A Primer on Wine Snobbery

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Posted: Feb 27, 2009 12:01 AM
A Primer on Wine Snobbery

Some people drink wine as a beverage and don’t care that it’s a beverage of conversation in some quarters.

The culture that revolves around knowing wine very well is one that can be populated by snobs who are prepared, at the drop of a cliche, to say the right thing.

I have been accused of this, and I know that anyone can play the game. You don’t have to know much about wine if you know how to act.

Becoming a snob is easier than you might think. Just learn the following rules and follow them in public.

-- When asked what your favorite wines are, always say something like, “France is the historic birthplace of great vin.”

-- If asked your opinion of Burgundy, say you drink nothing but Grand Cru or Premier Cru, but “they can be so erratic.”

-- Always take price tags off bottles that cost less than $20. And always leave the price tags on when serving expensive wines.

-- If someone asks your favorite vintages, chuckle and say that 1961 or 1945 Bordeaux would be most people’s choices, “but I have a sentimental attachment to the ’53s.”

-- You’re in an Italian restaurant and someone suggests a chianti to go with the pasta. Look disdainfully at the wine list and snort, “Pathetic. No 1978 Barolos.”

The best place to exhibit snobbism is at a snooty restaurant, preferably one with a sommelier.

-- When handed the wine list, no matter how extensive it is, even if it is 50 pages, always ask the sommelier, “Do you have a captain’s list?” Very few restaurants have such a “limited selection” list any more, but it indicates your willingness to consider really expensive wines.

-- You order a chardonnay; all the glasses are poured, and the server asks if you would like it in an ice bucket. Say, “No, thanks, it can go on the table. We don’t like chardonnay popsicles.”

-- After ordering a bowl of soup, ask if the restaurant has any dry sherry to serve alongside it. Few restaurants do, but it is certainly a nice, snobbish touch to ask.

Now a few terms to avoid at all costs, and their substitutes:

-- Never say wine glasses; always say stemware. One glass is a called a stem. Tall, narrow Champagne glasses are called flutes. If you get a flat, saucer-shaped thingy, say, “It may have been fine as Marie Antoinette’s breast, but it was never meant for quality sparkling wine.”

-- Never say a wine tastes good. Say it has breeding or character.

-- Never say a wine is a little sweet. Say it has “a trace of residual sugar.”

-- Don’t refer to a tart wine as sour. Say it has a low pH.

-- If you are sipping an astringent red wine, don’t say it is tart or bitter. Say it has excess polyphenols and needs a few more years in the cellar.

-- If a wine is served that you can’t smell very well, say it is mute.

And finally, never, ever commit yourself about whether you like or dislike a wine until you see the wine’s label and know how much it cost.

Wine of the Week: 2005 Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($32) -- This stylish, fruit-filled red wine is a superb reflection of what Napa Valley does best with its more favored grape. Herbs and cherries mark the aroma, and the soft, balanced entry is supported by modest alcohol (only 13.5 percent). Good now, and it will benefit from a few years in the cellar. Proof that you don’t have to spend $100 to get a great Napa cabernet.