Sidebar: Spotting the Wine Snob

Tuesday, 20 April, 2004
Natalie MacLean
Much status can be gained from referring to your palate as though it were a protected archeological site

The wine snob is a rare bird. His natural habitat is marked with mature Bordeaux and Burgundy. He is best approached from a distance, lest you disturb his decanting ritual. Note the way he holds his glass at the base while swirling the wine to the top rim. See how he displays his verbal plumage in the presence of cult cabernet.

Not all wine snobs are alike; there are several subspecies. Consider borus nonshutuputus. After listening to the dinner conversation for a few minutes, he will establish territory by contradicting the next-most-knowledgeable person present. When nosing the wine, he will scent not only the region and winery, but also what the vintner and his wife were arguing about on the day the grapes were harvested.

Borus technotalkatus is a related species, but note the difference in vocabulary. Just as mating calls distinguish many bird species, technotalkatus emits at regular intervals sounds such as 'malolactic fermentation,' 'carbonic masceration' and 'light carbonation.'

Collectorosa completeca owns every great bottle from every great vintage. His most frequently heard call is, 'I own that wine too.' Any reference to France will cause him to pounce on the opportunity of telling his château story, including the nickname of the winemaker. Do not get excited if you're invited to his home: his wines are purely for display, and will not be consumed in his lifetime.

Finally there's healthus maniacutus, who doesn't necessarily like wine but takes it as medicine. Instead of a vintage chart, he keeps a list of various wines' resveratrol levels in his breast pocket. He's recalculated his expected lifespan based on his reduced risk of heart disease from drinking 1.5 glasses of wine daily. His favourite book is The French Paradox.

If you suddenly encounter any of these wine snobs at close range, retreat slowly to the beer cooler—they will not follow you there. Regroup and go in again with a few all-purpose adjectives such as 'backward,' 'meaty' and 'barnyard'; and some bon mots that hint at your world citizenship, such as 'formidable' and 'pas mal.' (Be sure to say them with the right amount of nonchalance.) Let your listeners know that it causes you great personal pain to drink white zinfandel, the equivalent of an industrial pre-mix solution.

Much status can be gained from referring to your palate as though it were a protected archeological site—distinguishing between the forward, middle and back grids. This seriousness should be carried over to the restaurant wine list, which you can analyze like a Talmudic scholar poring over the sacred texts.

But be kind. Wine snobs are not only rare birds, they are also an endangered species. They are aesthetically assaulted by bladder boxes; systematically shocked by provincials who know nothing about terroir. Increasingly, they stay in their lair rather than venturing out into the open fields of social groupings, where they have become an easy target.

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Issued by: Natalie MacLean, NatDecants