Vine Helsing

Smallpox. The Madagascaran Fossa. Wine Snobs. What do these seemingly disparate entities have in common? Simply this: they are among the deadliest organisms on the planet. The fossa and smallpox are similar in that their basic biological function is to destroy. The wine snob, however, is more akin to the vampire or the zombie, creatures who suck the life force from their victims, rendering them neither dead nor alive.  But the wine snob is not the product of myth and superstition. Wine snobs are real. Very real. And, yes, they walk among us.

One insidious truth about wine snobs is that they are sometimes difficult to spot. To the unsuspecting or inexperienced, they often appear to be an innocent wine geek or aficionado. At times they can even be confused with that rarest of creatures, the true connoisseur. Unlike those other breeds, who are animated by a love of wine and a desire to share its wonders, the snob is driven by a toxic mix of vanity and superficial materialism. Fortunately, with every snob, there is a soft, white underbelly waiting to be exposed. 

How does one spot, and eventually deal with, a wine snob? The first part is eventually rather simple, as the snob cannot help but give himself away every chance he gets. (It is most often a man; not always, but usually.) He wants people to know of his self-determined superiority, his faux-intellect and pseudo-breeding. In a casual social gathering, when served a glass of wine, he might mutter, to no one in particular but just loudly enough for others to hear, “Hmmm…I’ve always felt this particular vintage showed best in Macedonian crystal. I’m just not getting the usual notes of Nepalese quince oil.”  Heads turn, and those who understand what just occurred, shake their own heads and sigh.

Sometimes, the snob outs himself in a more overt but just as obnoxious manner. You make the mistake of telling the snob about the bottle of 1997 Robert Mondavi reserve cabernet that you enjoyed last night. This sort of information draws snobs like flies to honey.  “The ’97 you say? Ha! I told Bob, when the grapes were still on the vine, that it was going to be better than the ’85. I could feel the sugars in my hands, I swear! The old fellow wouldn’t believe me.” Then, with a wistful gaze into the distance, the snob chuckles, exhales a soft “Oh, Bob. Sic transit gloria mundi, I guess,” and walks away. The desire to kill is overwhelming.

At times, the snob forgets anything he might know about manners, and shows himself for the cad that he is, with behavior that is rude and condescending. You’re entertaining a group of colleagues after work, handing out glasses of wine, and the snob spots the bottle you’ve poured from. “Kendall Jackson. My, what an interesting choice. Do you have any mineral water? No? Oh well, I guess it won’t kill me to drink this,” he says with an arrogant laugh. You begin to imagine ways to get the snob fired as soon as possible.

Those who are new to wine have no real defense against these evil clowns, so it’s up to the more experienced among us to protect the innocent. One socially acceptable method is to feign ignorance, followed by a stream of increasingly aggressive questions that don’t stop until the snob backs down or is completely embarrassed. You can also try to ignore the snob and his elitist nonsense, but it’s never easy, or prudent, to ignore a toxic spill. Eventually the thing has to be cleaned up. In the end, maybe the only practical way to combat the snob is to use what’s always worked. Find a good, solid, sterling silver corkscrew, rub it up with some garlic, and keep in your pocket until the moment presents itself. And trust me. The moment will present itself. It always does.

If you have other methods for the proper disposal of wine snobs, please let the rest of us know. Or, if you have some classic wine snob moments that are so unbelievable they need to be shared, go for it. Knowledge is power, and the more we know about these monsters the easier it will be for us to put them out of our misery.

8 thoughts on “Vine Helsing

  1. Kathie Montserrat

    Thank you, Tom! You are my total “go to guy” when it come to wine. I am the “Plato” to your “Aristotle”.

    1. Tom Riley

      You flatter me, which I accept gladly. Clearly, we are in need of additional symposia! Thanks for being here today. Next time we won’t wait so long.

  2. Brendan

    Just don’t be callin’ it K.J.!

    Some year ago, Wine Spectator named, I think, Chateau St. Jean as having the #1 wine of the year. We thought we would go get a bottle or three. Of course there was a mob scene to get it, limit one bottle per person. The winery was loving the scene but one serious wine drinker in the line was publicly and vocally outraged to see so many ignorant Philistine unworthies lining up to get the wine he should have normally been able to buy by the case, and he was cursing Wine Spectator and blaming it all on them. Unforgettable.

  3. Laurie Corsi

    I might opt for mineral water if offered Kendall Jackson too. Kidding! Well, no I’m not … but I am enjoying your blog very much! Bravo, Tom!

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