Okay, okay, so I’m a little bit of a wine snob.
In the same way that Miranda Kerr is a “little bit” of alright.
I constantly travel the world, among elite circles, so I’ve been fortunate to try my hand at many (arguably far too many) a tipple here and there.
That being said, while I am an ultra-mega wine snob, I don’t belittle those who aren’t (well, those who know me will know that I could be stretching a truth a little). For those who aren’t fine wine connoisseurs, I’ve put together some tips for defusing some potentially awkward situations.
Don’t Say “Whatever”
It is great to try new things, but not to be blasé about it. It is better to have an opinion, and appear confident, than to have no opinion at all. When someone asks you what kind of wine you would like, at the very least, pick a colour.
If that is too much pressure, simply turn it back on the asker with “what would you suggest?”
You’ll likely get to try something you’ve never tried before. And if you like it, keep it in the memory bank for next time. Baby steps, my little wine noob. Baby steps.
Don’t Guess, if guessing is all you have
If someone at a wine tasting or cellar door asks you “Can you guess what grape this is?” – tread carefully. And whatever you do, do not say “Bordeaux”? Bordeaux is a prolific (and important) wine region in Southwest France, not a grape variety.
And if you don’t know the colour of a wine based upon the grape name, do not partake in this guessing game at all. You’ll be a 50/50 chance of only getting the colour right. A Pinot Noir is red. A Pino Grigio is white. It’s a slippery slope for the uninitiated.
I find it is often best to display a very slight, knowing smile and say nothing at all, waiting for others to play along first.
If put to task, I would then aim to distract. After ostentatiously sniffing and tasting the wine, simply say “ambitious, but never haughty.” If anyone is brave enough to ask you what you mean, glare at them with withering disdain and say nothing further. If pressed, utter a small “hurrumph” and start muttering about pigeons. Better to appear senile, than inept.
When someone asks what you think about a particular wine, quite often they are expecting a flowery answer, and one which really cannot be provided without extensive knowledge and experience.
Play it safe, and make deliberately vague, generic comments that you can easily get away with, like “robust”, or “smooth” or simply “good structure”. If all else fails, just say “I don’t know how to describe it, but I like it”.
Do not, under any circumstance, start suggesting which side of the slope the grapes were grown upon, or you’ll look like a pompous git.
Often times, it is simply more fun, and more endearing to your fellow guests, to make light, by peering at your wine with a raised eyebrow, and saying something like “hmmm… it does have an oaky afterbirth”.
Don’t be Grape-cist
Don’t be that guy who says “I only drink Red”. Or “I only drink White”. This is an immediate red flag to any discerning wine buff who is looking to sniff out a novice. Instead, if you truly do hate red wine, come up with a good reason, like “I just had my teeth whitened, so I’d prefer to stick with white tonight”. Realise also that no two reds or whites are alike. It’s time to put those long-held grudges behind you and pick up a bottle of “the other colour” again. You will likely be pleasantly surprised.
Don’t sniff the cork
Many are aware of the phenomena known as “corking”. In a nutshell, “corked wine” is one that has developed a flaw caused by contamination from a chemical compound contained in cork called 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole, or TCA for short. This is also known as cork taint. The reality is, a cork can be tainted, without the wine being tainted. If the wine is tainted, the wine itself will smell tainted. I assure you, you do not want to reject, or discard an expensive, vintage bottle of plonk based upon a cork sniff. And if you sniff a metal twist-off cap (or a cork-free cork), you are guaranteed to look like a twat.
Don’t overdo it
When a sommelier or a waiter proffers you a small sample before pouring for others, adhere to the ritual, but don’t overdo it. Let me cut to the chase here. The purpose of this ritual is not to determine whether you like the wine, it is solely to determine whether it has been tainted (see above). Do not ask to sniff the cork (see above). Do not over-swirl. Do not over-sniff. And do not even taste it unless you suspect it might be tainted and you need to know for sure. And you will know then, I assure you.
Instead simply give the wine a quick couple of swirls. Have a quick sniff. And give the sommelier a brief, casual nod. This should take no more than 5 seconds.
Do not lean back in your chair, and make a big song and dance over it, swirling and sniffing and sampling, or else the sommelier will know you are full of shit – and the crafty ones may even seek to trip you up on something else later. It’s not worth the risk. Again, if it is a twist cap, just wave away the entire exercise, and simply tell them to “pour away, my good fellow/lady”.
Don’t imitate Hannibal Lecter every time Chianti is ordered
Maybe one day it will be hip and retro to throw out a Lecter impression. This is not yet that time. Right now, it is still a little bit try-hard. Wait until Silence of the Lambs is a true cult classic. Safe to safe that will be in around 2031. Make a note in your calendar for the year 2025 to start cellaring a nice Chianti Classico in anticipation. Chances are no-one in the room will get the joke, but oh how you’ll giggle to yourself.
*Note, it is however perfectly acceptable to throw the quote out, whenever you are offered Fava Beans…
Don’t say you prefer a “dry”’ red
Why? I know that you mean to say that you prefer a wine that is less sweet. The problem is, almost all reds are dry, by design. That means that the sugar has been fermented into alcohol. The sensation of sweetness in red wine is caused by the presence of super-ripe fruit, which tricks your palate into thinking “sweet”. Instead, say that you prefer reds that are “less fruity in style”, like your good self.
The Sideways “Fucking Merlot” Caveat
Don’t hate on fucking Merlot because Paul Giamatti told you so in “Sideways”. Hate on fucking Merlot because it tastes like the fucking Merlot grape has drunk its own pee, after eating a bowl of asparagus soup, just before it was sent to the crusher. It is a varietal meant for blending, and blending only. So don’t go all “Sideways” because a wine contains a blend of Merlot. But if it’s a straight up fucking Merlot, all gloves are off.
Don’t fear the wine list
They can be lengthy. They can (often) be written in foreign languages. But don’t let that hold you back.
If all else fails, ask your waiter for a recommendation, along the lines of “I’m having the duck, and my friend/spouse/bit-on-the-side is having the Mahi Mahi, what would you recommend to best accompany them?”
If all else fails, select the second or third least-expensive bottle in your grape of choice. But never say “I’ll have a bottle of your second cheapest wine, thanks!”, or you will have foregone all of your previous hard work.
Don’t get into Bubble Trouble
This is another slippery slope. Most wine noobs are at least aware that Champagne is not an arbitrary term for all sparkling wines. If you make this mistake in the presence of anyone who works in the beverage industry, you’ll likely get the age-old lecture that unless the bubbly was made in Champagne (a region in the Northeast of France), it ain’t Champers – it’s sparkling wine. Best to play it safe, and simply talk about the “bubbly” or the “sparkling”.
Dealing with the Arsehole Wine Snob
Aka, the Wine Snoot. A Wine Snoot tends to make the subject of wine appear to be more complicated, more difficult, and more mysterious than it needs to be. Granted, there is an awful lot that can be learned about wine, but the basics one needs to learn in order to improve their appreciation of wine really aren’t that difficult. Wine isn’t rocket science and no one needs to be made to feel stupid around wine by someone making it out to be more complicated than it really is.
All in all, good readers, drinking wine should be enjoyable. There are no firm and fast rules. Wine enjoyment is highly subjective. And it’s truly a personal experience.
So if some over-pompous tosspot starts ruining your experience, wait for them to describe a wine, smile and while shaking your head discouragingly say “no, no, no, that’s not what you’re tasting at all”. And then turn away, and never speak to him again.
And if all else fails, pilfer his car keys and flush them down the toilet.