The changing face of the wine snob

I have an article in editorial limbo with the Spectator Life magazine – should be out in September – called ‘Death of the Wine Snob.’ You can probably guess my argument but you’ll have to wait until September to appreciate its full vision. I wrote most of it from LA earlier this year. There I visited a wine merchant with my wife and father-in-law, Jonathan. I asked the woman behind the counter to recommend a few not too expensive Rhoney Californian wines. In an off-hand way she turned three bottles upright and then rattled off technical details about them. One of them was from a producer, Wind Gap, who I’ve had before. I mentioned that I liked it but preferred a blend they did called Orra, did they have that one? Then something odd happened, the woman got a bit flustered, and then a bit cross and said something along the lines of I’ve never heard of it. I seem to have upset her by mentioning a wine that she didn’t know.

I wanted to talk about wine, she wanted to get competitive. She then mentioned a red from Arianna Occhipinti, I said I liked that red but preferred her whites. ‘Whites? She only makes one white.’ 15 love! Things really deteriorated when Jonathan told her that I write a wine column in England, her response was to tell me about a wine podcast that she made. Had I heard of it? Sadly I hadn’t. She looked furious.

It was a very odd experience exacerbated by being heavily jet-lagged (so jet-lagged that I thought I might have imagined the whole thing). It took me a while to realise why it seemed so familiar. Of course! Record shops in my teens and early 20s. This woman would have gone down a storm at Rough Trade in Notting Hill. I suppose it is inevitable that as wine becomes cool, it is going to attract record shop types. Whereas once they would have obsessed over white label imports from Chicago, now it’s the Cote du Py from Marcel Lapierre. Either way the result is the same, these people want to use their knowledge to make you feel small. Makes me long for a good old-fashioned wine snob. At least I knew where I was with him.