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We are the people they love to hate, but why?


I don’t know if Benjamin Mennell, who wrote this article, was entirely serious when he calls wine lovers like me (and, I suspect, you) “morons,” “snobs” and “neurotic” because we’re able to talk about wine the way, say, a baseball fan can talk about the playoffs, i.e., intelligently. At parties where people just want to have fun, he writes, we wine lovers “bring about a familiar soullessness to the otherwise pleasurable world of wine” with our chatter about detecting “asparagus along with a flutter of limestone in a $5 bottle.” We are, it seems, the ultimate bores.

As this notion of “the wine snob” is so persistent, it needs to be stabbed back to death each time it arises, Dracula-like, to stalk again.

You can read the article yourself, but in essence, Benjamin takes up the tired old accusation that people who talk about wine at social functions “ruin the fun for everyone.” Now, there is a fine line here. Benjamin has a point if he’s imagining some pompous ass who insists on telling everyone everything they never wanted to know about every wine on the table and even some that aren’t. I suppose such individuals exist, although to tell you the truth, I haven’t seen one of these rare birds for years. Maybe I just don’t travel in the right circles.

But Benjamin extends his fatwah far beyond the more obvious type of wine snob to include anybody who has anything faintly intelligent to say about wine. Quote: “The Wine Snob will obstruct our innocent pursuit by using words like, ‘Transcendent,’ and ‘Effervescence,’ to describe a glass of Syrah, and thus distance themselves from the ordinary.”

If someone at a dinner party asked me about a wine, and they frequently do, I’d have no problem using words like “transcendent” and “effervescence,” if they applied. Maybe Benjamin just doesn’t like words with more than two syllables. (By the way, effervescent Syrah? Maybe it was a sparkling Shiraz.)

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t flaunt my knowledge. If anything, I make less of a fuss about wine at dinner parties than the other guests. There is a certain responsibility to be humble, and even sometimes a little self-deprecatory, in this job.

My objection to Benjamin’s article is its tone, implying that a know-nothing approach to wine is the only correct one, while any admission of knowledge is some kind of social faux pas that is not done in civilized society. Benjamin exults in his ignorance, and in ignorance in general. He’s a happy idiot, content to slurp whatever plonk is before him, contemptuous of its source and value, and condemning anyone who knows more than he does and wishes to share that knowledge with friends. It’s exactly the kind of blue collar, declassé dumbness we see coming from the Right concerning the current healthcare debate in America. It’s faux-populism, astroturf activism, seemingly a celebration of everyday people, but in reality an attack on thinking and cerebral activity and, ultimately, reality itself. If you’re stupid, you have no need to think, but only to react, by calling people whom you resent “snobs” and “pretentious twits.” It’s sad.

  1. I blame the likes of Joe The Plumber, Sarah Palin and W for this kind of celebration of stupidity and shaking of the balled up fist at those, “Knowin stuff” folks. That guy was clearly cock blocked by someone that knew a little something about wine…bitter much?! Hey dude, here’s a thought, try removing the snuff BEFORE you taste….freaking heyseed.

  2. Oh Sweet Jeebus!

    This is the same whiny misanthropic complaint of people like who think they know wine and thus spout off about others who actually do.

    Tone aside, this article is as unoriginal as it is whiny:

  3. Also,

    I must point out that anti-intellectual, dumbing-down reductionism is not the sole propriety of any ideologically-leaning or politically-identifying group. You just need to read a few wine blogs to see this.

  4. There is an inherent joy in drinking wine that can be dampened by academic deconstruction of taste impressions (like the inherent joy of reading a good book brought crashing to earth by dry academic analysis – it can appear snobby, and sometimes it is) but – at least in my experience – there mostly exists endless curiosity about the entire process of how wine goes from grape to glass, and what is in the glass. If you are in the wine business, you have no doubt at one time or another been bestowed “expert” status by someone in a social situation who is new to wine, eager to learn. It can be awkward. The “responsibility to be humble” as you put it, Steve, is the best advice for anyone in such a position. It makes friends. It would seem that the author of the article would not be a good dinner guest.

  5. That one might even warrant a “Kiss My Ass, Benjamin”

  6. playing devil’s advocate, I’m not sure it’s fair to say he’s pleading for idiocracy on wine as much as he is for removing it from the perception of elitism in order to gain a wider consumer base. Whether we in the industry like it or not, that’s primarily where the rest of the country views wine and why we have such low per capita consumption rates compared to Europe and So. America where it’s more of an “everyman’s” beverage.

    Case in point, I was in the Great Smokies of Tenn recently and asked our small lodge owner where to find a restaurant that served wine (dry county). He replied, “wine? we drink beer ’round here. Wine is for them rich folks!” Yet go to any truck stop in Spain, Italy or France and you’ll find the average Joe with a tumbler of wine in his hands. (yet also not analyzing it).

  7. After reading several of his other “posts,” I am beginning to really wonder about social media. When the open corkscrew is removed from his back pants pocket, I hope he has a nice day.

  8. Morton Leslie says:

    Not playing the Devil’s advocate, I not only agree with Mark I think Mennell touches on something important that many of us who have been in wine for a time know quite well. In social situations, wine is to be enjoyed, but not discussed. Telling people what you know about wine should be treated with the same circumspection as religion and politics. For most people, hearing details about a wine or what an individual knows about wine is as interesting as listening to someone tell you how much they know about IRS Form C. There are plenty of interesting and fun things to talk about that include everyone. I break bread with many winemakers and winery owners and we never talk about wine. Never. Now talking about people who make, sell or write about wine…okay, that can be fun.

  9. I am not sure I would use Tennessee as a metaphor for America. Hells bells, they make decent whiskey in Tennessee but the very county in which Jack Daniels is made is dry. You can take a drive out to Lynchburg from Nashville (OK, please don’t ask me what I was doing in Nashville) and have a pleasant visit to the distillery and find some quite exceptional food at Miss Mary’s or old fashioned pulled pork with three sides at the little cafe on the south side of the town square, but it matters not that the world’s best selling whiskey is made there because the drink of choice is lemonade even though Jack Daniels is the most important employer in town by a large margin.

    As for talking about wine, folks talk about it all the time. Winemakers may not talk to Morton about it, but my friends and neighbors like wine, drink wine and love to talk about wine to each other and to me. There is no one size fits all in this world. I don’t get the need to have rules about when you can or cannot. We know people who bore the daylights out of everybody on their favorite topic. One of my closest friends is a political junkie. He has an answer for every ill and every scenario. He is fun to talk to for a bit, but after a while, he is boring. We all are if we drone on and dominate conversations with our “insider” knowledge. Wine is not unique in that regard.

    Oh, and back to Tennessee for a minute. The reason why you can get wine at every truck stop in Italy, France and Spain is that it has been an integral part of the culture for centuries. The funny thing is that wine consumption in France is dropping like a stone because drunk driving has become as unacceptable there as it is here, and the younger generation is not afraid to drink the water. Wine consumption in California, particularly in northern California is nearing average European levels. It will take longer to get to that level in Tennessee.

  10. Charlie, I sometimes am afraid I tend to be a political junkie who kills conversation. It’s a hard line to straddle, when you believe passionately in certain things. But I don’t think I’ve ever crossed the line on winespeak in social situations. I’m too self-aware to fall into that trap.

  11. Well said, Steve–and Charlie, too.

  12. Steve, the fact that you, and hopefully I as well, do not cross the line about wine in social situations owes as much to our status as paid hacks (in the kindest sense of the word) as to anything else. Politics is a different kettle of fish, especially here in the inner urban Bay Area for folks like us.

  13. I’m not sure we should be paying one minute of attention to Benjamin Mennell or anyone who spouts off about wine snobbery. Is it really a problem these days? Paper tiger…. Old, yellowed paper tiger

  14. The post sort of misses a bigger point: laypeople in their vast majority feel very unconfortable when they are in ANY environment completely clueless about a certain subject. Usually, to acquire knowledge about anything one needs to devote a good amount of energy, time, money….

    I’ve hung out with JEEP Club fans in Brazil (where i currently live) and the whole time the conversation was about jeeps….. i’ve been to vernisages….. i’ve been to bible meetings (trying to pick up dates there)…. and i just felt awful for being unable to relate to anyone there. All they talked about was their world.

    In the case of a winesnob, those who are lazy to read, learn or study ”wine” prefer to attack the wine experts (triple “”).

    Our disgrace is the eno-boring, as we say here. Some eno-bores don’t know when to switch subjects. Everything all the time is just about wine. They screw us. They give us the reputation we don’t deserve. My laptop is overheating, it took me 20 minutes to write this. Don’t censor me please.

  15. Anti-intellectualism is of course an old, old, American strain–nothing new there.

    In any case, talking work at the dinner table isn’t a great idea, no matter what your job is. When I dine with friends or family someone inevitably tries to defer to me to order the wine and when it happens, I simply ask around the table, “what do you feel like drinking tonight?”

    May I, however, issue a complaint that is a kind of reverse of this guy’s problem: I wish people would stop accusing those of us who seek more objectivity in professional wine analysis as “taking the soul out of wine.” I also wish that the next person who makes the claim would provide a definition of that soul, so that we are on the same plane–and don’t tell us that “soul” is effervescence, we’ve already shot that one down. 😉

  16. Carlos, you are not censored! Thanks for writing.

  17. We all know that the soul of wine is found in wine’s prismatic luminescence, and only those of us who know the secret handshake can understand wine. The rest of the country are just boors. Why are we wasting our time talking about people who will never understand the layered nuances of two buck chuck–or even talking to them? We might as well be talking to them in Greek.

    My neighbors still drink oaky Chardonnays. They actually like them. What the hell do they know? They drink Merlot, too, and we all know that Merlot is dead. The New York Times told us so years ago. I guess my neighbors just did not get the message. Can you imagine even trying to talk about wine with these folks? I would bet you a dime to a dollar that not one of these high-alcohol swilling know-nothings has drunk a Gruner Veltliner all summer.

    Let’s all make a pact. From now on, we are not going to worry what the uninitiated think of us, and we are going to talk about wine whenever we want, and if they get bored, they can always go drink beer just like they do in Tenessee.

    Oh, one more thing. Ron Washam made me write this.

  18. Charlie

    “From now on, we are not going to worry what the uninitiated think of us, and we are going to talk about wine whenever we want” – I second that!

  19. I think his wine blog is intended to be funny. I’m not sure, but half of them seem to be poking fun at wine. The jokes were pretty stale, though. I think, Steve, you might have driven his readership up several pegs this week.

  20. Charlie, you’ve been duped: Ron Washam drinks Corona, and with a twist of lime sticking out of the neck of the bottle, to make sure everyone knows he’s cool. But it is difficult to watch him drink the stuff with that lime in the way…

  21. I actually found some of it funny.

    Having said that, the joke is really, really old at this point.

  22. Apparently you don’t travel in the same circles Benjamin was writing about, Steve. Unless, of course, the circles you travel involve, “a semi circle of doey-eyed college girls.”

  23. “Unless, of course, the circles you travel involve, “a semi circle of doey-eyed college girls.”

    Steve has many admirerers. I, on the other hand, only have a distant memory of what doey-eyed college girls look like.

  24. Yes, those doey-eyed college girls are constantly propositioning me.

  25. Gawd! This kind of repartee is what I love so much about being part of this industry! Brought a smile to my day.

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