Are you a wine snob?

I have to take exception to an article by Lettie Teague in the Wall Street Journal published on July 6 this year. Lettie defends what she calls “wine snobs” as being essential guardians and promoters of wine appreciation and culture.

What Lettie is describing though is an enthusiast, not a snob. There is a fundamental difference.

A snob despises those with less knowledge than themselves; an enthusiast seeks to share their experience. A snob typically considers themselves the source of knowledge; an enthusiast recognizes the experience and knowledge of others. A snob is generally closed-minded and opinionated; an enthusiast’s mind is open to learn from others, both expert and “neophyte”. A snob aims to intimidate; an enthusiast encourages.

Lettie describes me perfectly in her article. And I am not a wine snob.

We’ve recently opened a wine school, so of course I have to impart my own experience and knowledge-base; people wouldn’t come back if I didn’t give them what they’d paid for! I constantly remind my audience however that I’m not preaching any “gospel truths”. All I’m doing is sharing my own experience, taste and views, and I encourage them to delve into their own, not to merely accept my own subjective opinion.

Sharing is good – if you have an interest in developing your own analytical abilities the exchange helps stimulate recognition of subtleties that may not yet have struck your perception. So an animated, passionate discussion amongst like-minded enthusiasts is a benefit to all, just as it would be in any debate amongst intelligent, reasonable (i.e. not bigoted) people.

Not everybody wants to debate all the time though, and this is where Lettie and I differ. If you’re not into taking notes and scores and just want to enjoy drinking your wine, Teague apparently sees you as a problem. She describes this group as “wine populists” whom, she explains rather disparagingly, advocate the philosophy of “drink what you like and don’t worry about the particulars”.

Personally, I have no issue with someone who just wants to drink and enjoy. There’s room for both in the world of wine – and infinite variations of “enthusiasm” in between. Indeed, my own enthusiasm for “serious” wine tasting is not a constant. At the right time, with the right people, I can get as analytical and “professional” as the next man (woman). But other times I’m quite happy to drink casually and discuss other things in life.

Wine after all is for our enjoyment, it’s not some sacrosanct elixir we have to worship. Let’s not take either ourselves or what we drink too seriously – at least not all the time!

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