A Wine Snob Story Worth Sharing

Brynn writes:

I think everyone can relate to the story I’m about to share. It has to do with pretentiousness that surrounds wine from time-to-time, and the people who ruin wine as they pontificate their wine know-how to perfect strangers.

Saturday we visited three of the Bainbridge Island wineries for the “Meet the Winemakers” weekend. (I’ll go into the wines we tried in a separate post).

There were a number of people making the circuit, so while we had some good one-on-one time with the winemakers, there were times when we had to share their attention.

It was at one of the more crowded stops that Jeff (my husband) and I encountered a person who, in my opinion, may have had one taste too many. She wasn’t rude; in fact she was the opposite — friendly and conversational.

But, the wine know-it-all immediately started name dropping the Bainbridge winemakers, telling us their wines sell themselves, they produce some of the best wine in the state, etc., etc. I appreciated her enthusiasm, and agree there are some great wines coming from the island, but the more she talked, the more she got the facts wrong.

Like when she tasted a Sangiovese and claimed she could “Taste the Bainbridge Island soil; the sunlight and the island’s blackberry bushes.”

Now I don’t pretend to be a wine expert, but I do know the basics. Including the fact that except for Gerard and Jo Ann Bentryn, red wines made on the island come from grapes grown in Eastern Washington. (The Bentryns grow pinot noir at their Day Road vineyard).

Mind you, the label of the wine she was drinking specifically said it was from Kiona’s Red Mountain Vineyard, which is located near the Tri-Cities.

Clearly our new wine friend was trying to show that she knows how terroir plays into wine. But if she knew enough to know about terroir, she should also know Bainbridge’s reds — except for the Bentryn’s Pinot — come from Eastern Washington.

It took everything in me not to say: “Wow you must have an amazing palate to be able to taste the island’s soil in grapes grown 218 miles away.”

Instead I kept my mouth shut, smiled politely and poured out the Sangio to wait for the next red.

She however took this as a dismissal of the wine she described as “smooth, rich and the best she’d had.” (I liked the wine, but as a 100 percent Sangiovese, the tannins and acidity were present on the finish, which did not leave me thinking “smooth”).

Didn’t we like it?

Very much but we’re pacing ourselves, I replied, secretly thinking: “Maybe you should do the same.”

Let me end this post with some advice. If you’re at a tasting, pace yourself. Don’t feel bad pouring out after a sip or two, or spitting. Winemakers won’t be insulted.

In fact, they’re more likely to get insulted when it appears you’re drinking for the buzz and not to appreciate the hard work they put in to making it.

I know I’m not the only one who has a story about a run-in with a pretentious wine drinker. If you can, please share your stories so we can all chuckle — and remind ourselves not to get caught up in how much we know about wine.

8 thoughts on “A Wine Snob Story Worth Sharing

  1. It’s unfortunate that many are more into the mystery of wine than the enjoyment thereof. While wine and wine making certainly have their mysterious side….I’m a simple person and only know enough to enjoy it. For me it’s not what you know, but what you like. Cheers!

  2. So who is the “snob” you are referring to, the lady you were having the conversation with, or yourself? All I could do is hear the shrill voice of Charlie Sheen’s mother on Two and a half men as I read this article.

    1. PBJ,

      Not sure who the woman was — I didn’t ask her name and didn’t get a chance to find out who she was. And yes, I was referring to the woman, not myself. Trust me, if I’m going to be self depreciating, you’ll know it.

      Let me be clear, I love wine and am definitely snobby in some areas as far knowing exactly what I like. But I’m also open to trying everything at least once. I had to share this story because I found it comical. I wasn’t trying to make myself look like a better person — it’s good every now and then to be reminded about the importance of humility.

      Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment.


  3. My knowledge of wine is multi-generational given the appreciation my ancestors had for it. There was always an ample cellar, and one of them actually owned a vineyard. My enjoyment spans decades, but I’ve been mostly silent about it unless in company who can appreciate without feeling intimidated, resentful, pretentious, or competitive. And yes, there are times others have tried to impress or “educate” me. In any case, it has oftentimes been more fun to find an inexpensive yet excellent gem of a wine than to enjoy a premium one.

    As for the subject of the blog, I would have said something – or nothing – then left it here. Not that I disagree with the point of how comical wine snobbery can be. Rather, because there are enough details for attendees and that person to know who is being discussed, the post can be potentially deemed as one-upmanship or public humiliation instead of humour.

    1. RV,

      By no means was I trying to humiliate anyone, but I couldn’t let the episode pass without comment. I will however take to heart your comment and if I share future stories, make sure my “scene setting” is vague enough that the person can’t be identified. I did not intend to appear like I was trying to one-up this woman, I’m not that type of person — especially when it comes to wine, where I have a lot to learn. I appreciate you bringing that to my attention.

      Hopefully with eight wineries on the island and all of them open over the weekend, it will be harder for this person to be identified. If not, I apologize and welcome their criticism of my behavior on this blog. If you can’t take it, don’t dish it, right?

      Your comment raises another good point: There is a fine line between sharing wine knowledge in a conversational manner and coming across like a know-it-all without leaving the door open for a two-way discussion.

      Human interaction and conversation are great ways to learn. I welcome a conversation with anyone who wants to share their experience and education. Conversation is the best way to get a point across, not a one-sided meeting where one party is doing all the talking and most of what they’re saying isn’t correct. It doesn’t take much to get me chatting, trust me — it’s my job to talk to strangers and people who’d rather pull their teeth out without anesthesia than talk to me. In this instance though, I tried to chat, but it was clear this person wanted to always be one better than me. That’s fine, that’s why I shut up.

      Thanks again for the feedback. Like I said, I’ll take it to heart and would love if you please continue to comment and offer your thoughts — especially any wine gems you find that you want to share. We’re always looking for good wines to recommend on our weekly “What We’re Drinking” post. Not to mention, it’s good to get a range of suggestions based on different palates.

      — Brynn

  4. Brynn,

    I don’t believe your intention was either or those. In this venue without the benefit of inflection, facial expression, or knowing much about the person in 3D (my impressions of you in the latter regard are highly favourable), misreading can and does occur. I am completely in agreement regarding the one-way antics of self-described connoisseurs about wine (or anything else), and you’re probably much nicer or patient about tolerating it than I am.

    As for wines and the blog in general, you’re doing a great job and I’ve been tempted to jump in on many occasions. I may have and simply don’t recall, but will make an effort to do more of it. What a great ‘job’!

  5. Brynn,

    I think you should highlight pacing yourself during tastings in a future post. I highly recommend, if you never have, going to Paradisos del Sol in Zillah during an event (for me that’s Spring Barrel coming up in April) and listen to winemaker Paul’s (aka Crazy Pants Man) spiel.

    Two points he makes:
    First, never more than 3 tastes of a wine (his rule is sip-sip-taste[the food pairing]-sip). The palate has a limited endurance and if you’re tasting all day you will easily hit that wall. And definitely dump it if you don’t like it, otherwise you’re just wasting your limited tastes.
    Second, a “taste” should be less than a milliliter. There should be leftovers from a 1oz pour.

    And regarding snobs, I always tell people “Forget ratings and AVA and vintage and new vs. old oak and all that other stuff. Wine is 100% subjective. So if you like it, it’s a good wine.“

    1. Aaron,

      Great advice! I think we will write a post on how to approach upcoming tastings, which are becoming more plentiful as spring nears. There’s one scheduled in Seattle for March 27 that I’m about to post about, so maybe we’ll get something up before that event to help people be prepared for not losing their senses. (I know my first large tasting I walked away with my head swimming. It was just too much. Like any “sport”, clearly one needs to train to be at their optimum performance.)

      Thanks for the advice,


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