Looking up the word ‘snob’ on dictionary.com brings up the following definitions:
1. a person who imitates, cultivates, or slavishly admires social superiors and is condescending or overbearing to others.
2. a person who believes himself or herself an expert or connoisseur in a given field and is condescending toward or disdainful of those who hold other opinions or have different tastes regarding this field: a musical snob.
1. One who tends to patronize, rebuff, or ignore people regarded as social inferiors and imitate, admire, or seek association with people regarded as social superiors.
2. One who affects an offensive air of self-satisfied superiority in matters of taste or intellect.
It seems to me that anyone who takes the time to learn about a subject and develop discriminating tastes in an area risks becoming accused of being a snob. But wine lovers are almost always labelled as snobs by those who do not share their passion. I find this strange because most of the wine folks I encounter seem to genuinely want to share. Those that know more love to teach, and those who do not know work hard to learn. That sort of generosity would seem to fly in the face of snobbery. This is not to say that snobbery does not exist in the wine world, it certainly does, but I believe reverse snobbery against wine fans is more prevalent.
I get called a wine snob quite often, usually in a joking manner, but if the jokers did not believe that I actually was one I doubt they would think to say it. It does not bother me so much as confuse me. It isn’t that I am not a snob, I truly can be at times, but I am not a wine snob.
Even before I got serious about wine I was a beer drinker, and I am a home brewer. I am also a beer snob. No two ways about it, I fit the above definitions when it comes to beer. If I am at the bar ordering a Smithwyck’s and hear you order a Corona you can bet that I am feeling a glimmer of smugness thinking that my taste in beer is superior to yours. That fact that my tastes are more refined is not what makes me a snob, it is my condescending attitude about it. I do not consciously decide to feel that way, but I hate bad beer and think that people only drink it because it is marketed more successfully than good beer. No matter the reason, I am a beer snob.
I am also a food snob. Tell me that you like a restaurant that I think is awful and my opinion of your taste in food will plummet. My opinions on food and restaurants are pretty well informed. I attended culinary school and my restaurant experience ranges from washing dishes to running the kitchen. I read cookbooks like most people read novels. Does that give me the right to look down on someone else when they tell me how well they liked their meal at Olive Garden or Red Lobster? Not at all, but being a food snob, sometimes I do.
There are other areas where I am sometimes guilty of snobbery. When someone says that ‘Forrest Gump’ or ‘The Titanic’ is their favorite movie, or if I see Celine Dion or Michael Bolton CDs in their music collection, you can bet that my sense of superiority in those areas will kick in. Sorry, I know that I can be a jerk sometimes.
When it comes to wine, however, I believe that I am not like that at all. I love subtle, cheap wines like Muscadet as well as I love big, expensive Napa Cabernets. Defending much maligned varietals is more fun for me than poking fun at trendy wines. I have even been known to defend White Zinfandel. I do not care to drink it, mind you, but when someone else does it just makes me happy that someone might be on their way to joining the club.
So, what makes someone a wine snob? Drinking wine based on the price or the prestige of the name on the label while looking down on those who do not do the same makes for a good start. Deciding that some varietals are good and and sneering at others will get one farther down the road. Many snobs turn their noses up at Riesling for some reason, while many true aficionados, including an expert on the level of Andrea Immer Robinson, list it as their favorite varietal.
Perhaps the best way to be a wine snob is to repeatedly watch ‘Sideways’ and emulate everything that Miles says and does. In fact, quote him, especially with regards to Merlot. Don’t bother to learn that some of the world’s greatest wines are Merlots, including the one that Miles fetishized throughout the movie, Chateau Cheval Blanc, which is blended with another varietal Miles ripped on, Cabernet Franc. When I first watched ‘Sideways’ I thought that Miles was a knowledgable, albeit pretentious, guy, but as I became more knowledgable myself, repeated viewings make it clear that many of the jokes are predicated on knowing that he is actually quite a snob.
As I pointed out above, having a lot of knowledge about a subject does not protect one from being a snob. On the flip side, can we stop deriding someone as a snob just because they have knowledge and passion about a subject? Ignorance may be bliss, but it is not a virtue. Maybe I can keep in mind that neither is snobbery the next time I see that Dave Mathews CD in someone’s collection.