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FOOD FOR THOUGHT - Jan 18, 2006
Mark R. Vogel - [email protected]  -  Archive of other articles by Mark Vogel


Chef Charged with Wine Snobbery!

I have been accused of being a “wine snob” on more than one occasion.  In fact, I was belied as such twice in the last week.  The first incident of incrimination occurred in a wine shop with my friend Mark.  I was browsing through the Bordeaux when the clerk recommended a California Cabernet.  I responded that I preferred Bordeaux, (which is French).  Immediately Mark blurted out: “Wine snob.”

The next instance of imputation transpired just yesterday.  I had offered to make diner for my friends Roseann and Don.  I agreed to purchase the food if they obtained the wine.  I informed Roseann that in addition to our dinner wine, I needed an inexpensive but decent wine for making the sauce for the sautéed lamb chops I was planning.  She suggested a $3 bottle of wine from one of those bargain mega-marts, that by her own admission “was pretty gross.” I explained that the quality of the wine would affect the quality and taste of the final dish.  Nevertheless I was charged with being a wine snob.  How does the defendant plead?  Not guilty your honor.

What exactly is a snob?  In order to counter the charges levied against me I solicited the testimony of three expert witnesses so that we may arrive at a general consensus of what a snob actually is.  Merriam-Webster defines a snob as “One who has an offensive air of superiority in matters of knowledge or taste.”  MSN’s online Encarta dictionary defines it similarly:  “Somebody who looks down on people considered to have inferior knowledge or tastes.” Finally, Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary defines it as such:  “One who despises one’s inferiors and whose condescension arises from social or intellectual pretension.”

Based on these definitions, the heart of being a snob is clearly the degradation of others perceived to have inferior taste or knowledge.  The essence of snobbery is the haughty contempt displayed by the supposedly more informed person, not the fact that they may be more knowledgeable.  If one is a connoisseur and possess the accompanying knowledge, but NOT the pomposity or condemnation of non-connoisseurs, then by definition, he is not a snob.

Let’s begin with my comrade Mark in the wine shop.  Merely asserting that I prefer French wine to Californian provoked his proclamation of my snobbery.  The defense would like to call into evidence exhibit one. Wine from any two different parcels of land in the world, even neighboring vineyards, will taste discrepant from each other.  The reason for this is what the French call terroir (teh-RWAHR).  Terroir is the microclimate in which a natural entity develops.  The chemical properties of the soil, climatic factors, amount of sunlight, altitude, water drainage, pollution, and countless other subtle elements all influence the final product.  Very subtle variations in Mother Nature from one plot of ground to another can create notable viticultural differences.  Moreover, the biochemistry of a particular terroir may be uniquely optimal for a specific grape, due to that grape’s own unique biochemistry and the way it interplays with the microclimate in question. 

Therefore, it is a fact, not opinion, that wine made from Cabernet grapes grown in Bordeaux, will taste different than wine made from Cabernet grapes grown in California.  The subjectivity creeps in when asserting which wine is better, because now personal taste comes into play.  The fact that my palate is more amenable to French wine does not, in and of itself, render me a wine snob.  Besides, I’m not totally dismissive of California wine.  I think it’s fine for cooking.  In any event, I would like to remind the court that snobbery embraces contempt for the individuals whose knowledge or taste is considered subordinate.  At no point did I criticize my friend Mark for his approval of California wine, or even consider his opinion inferior to mine for that matter.  On to the second count of the indictment.

In regard to cooking with wine virtually all chefs embrace the axiom: “If you wouldn’t drink it, do not cook with it.”  It doesn’t take an oenophile, (a wine expert), to understand that a higher quality, better tasting wine will create a better tasting dish.  Be it fresh herbs vs. jarred, a higher grade of beef, or even spring water as opposed to tap, the better the quality of the ingredients in a recipe, the better the final product.  Instead of the $3 bottle of rotgut that Roseann suggested, I employed a wonderful Cotes de Bourg (from the Bordeaux region of France), for the sauce on the lamb chops.  (The Cotes de Bourg was only $11 a bottle by the way.)  The defense would now like to call attention to exhibit two:  At dinner, Don and Roseann proclaimed my lamb chops to be better than any restaurant they ever had them in.  And again, returning to the crux of the definition of snobbery, at no point did the defendant deem himself superior, or Roseann inferior, for suggesting I defile my cuisine with a $3, no-name, low-life bottle of street-wino swill.   
The defense rests.

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