Food for Thought - October 21, 2010 - Mark R. Vogel - [email protected] - Mark's Archive
THE WINE DRINKERS COMPENDIUM
What kind of wine drinker are you? Oh, you didn’t know there were different types? Well, not officially at least. It’s not like there’s a formal classification scheme. But individuals certainly do vary in their approach to wine, be it interest, experience, attitude, or consumption. Below is my own categorized roster of wine drinkers. See where you fall on the compendium.
At the most rudimentary level of the continuum is the individual who doesn’t drink wine at all. There are multifarious explanations. They may be a teetotaler and don’t indulge in alcohol. Maybe wine gives them a headache. Or maybe they simply just don’t like wine. And of course there are the quirky, idiosyncratic reasons like the oafish male who thinks wine is a “sissy” drink. Whatever. If you reside in this category you probably aren’t even reading this article in the first place.
A dilettante is one who maintains only a superficial interest in a subject or endeavor; a dabbler. This is the person who’s tepid about wine but occasionally imbibes. They might harbor some precursory wine knowledge but by and large, wine is more of an afterthought. Don’t waste your good Bordeaux when they come to dinner. It’s pearls before swine.
The penny-pincher is someone likes wine but purchases the cheapest plonk they can find. They revel more in the parsimony than the quality. Allow me to qualify that I am not referring to individuals whose financial means necessitate frugality. Rather, I am bespeaking of those who are skeptical about the hullabaloo about wine and see no point in wasting inordinate amounts of money on a fleeting pleasure. Outlaying double digits, not to mention triple digits, on a bottle of wine is considered blatant lunacy. They rarely order bottled wine in restaurants and when they do, even the $20 Chianti is deemed prodigal. Penny-pinching wine drinkers have never developed their palates and summarily dismiss anyone with sophisticated taste as a snob. Don’t even think of introducing them to your French Burgundy. They won’t appreciate it and you will immediately be branded pretentious.
The up-and-comer is someone who likes wine and is interested in developing their palate and learning more about it. For them it’s a burgeoning hobby. They’re usually open-minded, receptive, enthusiastic and anxious to try new wines and wine/food pairings. They understand that wine is not just a pleasant alcoholic drink to have with dinner. They realize that wine is a gateway to a whole new realm of gastronomic, leisurely, and intellectual pursuits. The up-and-comer isn’t necessarily striving to become a connoisseur. They may simply be seeking an intermediate level of wine education and enjoyment, and that’s fine. The middle ground is a very comfortable and apropos stage, unfettered by the shortcomings of either extreme.
The wannabe is an insecure individual who feels ashamed or inferior about his lack of wine sophistication and pretends to be more accomplished. This is particularly true if their coterie includes some aficionados. The wannabe may also be an up-and-comer. They know a few buzz words, some jargon, and are quick to bandy these terms to impress others. They have to be on their toes amongst those in the know however, or else they risk belying their tenuous veil of “expertise.” If you’re a wannabe, you need to get it in your head that exceptional knowledge about wine doesn’t make anyone better than you or anybody else. So what if someone knows more about wine? Big deal. Wine expertise isn’t going to cure cancer, put men on Mars or facilitate world peace. Connoisseurs aren’t superior and you’re not inferior.
The connoisseur is obviously the person who is very passionate and erudite about wine. They have a highly developed palate, can differentiate varying wine styles and quality, and subsequently relish and seek out wines of preeminent quality. Connoisseurs study wine, attend wine tastings, patronize restaurants with stellar wine lists, visit vineyards, sample many different wines, and usually maintain a wine collection. It’s their passion. For some it is their livelihood. Wine writers, sommeliers, wine shop owners and wine growers, makers, and distributors are ineluctably connoisseurs.
Most connoisseurs are also gourmets since wine is inextricably married to food. The gourmet not only cherishes wine in its own right, but is equally zealous about the gastronomic heaven of pairing fine wine and food. They luxuriate in the synergy of the two.
Many laymen are quick to label connoisseurs as snobs. Sometimes they are and sometimes it’s an unjust characterization. To fully understand this issue one must first be cognizant of the actual definition of a snob.
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 of the more informed person, not the mere fact that they possess more knowledge. If one is a connoisseur and evinces the accompanying proficiency, but NOT the pomposity or condemnation of non-connoisseurs, then by definition, they are not a snob.
While there are certainly connoisseurs who are snobs, there are just as many insecure people who are intimidated by connoisseurship. They need to deride the wine expert as a snob to ward off threats to their ego.
If you’re a snob then all I can say is you’re a jerk. And if you unfairly label oenophiles as snobs, simply because of connoisseurship and not because of true pretentiousness or arrogance, then I’m forced to repeat my above statement: You need to get it in your head that superior knowledge about wine doesn’t make anyone better than you or anybody else.
THE CASUAL PARTIER
Lastly are the folks who enjoy wine, maybe for gastronomic pleasure, but definitely for recreational purposes. There’s a fine line here and I’m certainly not condoning alcoholism. But there is a difference between abstemiously enjoying wine at a party and falling off the abyss into complete dipsomania.
If you’re the host, here’s another time not to break out the good stuff. One day I had a group of friends over for a get-together and the wine was flowing; particularly into one woman who had surpassed moderation. I myself was within my limits and I introduced a very expensive bottle of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, a top-notch Bordeaux. I was describing the wine’s pedigree when Ms. Half-in-the-bag impatiently and curtly snapped: “Just open it.” She then proceeded to swig her share with unabashed dissipation. The moral of the story is this: under such circumstances, I recommend you retreat into one of the other categories: the penny-pincher. Always keep some inexpensive bottles on hand for the party animals.