-- How to Be a Wine Connoisseur --
Update 25 May 2007 by Amazing Ben
Quite some time ago I wrote an article about what I would do if I won the lottery. One of the things I said I wanted to accomplish with my life was to become a cultured connoisseur of fine wines across the globe, and to utilize that knowledge to make people feel inferior to me. Well it just so happens that one doesn't actually need to win the lottery to satisfy one's psychologically-alarming superiority complex, but rather that one simply needs to go to some cheap-ass wine tastings and pretend they know what the hell is going on. I can tell you this with confidence, as I have now walked this path and proven myself as a purveyor of many fine wines in the five-to-fifteen dollar range. Yes, it is true. I know it may be difficult to picture your humble webmaster as a savant in the field of mass-produced crap wines, but I assure you I speak not one word of lie or hyperbole ever for any reason.
Now I'm feeling particuarly magnanamous today, and since I love all of my dear readers so very much (in a non-sexual way, I assure you), I've decided to pass along the wisdom I've gained through the last twelve months of pretending I'm a snooty rich European cocklobster.
Understanding Your "Colleagues"
In order to succeed as a wine critic, you're going to need to go to some actual honest-to-crap wine tastings. On the one hand, this can be totally sweet because you get to drink like five or six different glasses of wine for like twenty bucks and the guy teaches you some interesting shit about the fruity-ass art of wine-making, but as with most things it helps to go into these events prepared both mentally and physically for the rigors and horrors that await you. I've put together a list of the three main archetypes you're going to run into during your foray into the wine-tasting prick community.
Actual Legitimate Wine Snobs:
Generally speaking, this is the category you're going to try to fake your way into. These are the folks that not only give a shit about wine, but who are so interested in it that it borders on chronic alcoholism. They have twenty billion bottles of wine with dinner every night and know every single possible thing there is to know about wine, down to whether it was fermented in oak or stainless steel barrels or whether the grapes were hand-picked by French Eurotrash or Mexican migrant workers. Actual Wine Snobs are almost ALWAYS Europeans, and if they aren't Europeans, then they are Americans PRETENDING to be Europeans by affecting some god-awful fake generic nondescript "European" accent.
I do not advise speaking to an Actual Wine Snob until you've actually learned something about wine, because they will make you look stupider than a ballerina tutu on an axe-wielding Minotaur. Instead, they will be one of your greatest resources as to how to act like a wine snob. Simply observe how they react to certain things and try to emulate them as best as possible. It also helps to try and cultivate a convincing high-class snooty British or French accent.
These are the fucking twenty-something year-old douchebags who show up because they want to get wasted Spring Break woooo and find a good cheap wine to class up their next kegger barf-a-thon. They are often times a co-ed group of dumbass dudes who think they can pretend to be grown ups by taking their girlfriends to a snooty wine tasting, but their mere presence actually just brings the entire Respectability Factor of the event down by roughly two billion points. They are loud, they are obnoxious, they constantly ask stupid fucking questions ranging from "how did you get that cork out so easily?" to "can we drink it yet?", and their wine-tasting palates are roughly as refined as a rusty tin can full of crude oil that has just been dug out of the ground by a dog with tapeworms.
I should point out that this is the category that most of you will actually fit into at first, despite your best efforts to mimic the Actual Wine Snobs. Your progress as a successful wine taster hinges on your ability to separate yourself from this archetype. My advice is to either ignore the College Kids completely or look upon them with sheer contempt and make some sort of "psshht" sound to indicate your extreme displeasure every time they say anything. This may win you some favor in the eyes of the actual snobs, who in turn may offer you sage words on the world of wine. This is key because once you receive enough sage words from experienced wine critics you can Level Up your Wine Snob skill +1.
These are the overly-made-up, strappy-shoed, little-black-dress wearing high-class hootchies that hang around with the wine snobs. While you may not think that being a crusty old prick of a wine snob would make you more popular with the ladies than Justin Timberlake on Viagra, you should understand that being a wine snob is a really really fucking expensive habit. Now the old white-haired dudes who can afford to go to wine tastings and order a goddamned moving van full of $200-a-bottle Bordeauxes (I have no idea what the plural of Bordeaux is) are really fucking loaded, and these high class Anna Nicole Smith-types totally dig on that. So as a result you're going to meet a breed of woman you didn't know existed outside of a shady high-class hotel lobby in a bad gangster movie. These chicks may or may not be actual honest-to-god prostitutes, but holy shit they really look it.
Now I haven't met too many Wine Groupies in my short-lived experience as a "budget wine snob", but I have a story to tell about this one. One time, my wife and I were at a tasting and this European dude (of course) came in with TWO of these bimbettes on his arm. Now these chicks seriously looked like whores. And I'm not saying they looked like whores in the way that Hot Andrea says chicks in Boston dress like whores as soon as the weather warms up -- I mean that there was a VERY good chance that this greasy Italian guy had made arrangements to pay these women money in exchange for sex. Now the guy running the show opened a bottle of New Zealand Pinot Noir that had a screw-top instead of a cork, and mentioned the benefits of using screw-tops over corks in the wine-making process. He then asked the audience if they had a preference, and one of these hootchies raised her hand and was like, "I don't like the screw tops". When prompted for further explanation she said she was against them because, "they just look cheap". Andrea and I looked at each other, desperately trying to keep from laughing. She leaned over to me and whispered, "and this chick is obviously the fucking expert on what looks cheap!". We both very nearly lost it.
Now that you know what you're going to be up against, it's time to learn some shit about wine. Hopefully this section will give you some basic background on the wine-making process, as well as how to enjoy wines and talk about wines with other like-minded pretentious cockfaces.
Types of Wines:
In case you haven't noticed, there are about eight billion different kinds of wine out there grown in pretty much every single region of the planet. Basically any dumbass with a bathtub and a half-gallon container of anti-freeze thinks they're goddamned Ernest & Julio Gallo, which can make shit really really fucking confusing for your average wannabe poser connoisseur. However, all is not lost. There's an easy formula for determining what is going to be acceptable amongst wine snobs and what isn't. It's simple -- Frencher Is Better. Think of it this way - the French are the fucking masters at being snobs, so the more French-sounding the name is, the more acceptable it is amongst snobs. Cabernet Sauvignon? Perfect. Pinot Gris? Excellent. Just mention a name that sounds like something a French person would exclaim while being run over by a Panther Tank and you're in the clear. The only important thing to remember here is that real honest-to-crap wine snobs have zero respect for anything not grown in Europe (Napa Valley, CA is a notable exception, but then again only if the winery is owned by a prestigious European winemaker), and have no respect for anyone who prefers white wine to red wine. To them White vs. Red is like Miller High Life vs. Some European Import Beer You've Never Heard Of Before. Anyone who can't appreciate the complexities of red wine or who prefers "crap winery regions" like South America and Australia is beneath contempt.
Everyone has a favorite grape, but I'll also go ahead in this section and throw out a little something I've learned in my time as a budding pretentious cock. It seems to me that most wine snobs tend to prefer Pinot Noir, because apparently it has a very "complex taste" (I'll deal with tasting shortly, so bear with me on this one), so by latching on to this trend you can score cheap brownie points with people who understand wine. Since it's a super-French name, I'll even help you with the pronunciation because I took French for four years in high school and was at one point the TWO-TIME TWO-TIME Vice President of the French Club (seriously) -- it's "Pee No". If you need help remembering, just think of it this way: Do you want to drink wine that tastes like pee? No! Pinot. Now "Noir" is pretty tough to say properly, so in an effort to avoid butchering the French language further than I already have with this update, just leave the Noir off and people will usually know what you mean.
You know how everyone in the planet has one kind of booze that they just can't drink because they overdid it one night and ended up puking up small chunks of their lower instestines for like ten hours straight? Well all wine snobs have one wine that they just abhor with the fire of a thousand suns for reasons they can never fully articulate. Generally speaking, the trendy wines to hate are Merlot and Chardonnay. I don't really know why, but those are the two that a lot of people harbor some random malicious contempt towards. Whatever the reason, you should do your best to rag on these wines whenever possible, because while every connoisseur loves wine, every connoisseur also appreciates snarky bitchy comments regarding crap wines. For instance, when you have to taste a Merlot at a wine tasting, take one sip and then spit it out violently before pointing at the person running the event and exclaiming something to the effect of, "Man this Merlot tastes like someone took a dump in a glass and now this guy's making us drink it! It just tastes like mushrooms and ass!"
How to Taste Wine:
Now when you go to an official wine tasting, or when you're just hanging out drinking at a fancy event, it's important to understand that you're not just chugging alcohol like a roofie-peddling frat boy - you're actually proving to everyone in the room how much better than them you are. The process for tasting wine goes as follows:
- Swirl the wine around in the glass, but for the love of God don't do it so ambitiously that you spill any of it out the sides. If you do that you may as well just dump the entire glass on your head and start speaking in tongues because you are obviously only a half-step removed from a goddamned chimpanzee.
- Hold the glass to your nose and take a huge sniff the aroma. Close your eyes while doing so, so everyone will know you are concentrating on the smell. About two seconds after you finish inhaling, raise your eyebrows.
- Swirl it again.
- Take a sip. You're not shotgunning a fucking Schlitz here, so make sure it's a pretty small sip. You don't want people to think that you're the kind of guy who can't appreciate a glass of wine without hiding the fact that he's a binge drinker.
- Swish the liquid around like mouthwash. This is disgusting to watch, but everyone does it. Make an almost indiscernible face while doing so. Ideally you want your expression to look as if you think you can smell a fart but you can't really tell if the dude next to you just ripped a silent-but-deadly or if you're simply imagining things. Once you've got the "tasting face" on, remain completely motionless for about a second and a half.
- Either nod your head in silent approval (if you liked it) and take a second sip, or shake your head disapprovingly (like a surgeon telling a patient's family that he didn't survive the operation) and take a second sip. You are now free to chug the rest of the glass and start getting wasted.
Now - and this is probably the most important part of tasting - when someone asks you what you thought of it, do not under ANY circumstances give them a one-word response or use the words "liked", "didn't like", "good", or "bad". This is a sure giveaway that you're a phony. Instead, you need to respond with a nearly-unintelligible string of what I like to call "wine words", which are used to describe the taste of wine but which actually have no real meaning in real life. Here's an abbreviated Word Bank of sorts to help you:
Wine Word Bank:
Dry, Tannic, Fruity, Light, Smokey, Complex, Cedary, Plum, Dirty, Deep, Full, Smooth, Rich, Tangy, Sparkle, Soft, Bold, Robust, Acidic, Citrusy
Now wine is different to everyone, and obviously these words I've just listed don't mean anything and are simply arbitrary attempts to put words to that which cannot be properly articulated, so you can pretty much feel free to use any of them freely as long as you remember to string at least three of the words together at a time. So when someone asks you how the Zinfandel was you can say something like, "I found it to be fruity and light with a slight underlying acidity.", or when they want a critique of their Meritage you can say, "It has a complex, full-bodied taste with a richness not found in many other wines from the region." This makes you sound cultured and completely untouchable.
How to Order Wine:
Even though I have now instantly made you all high-class connoisseurs of fine wine, the process of actually ordering wine without sounding like an uncultured buffoon is another delicate procedure. One simply cannot go to the open bar at one's sister-in-law's wedding and say, "Well my dear fellow I would like a glass of your finest Pee No". No, the correct process of ordering is as follows:
- Ask the bartender, "What do you have in a Pinot today?"
- Wait patiently for the bartender to answer your query.
- If the bartender has to look at the wine labels to see what he's offering, frown in disgust and shake your head.
- Once he has answered your question, look off into the distance at nothing in particular for a few seconds. Tap your finger on your chin as though you are lost in thought while doing so.
- Respond, "Hmm... all right, I suppose I'll go with that then." It's important to let the bartender and everyone else around you know that you are merely settling for an inferior wine because you have far more refined taste than the swill they are offering.
Keeping a Wine Journal
Since nine times out of ten you're going to drink enough wine to get completely wasted and not remember what the hell just happened to you, a lot of successful wine connoisseurs out there keep journals documenting their grape-o-logical likes and dislikes. Even though journaling and keeping a diary is probably the pansiest thing this side of braiding your hair, it's not a bad idea to keep track of what you did and didn't like so you don't go out like a dumbshit and buy something you've already tried and which made you hurl chunks the size of the Starship Enterprise. It's sort of like how LiveJournaling and Blogging is fruity but this website isn't, even though it's all pretty much exactly the same thing.
To get you started on the one true path to righteousness, I've included a couple of entries from (gasp!) my own personal wine journal. This is probably a good template for what your wine journals should look like.
Sample Entry Number One:
||The Little Penguin
||$6.99 at the grocery store
|Slightly bitter and harsh, but that could be because we kept it in the fridge for something like two weeks before we finally got around to opening it. It's OK. I give it a 29 out of 53. We drank it after we went and got complimentary professional massages, and then played Dynasty Warriors 4 drunk at like 11 in the morning. After that we drank some other stuff I can't remember, watched Footloose and Andrea tried on her old prom dress for some reason.
Sample Entry Number Two:
||$9.50 at the wine shop
|The third of the six wines we tried at a tasting at the local wine shop. Dry, tannic, fruity with a nice aftertaste. Andrea hated it. When the guy asked the audience what they thought of the wine, she told him that it was "like licking an ash tray" and proclaimed that drinking it made her want to kill herself. She also said she's never coming to one of these "boring ass things" with me again. She's a charming girl.
I should mention there are also some entries in my journal from when Andrea and I went on a wine tour during our Honeymoon. Unfortunately, I didn't decide to start writing anything down until we'd already visited our fifth or sixth winery, and everything I wrote is pretty much illegible jibberish that looks like it was written by a two year-old. This is the risk you take when attempting to wine journal while drunk off your ass.
Well folks, I hope you are all now ready to go out into the world and perpetuate the cycle of snobbery and cock-lobsterdom. If you have any questions, or would like to send me your own wine journal entries, please feel free to contact me.
My awesome wine journal.
It has a picture of a wine bottle on it, so you know it is serious.
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