I really do enjoy wine, in case that hasn’t become obvious already. I take pleasure in drinking it, I have fun when talking about wine with other people, and reading and studying about wine stimulates the intellect without callusing the mind.
I have also, on rare occasions, been accused of being a wine snob. And that disturbs me, because when I think of snobs in any context, I imagine morbidly obese management-types in ill-fitting outfits, drinking copious amounts from over-filled glasses and turning up their noses at their supposed inferiors. That is not the kind of image anyone would want to be associated with.
But I also understand that this is just the emotional reaction, attaching an unflattering image to an undesirable label. When making criticisms we should remain rational, and not let our prejudices cloud our judgement. Which makes me wonder – what is the main attribute of a wine snob?
Open-Mindedness vs Critical Judgement
If you have read some of the wine reviews on this site, you will notice I take a particularly systematic approach to tasting (in fact, the WSET actually titled it the “Systematic Approach to Tasting”, which was part of my wine education, and also the basis of the Rational Wine Note), whereas most other sites will throw out a score out of 100 with a mixed bag of aroma and flavour descriptors, ranging from the bland to the ridiculously whimsical.
For some people it might seem strange to apply such a rigid approach to a subject as abstract as wine, and the label of “wine snob” may be absent-mindedly applied to anyone who does this. In addition, almost as a reaction to such a practice, they will proclaim themselves to be “open-minded” and happily drink anything as long as it “tastes good”.
Such open-mindedness is really nothing of the sort. It’s just a throwaway phrase people use to mask their lack of critical judgement and their unwillingness to learn more, forgoing the opportunity to have a truly enlightening experience.
Critical judgement is not snobby behaviour – it’s a method of observing things in a rational manner so that you can point things out individually and say “this is why I like it” or “this is why I don’t like it”. Whereas someone who claims to be “open-minded” will be more likely to say “I just like it” without offering even the simplest explanation.
This isn’t meant to be a criticism of open-minded people – it can be daunting to take any kind of position in the face of peer-pressure. But I promise that if you exercise a little critical judgement you will become that much closer to finding wines you truly enjoy, rather than being a casualty of random chance.
Some may accuse me of being overly analytical – if someone just wants to have fun, who am I to judge? My view is that fun is for children – adults should learn to take pleasure, and if you really were aiming to maximise pleasure, then self-education can only help that goal along, whereas continued ignorance will hinder it.
I don’t want to remove the romance and poetry from wine, and even if I did the culture is too entrenched for that ever to be possible. But it’s important to be able to control your own susceptibility to it and not let it cloud your judgement.
Ignorance seems to be the underlying theme, but there is a form of ignorance that is more insidious than others, and that is wilful ignorance. It’s the kind of ignorance that resembles tunnel vision, caused by an unjustified focus on prices, prestige and brand names while dismissing all other options.
This is distinct from selective ignorance, where you pay attention only to those things that are important, or the kind of ignorance that a wine neophyte might have, as they’ve only just started building up their wine knowledge.
If you’re only just beginning your foray into the world of wine, that’s fine – you still need to figure out your bearings and want to make sure you take in as many experiences as possible, which will help you make good judgements in the future.
But once you have decided that wine will become an important part your life, and yet choose not to take on a more hands-on approach towards your personal satisfaction, then you have embarked upon a path of wilful ignorance.
I think if you are going to decide that wine will be a part of your life, you should take some time to learn more. Imagine you take up golf as a hobby – you’ll go to the range every other weekend to practice your swing, and maybe get some tips from the regulars over there.
Snobbery isn’t about money or labels, it’s about attitude. I think a true wine enthusiast understands that they will always be a student in the world of wine, and while some students may be more gifted than others, any improvement in knowledge can only be a good thing.
This doesn’t mean you’re obligated to take classes. Read some books, do a little research, make conversation with people in the industry, or get a personal wine consultation.
The Cost of Ignorance
Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur
The recent trial and sentencing of Rudy Kurniawan is illuminating. His victims were members of high-society, the general class in which we place “wine snobs”. Such people should not have lacked experience in wine tasting and study, yet the millions of dollars that were successfully conned from them seems to suggest that intrinsic culture of ignorance existed.
Perhaps I am being harsh – no one asks to be conned after all. But the suggestion that the victims are complicit in their own deception, either by act or omission, cannot be dismissed simply. It’s understandable to aspire to a romantic ideal, to yearn for something prestigious, to desire a piece of history.
Understandable, yes, but can this be forgiven? I do not mean forgiveness in the sense that there is an outside third-party passing judgement – they should judge themselves frankly and honestly, without self-delusion or denial. Personally, I could not forgive myself if allowed someone to successfully deceive me in such a manner.
Of course, if you have the means you could always go after those who took advantage of your ignorance. But as the saying goes, prevention is better than cure.
Read more: Essential #4 – The Wine Glasses