The wine snob is dead and there’s a party happening on his grave

Monday, 2 December, 2013
Henry Jeffreys, The Spectator
Oenophilia is becoming increasingly egalitarian, and at last wine is an acceptable topic of conversation.
Red-faced, plummy-voiced, with a big nose, the wine snob is a familiar social stereotype. He might laugh at you at a dinner party for mispronouncing Montrachet or be the face sneering at you from behind the counter of a stuffy wine merchant when you ask for a bottle of cava. Oddly enough, in all my years of buying wine and working in the wine trade, I very rarely came across this figure. People like this may have once been ubiquitous but nowadays the legend of the wine snob is kept alive by the wine trade as a way of proclaiming their egalitarian principles: haven’t we come far, they say, we’re not like those terrible blazer-wearing toffs.

However, what most British people mean or meant by a wine snob was not this possibly mythological creature — it just meant that you spent more than £5 a bottle. When friends at university realised that I was interested in wine, they would open bottles with much facetious ceremony and pour a tiny glass for me with a smile that said. ‘I hope this is good enough for the wine snob.’ If I tried to initiate a conversation about wine, even ask if people liked it, I would be shouted down. My flatmate even bought me a heavy glass ashtray for my birthday with the promise that she would brain me with it if I talked about wine. At the first hint of wine speak, the cry would go up ‘snob’, they would point and I would be shunned. Ten years ago being interested in wine was something furtive, like being an early Christian or a 1950s homosexual.

Things seem to be changing. Last month I had lunch at a friend’s house. Everyone arrived bearing a bottle and then something strange happened. Rather than just sitting down and drinking, they unself-consciously, and without any prompting from me, started talking about wine. Nothing fancy, just, ‘This one smells of this,’ ‘this one goes with that’ or ‘I didn’t know white Rioja could be so good.’ Initially I put this down to my friends having grown up, but then I noticed that the youngsters at work were not embarrassed by wine talk. Some of them were extremely knowledgeable.

So why is this?

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