Monday 6 October 2014

The Wine Snob

I once bought a bottle of wine from an off licence (liquor store if you are American), and it cost 99p. It wasn’t the low price that attracted me to it, it was the name of the wine – something like Cheap Plonk – effectively stating exactly what it was – a very cheap bottle indeed.

It’s worse than that, dear reader, because I was taking this wine to a party. I can almost feel you shifting uneasily in your seat at the thought of my impending embarrassment at presenting the hosts of a dinner party with a bottle of red camel piss in order to contribute something to the drinks cabinet, almost certainly thriving under the addition of £20 bottles of fine wine from the other more generous guests.

Don’t worry – it wasn’t that kind of party. In fact, it was a normal house party full of drunken people, all consuming their own alcohol. The reason I bought the wine was because I was young, already half-caned and ready to drink anything.

My memories of the party are vague but I do recall having my first glass of my bargain booze and thinking “actually, this isn’t at all bad!”.

Fast forward to 1998 when I was in France with the family. In a supermarket, as you can guess, the choice of wine was huge and I found myself staring at rows and rows of wine trying to work out which one would complement a nice meal in the sun outside the apartment we were staying in.

I decided to try an experiment. I bought a cheap bottle of wine, again costing about one pound sterling, but this time I also splashed out and bought another bottle that cost around ten pounds.

My plan was to try a glass of each and see if I could tell the difference.

Let me tell you this, dear reader – they were both beautiful.

Now I can imagine a wine snob reading this and thinking:

“You absolute heathen! Your taste buds must have been burned off your tongue!”.

Wine snobbery is a similar ailment to pseudo intellectualism. Pseudo intellectuals praise vomit stains as wonderful art just to appear clever. Wine snobs praise expensive bottles of wine just to appear sophisticated or show off their wealth.

Of course, there are exceptions, but mostly I consider somebody who is willing to splash out a huge wad of cash on a bottle of wine at a fancy restaurant is just careless and/or slightly mad.

They are basically show offs.

Except, I am not impressed. I would be more impressed with somebody who bought the house wine to be honest.

I have a couple of rules about buying wine:

(a) In a supermarket, I only buy a bottle of wine costing more than £3.99 if it is reduced in price from £7.99 o £3.99.

(b) In a restaurant, I will never buy a bottle of wine costing more than my main course.

Restaurants make most of their money on wine. When you sit down at the table of a good restaurant, the first thing they do is present you with the wine list. When you open it, the price ranges from around the price of a main course to stupid money. And if you are unfortunate to be sharing your table with a wine snob, you will find that to only are they willing to spend their cash on the most expensive wines, they also speak utter crap.

There is no way that I want to spend £200 on a bottle of wine in a restaurant when I can get just as much enjoyment from a £10 bottle of wine. Think about it – the same drink but it costs 20 times more and the difference in taste will never ever be worth the difference in price, I don’t care whether you are a wine connoisseur or not. You may as well flush your wallet down the toilet.

Now I don’t mind people wasting their cash on expensive wine – that’s their prerogative. What I do mind, however, is the pseudo intellectual style bullshit that invariably pours forth from their mouths when they take their first sip of £200 wine:

“Oh my goodness. The bouquet of this wine is astounding; it’s the perfect combination of peach and cantaloupe, accompanied by a hint of cherry flirting with a gathering of blueberry in a two hundred year old oak casket. It tastes divine, like a tide of flavour from a heavenly ocean washing up on your tongue. It speaks to me; I’m getting banana, blueberry, strawberry with a hint of a rare Brazilian cherry found only the shores of the Amazon in an area of the rain forest untouched by human beings. This nectar is transporting my tongue into orgasmic ecstasy.”

What a load of old bollocks.

We recently went to a wine tasting event in Manchester, where we met three very famous wine connoisseurs from the television. As somebody who hates cookery programmes, I did not know any of them, but I am told that they are famous.

Perhaps you’ve heard of them. Oz Clarke, Olly Smith and Tim Atkin.

I shook hands with Oz Clarke as I walked in, thinking he was just the event organiser. I only discovered who he actually was when Mrs PM, a wine lover, bought one of his books. Basically, the event was very enjoyable and I was able to try quite a few whites, reds and ros├ęs, most of which were very pleasant.

At first, the words of the people offering the wine passed me by and as I sipped the wine, their words went in one ear and out of the other without my brain registering their words. However, as I got slightly more merry I actually started talking to them and asking them what was special about their wine. Some switched to wine snob mode and started talking about “ a hint of fruit salad with an undertone of mahogany” but I found that quite a few of them actually told me how suited to various meals the wines were, which was actually very interesting.

And as the event wore on, I wobbled up to the people and said “What’s your most expensive wine?”

Maybe my taste buds were numb but, to be honest, the top end wines didn’t taste much different from the cheaper ones.

So, what did I get out of the event, apart from proving all that I have said about wines?

WelI, I bought some cheese from a cheese company in Cheshire that experimented with different flavours. Yes that’s right – I went to a wine event and walked out with several pounds of weird cheese.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy how some of the wines complemented the cheese.

And that’s about as pretentious as I get:

“This lump of mature English cheddar complements this Sauvignon Blanc”.

Rest assured, dear reader – both were cheap.


drB said...

The cheapest way to enjoy good wine is to buy clean skin wine from eBay.

Plastic Mancunian said...


I accidentally deleted your comment (D'OH!!!).

But here it is:
I believe there are some people who can appreciate a difference in wine quality at higher prices wines but many people are as you describe them. Those different flavors? If you want a hint of peach, put some peach in it. To me all wine taste surprisingly enough like grape.

I can generally tell a $10 bottle from a $2.00 bottle, and maybe a $20 bottle from a $10 bottle, but beyond that unless you have "Stupid Money" I doubt very many people can taste a discernable improvement in the very high priced wines.

Years ago a friend brought over an expensive bottle of wine. It was awful but no one would admit it. I knew it was bad because between the 4 of us we could not finish the bottle. As I learned more about wine I realized that bottle had simply gone bad.

My wine index is a combination of good taste, reasonable price, and how I feel in the morning.

Interesting post!

And I fully agree with your wine index.



Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi DrB,

Clean skin wine? I've not heard of that.




drb said...

Cleanskin wine - wine without labels. Sometimes when the vineyard overproduced, they do not want to flood the market with the wine, so they sell them without labels. Maybe it is just an aussie thing.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi DrB,

I'll look into that.

Thanks very much.




drb said...

The irony is:
I have a taste for wine and partial to sparkling, but I developed allergy to sulphur and its derivatives and so no more wine for me, except organic wine.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi drb,

Aww - poor you