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