11 Oct The Snobby Somm
It never fails, at every Vino With Amigos event there is always some dude there that thinks the wines you brought are crap and he knows more about wine than you do. I am usually alerted to who it will be by the host, “I can’t wait for you to meet Jim. He’s the real wine aficionado.” Or “Wait until you meet my friend Mike, he LOVES wine.” I always take a mental note “avoid Jim and Mike as much as possible.” But even though I want to avoid Jim and Mike, they do not want to avoid me.
Jim or Mike will always come up to me and start a pissing match of name dropping wine. “I was at Phelps over the weekend and bought a case of the Insignia. I’m on their mailing list,” says Jim as he drinks the $26 zinfandel I brought. He slurps up that last sip, asks for a revisit, and then talks about the other high end wines he buys: Silver Oak, Nickel and Nickel, Hall.
“Oh, you like higher end wines? Great, I happen to have one right here. This Mario Bazan is $60 but it drinks like any $100 cab in the valley. It has received great scores, “ I say as I pour the wine for the Wine Snob.
“Oh yeah, that’s more like it. That’s real tasty. Hey, can I have another little splash of that?”
But by the end of our wine tasting, Jim/Mike, who buys Insignia, Cask 29 and Hall’s 100 point cab, either buys NOTHING or walks out with one bottle of the our $26 zinfandel. Meanwhile the gal who says she doesn’t know anything about wine has bought 4 Mario Bazans, 2 Fathia Viogniers, and of course, our Vino S Vida Moscato.
These wine snobs come to our wine tastings already convinced that I’m just a novice. Maybe it’s because companies like “Wine Shop At Home” have cheapened what it means to be a wine professional. I mean if being a wine professional is about buying a kit from a multi-level marketing company than belonging to Blue Apron should qualify you as a chef.
That brings me to the snobby sommelier. Being in this business means I know A LOT of somms and master of wine students. You may be thinking they are the same thing. They are not. The Master of Wine Program (WSET) focuses on wine vineyard to bottle. Basically they just like to geek out on wine. A Somm geeks out on the business of wine like wine lists in restaurants, wine pairing, etc. Both are amazing.
People who are really passionate about wine are not wine snobs. They love wine, all wine. They don’t care where it’s from. Where it’s from just means that the wines will have certain characteristics that only that region can give. True somms and WSET students don’t drink a Sonoma Coast expecting it to be like a Burgundy because a pinot noir from burgundy should have burgundy characteristics and a Sonoma Coast should have Sonoma Coast characteristics.
So back to the Snobby Somm. Vino Latino USA was at this really cool event to raise money for breast cancer research. The event bought wine from us at a discounted price and asked us to be the wine bar. Because it was a fundraiser we needed to keep costs down. Keeping costs down meant we had lower price point wines, especially since a glass of wine was only $5. That means we weren’t pouring a lush Napa Valley Oakville cabernet aged in brand new French Oak for 24 months that retails for $125. It means we had a Napa Valley cab that was from grapes from all over the valley, cheaper grapes no doubt, aged in neutral oak for 12 months that retailed for about $40 per bottle and that gave me a killer deal wholesale.
As I was serving guests I noticed this guy standing off to the side watching us pour the wine. Eventually he asked “Are the grapes grown by the winery or did they purchase the fruit?”
Since we had a lot of different wineries represented I said that some were purchased and some were grown. He just looked at me with this weird look on his face, like maybe he didn’t understand. So I elaborated. “Just because you own grapes doesn’t mean you own a winery and visa versa. A lot of great wineries purchase grapes.” He just keeps looking at me with that weird look so I continue, “It’s a very intricate relationship that growers and winemakers have. If you purchase fruit you often get to choose when it’s picked, how it’s farmed. This is very common in the wine industry.”
He then says, “I know, I’m a somm.”
“Oh, then I don’t need to explain any of this to you.” I say as I turn to take care of the very happy guests excited about the wines I brought holding out their drink tickets to me. Once they’ve been served the “somm” asks me what types of white wines I brought. I told him Chardonnay, Viognier, Moscato, and a Rose`. He asks for the viognier.
The Snobby Somm takes a sip, makes a face and say, “Oh no.”
“You don’t like it?”
“No, it’s all wrong. It’s fat. Not lean like it’s supposed to be.”
“Do you like chardonnay?” I ask.
“Only if it’s the best chardonnay in the world.” Somm replies.
“Have you had the best chardonnay in the world?”
He laughs as if I’m crazy and says, “I’ve had Montrachet.”
I said, “oh, so the best chardonnay in the world is from France?”
“Where else would it be from?”
“It’s only the best if you like French wine.” I tell him.
“It’s only the best if you like French wine.” I say again
“You obviously like French wines.” I reply.
“Yeah” he says, but what Snobby Somm really meant was, “Duh!”
So just to be snarky I said, “I don’t like the French wine so therefore Montrachet would not be the best for me.”
This is exactly the kind of attitude I hate. This person, who claims he’s a somm (though I don’t believe him) has decided there’s a right or wrong wine, or a right or wrong palate. But that’s not true. That’s like telling someone who likes spicy food that they are wrong for liking spicy food. Or telling people that fish should only be cooked as they are eating sushi. There’s no right or wrong with wine. A French chardonnay is not more right than a Napa chardonnay. A Napa cabernet is not more right than a Sonoma Valley cabernet. The only rights and wrongs come down to flaws. Things like cork taint, volatile acid, heat exposure, etc. and even then it’s debatable depending on who is drinking it. But no one should shame anyone for how they make wine as long as they made the wine true to themselves and no one should be embarrassed by what they like to drink, even if it’s white zinfandel or moscato.
So if you consider yourself a wine novice or “Just a wine drinker,” please don’t feel intimidated by the Jims, Mikes, and Snobby Somms of the world. Because as my dad always said, “There are only two kinds of wine in the world: The kind you like and the kind you don’t.”