Snobery in wine happens more often than in Start Trek, mostly beacuse wine can cost a lot of money and is a popular topic in groups of people who have a lot of money and just want to show off.

  2. Steve, in the TV series “The Big Bang Theory” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0898266/, Johnny Galecki is a Treky who is not a snob, but Jim Parsons is a Treky snob; I suggest that your statement: “If you purport to educate the public about wine, you’re as much of a snob as the next guy.” is too general, and that there are those “wine snobs” that give the expression meaning; it’s in the decorous attitude, or rather the lack of it, that lesser wine tasters, or novices are treated, that gives “wine snob” first place in the pantheon of snobs. A good teacher is like a parent that “brings the cookie jar from the shelf to the table where the children may have some.” BTW, I’ve tasted some of your “cookies”, and have benefited from your generosity.
    Thanks,
    Dennis

  3. Wine Snobs suck and yet wasn’t James Bond one? Didn’t his wine snobbery (knowledge) save him from an evil assisin Sommelier in one of the earlier movies? (don’t remember the movie, but he was on a ship and Sommelier brought a vintage Champagne from a year that wasn’t declared).

    The wine world is so vast can there really be such a thing as a snob? Doesn’t a wine snob know everything and isn’t that impossible in todays wine world?

  4. A connoisseur is someone who appreciates and is an expert about something. I love connoisseurs no matter the interest because there is much one can learn and it’s cool someone really has such a passion. But, if you are young and self conscious and in a social setting being around an expert can make you feel inadequate. Especially if it is about one’s taste in something. No one likes to feel they lack taste.

    A snob is someone who thinks they know (or pretends to know) a lot more about something than they actually know. Snobs piss young people off because, while they come off as a threat to a person’s self esteem, it’s actually all bullshit. If you’ve been around the block, there’s nothing more tedious than a dilettante pontificating about something. If you’re young, it is a pisser.

    The problem is…you have to know a lot about something to know whether someone is a connoisseur or a snob. Connoisseurs are often mistaken for snobs. If you lack experience or knowledge is is easy to assume a person is the latter. Young people tend to have more issues with self esteem, peer pressure, and self image than older folks. This is why this issue of snobbery is generally something that the less mature worry about. Old farts don’t give a shit.

  5. cmiller: The film was Diamonds are Forever, in which James Bond unveils an assassin because he doesn’t know that Bordeaux is also called claret. (By an Englishman, at any rate.)

    James Bond was, of course, an enormous snob of many things, from his watch to his whisky.

    And none the worse for it, we say.

  6. Bill Geofferys says:

    I suppose there are multiple classes of “wine snobs” these days.
    There’s the sort for whom wine is a financial status symbol and nothing more. They seem laughable and quaint.
    Then there is the smug somm sort. The Rajat Parrs, the “all Californian wine is hot and Jammy, Brooklyn hipster of confused ethics and marginal knowledge” sorts. The “us and them” tw@s for whom taste in wine is some sort of intellectual, ethical and political test.
    These are the modern wine snobs. Smugger than any octogenarian british wine hoarder and fun to poke with pruning shears

  7. Steve is correct, that many people associate being an expert with being a snob, but very few real experts are snobs because they always know how much more there is to know. With regard to wine, the term is usually misused as a pejorative to include anybody who likes anything other than jug wine or who talks about wine. One person claimed a wine snob was anybody who insisted on a cork rather than a screw cap. That was back before screw caps started being used on some premium wines. Another told me that wine snobs were those who drank wine that tasted like vinegar. When the term is used by a person who actually likes wine (which seems far less frequent), it is usually applied to those rare persons who are pretentious and condescending toward those who ask simple questions or know less than they do about wine. I’ve been told that there are some people, however, whom most of us would consider to be wine snobs, that they are usually arrogant, very wealthy and have highly exclusive social contacts. Fortunately, most of us never meet them because we are not in their social circles. Such people seem to be snobbish about many things, however, not just wine.

  8. Dear Sediment Blog: And let’s not forget that 007 insisted his martinis be stirred, not shaken. The ultimate snob move!

  9. Morton, I’ll disagree that “you have to know a lot about something to know whether someone is a connoisseur or a snob.” I think a reasonably sensitive person can tell the difference. A snob will make someone feel stupid and insignificant and disrespected. A connoisseur will be empathic and sensitive to the needs of others. When I was young and learning about wine, I hung out with a lot of older connoisseurs, and they never made me feel uncomfortable. They shared as much knowledge with me as I requested, and they didn’t pound me over the head with their superiority.

  10. Try being a French wine buyer! I hear that shit at least once a week…thing is I tend to think calling someone a snob often says more about the person slinging the term, (as in their insecurities) than the person on the other end.

  11. Kurt Burris says:

    Snobbery is defined by attitude, not profession or knowledge. I can’t begin to count the number of times someone with a has subscription to The Wine Spectator will tell me how UC Davis(my Alma Mater) has ruined wine making by the formulaic “recipe” it teaches. (I must have missed that class). In my mind that is being a wine snob.

  12. One little swipe at Rajat Parr is the best we can do here? Come on there should be a long list of snobs be called out.

    Thank you for the correction on the Bond movie obviously I am not a Bond snob…Might have been confusing that for a time Fred Dame gentle corrected me about a Grand Siecle NV!

  13. I think some criticism of “wine snobbery” stems from an anti- elitism and anti-intellectualism frame of mind. Some people will never be satisfied with their very own mediocrity so they lash out at the very experts they yearn to emulate.

    However, there are people I believe that sincerely want to know more about wine but find too many barriers due to the complexity and ‘mysticism’ surrounding the subject.

    Fortunately because of the internet, it is now easier than ever before to become something of an expert in a subject, like wine. But it takes time… something this virtual world doesn’t always have the patience for. We want everything fast and immediate.

  14. I’m a liberal hipster wine-snob, and proud of it

  15. Bond’s wine knowledge failed him one time, in “From Russia With Love” when he realized (too late) that his dinner companion was an imposter who had ordered red wine with their dinner of sole because it would disguise the drug he’s slipped into it.

    James Bond: Red wine with fish. Well that should have told me something.
    Donald “Red” Grant: You may know the right wines, but you’re the one on your knees. How does it feel old man?

  16. Like the philosopher, the snob is a creature generally detested by those not of the same ilk. It can be fun, but it’s also full of judgement and specialized often to a degree void of spirit. The enthusiast, connesuier, spectator-these can be snobs but I don’t think they are synonymous. I don’t think a wine critic is by necessity a wine snob. I’ve been accused of it, as Steve and others here. It suppose it is all relative and snobbery is a flexible quality, dependent more on th accuser.

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