Wine Snobs: Ordering Wine in Restaurants

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There's a difference between being a wine snob and a wine connoisseur. A wine snob is showy about what they know, sometimes even using showy flourishes to mask how little they know. Insofar as they are genuinely knowledgeable, a wine snob uses that knowledge in ways to make other feel inferior. Being a wine connoisseur — or even just knowledgeable about wine — entails using what you know for your benefit and the benefit of others.

The difference between being a snob and not being a snob thus lies primarily with how and why you use your knowledge. It's appropriate to be disparaging of wine snobbery because it does no one any a good and, moreover, can actually give wine culture and appreciation a bad name. Taking disparagement to such an extreme degree that it also encompasses any display of wine knowledge and appreciation, though, is ridiculous.

Milford Walton writes this about people who swirl, sniff, and carefully taste wine at restaurants:

In the early 20th century, when formal dining out was in it's hay day, it was or seemed to be chic to check the nose of the wine and test it on your palette. But those days have gone by... And I mean long ago! So for your sake, please don't ever do that when presented a bottle of wine at your table in a restaurant. Even if you are prompted to do so by the Somalier or even a friendly waiter trying to score points with your party. Do not and I mean do not do this.

It's quite alright to tell the server at your table that you are sure the wine selected will be fine. In fact the server will probably be thankful you didn't force him or her to observe this painful act. Let them open and pour the wine and move on to more important things.

Source: Ezine (emphasis added)

So, whatever the waiter happens to bring you — regardless of what you might have wanted or ordered — you should just accept? You shouldn't stop to make sure that the wine is the correct one or tastes OK? I'm sorry, but that sort of advice is not only wrong, but is downright irresponsible. It it true that the odds are in your favor of getting what you want, but since you are paying such a premium for wine in a restaurant you have a right and a responsibility to check it before having it served to the entire table. That's not snobbery, it's just good sense.

I'll agree with Milford Walton that you shouldn't make a big show about swirling and sipping the wine, then holding court about all the different aromas and flavors you can detect — not even if you're a recognized wine expert. Such behavior is designed to attract attention to yourself and puff yourself up rather than help anyone else.

That's the extent of the reasonable advice, though, because then Walton issues "advice" that makes the above appear almost reasonable:

It's utterly amazing to watch someone who knows as much about wine as you do, spout off with these grandiose labels and attributes for an average wine. Many times for even less than an average wine. I can guarantee you there is no shortage of these quasi wine aficionados.

What is acceptable now a days, is to just select a wine type that you like. Regardless of the situation or even the food that is being served. It's all about enjoying the experience of drinking wine. Your taste is just as good as anybody else's and your opinion just as valid. After all, do you really care if there is a hint of Watermelon or the delicate scent of Rose emanating from your wine glass.

I just love that snide, insulting generalization about "someone who knows as much about wine as you do." This is precisely what separates snobs from the rest of us and it's ironic to find it in an article that's ostensibly a criticism of snobbery. Only a true snob could look down on absolutely everyone in that manner and I can’t imagine why anyone would even consider any of his advice after being condescended to in that manner. If you're going to treat your readers like idiots, you'll soon have no readers at all.

Milford Walton is also mistaken to imply that absolutely any wine is good with absolutely any dish you happen to be eating. Some pairings are simply bad, detracting from the tastes and experience of both the foods and the wine. If you don't know which pairings are more or less advisable you'll have to rely on others' advice, but it's better to ask for advice than to assume that anything you order will be just as good as anything else.

The problems with Milford Walton's article can, I believe, be traced back to what I describe above: the difference between criticism of wine snobbery and wine knowledge. Where Walton is critical of genuine wine snobbery, he makes reasonable points and reasonable arguments. Where Walton is critical of using wine knowledge in ways that can produce real benefit, he becomes absurd and completely unreasonable. Where Walton engages in snobbery himself, he becomes a caricature of what he presumes to be criticizing.

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