Wine snobbery, and how to discourage it

A few years ago I wrote about wine snobs, but I am not entirely happy with that post. It was mainly a mini-rant about how the media bandies the term around. That still annoys me, and it is increasingly done by wine merchants too – Naked Wines, I’m looking at you. On reflection though, while I still don’t think I have met anyone I would call a wine snob, wine-snobbery does exist to a greater or lesser degree in many wine drinkers. Call it prejudice if you will – maybe that is actually a better word – a refusal to drink any wine under £10, anything that does not come from France, or any wine that is not natural. I think that is part of being human, though many of us have red lines that are drawn in a more nuanced way than the above examples.

There is however another type of snobbery, which harks back to an older usage of the word. It is not to do with someone looking down on people with less-refined taste; but rather someone of lower status pretending to be above their station. Using British TV comedy cultural references, think more Hyacinth Bucket than Margot Leadbetter.

The world of wine can be very intimidating, and it does not help when wine educators selling their services play on those fears by offering solutions to deal with problem situations: when you are entertaining clients in a restaurant and are handed the wine list, for example. Then, as part of your wine education, you are given a set of tools to use in those situations, and many other rules and facts for good measure. I think what we are doing here carries the danger of actually creating more wine-related social anxiety, and more wine snobbery – snobbery in the sense of encouraging people to pretend they are better than they are. And there is always the possibility that, those novices actually mistake what they have learned for deeper knowledge, and acquire snobbery in the more modern sense of the word, looking down on (or at least askance at) others who do not understand wine.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am all in favour of wine education, but for people who have a genuine desire for knowledge; not for the allayment of social anxiety. However, it is a long road to acquire what I would call real knowledge about wine, and in my opinion the most important thing is to convey to novices that they should not worry. Wine is to be enjoyed, not stressed about. Learn how to enjoy wine, and in the meantime if you need to select from a wine list, ask for advice from the restaurant.

If you do not want to promote wine snobbery, take a relaxed attitude to wine and encourage others to do the same.

Author: Steve Slatcher

Wine enthusiast

2 thoughts on “Wine snobbery, and how to discourage it”

  1. Very interesting post. Now you know me Steve, I’m a passionate wine obsessive. But when my daughter asked me to recommend a white wine by the glass in a pub last night, guess what, I recommended the Pinot Grigio.

    My daughter is only an occasional wine drinker. I just thought of all the wines on offer she’d prefer it. Guess what…she liked it. I can think of a few people I know who’d be surprised with my recommendation, but enjoying a Georgian orange wine isn’t something that hits many first timers. I started on Mouton Cadet a long time ago. Wine is a journey and all of us who embark on it do so at different times.

  2. I’m not at all surprised you suggested the Pinot Grigio. Why not? Besides, presumably the pub’s Georgian wine range was sold-out due to high demand.

    I’m sure there is a lot of crap PG around, but IMO it is an unfairly maligned grape/style these days, a bit like post-Sideways Merlot. A cheap good-value Romanian Pinot Grigio is actually my house wine at the moment – often I just want something I am familiar with, decent quality and works with food, and it fits the bill very well. Other times of course, I want something more interesting.

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