In order to simplify elaborate concepts, certain ‘wine blogs’ rely on fancy graphics and colorful charts and educational posters and shit, and that’s just coolaballoolies: If you need life distilled to a See Dick Run picture book before you can grasp it, you have my sympathy.
Intoxicology Report—which relies on big, difficult and frequently made-up words to edificate the wine public—is probably not the wine column for you.
And by the way, cretins; if you see dick run, the solution is not Wine Folly, it’s penicillin.
Take my approach to the subject of wine snobbery, one of the most poorly understood and misused terms in the entire wine-appreciation lexicon. It is mostly applied as a pejorative—like when you describe your hundred-dollar bottle of Chateau Musar as tasting like fermented horse manure. Why? Because nobody who aspires to be a true wine pro (yet displays no MS or MW after their name) wants to be called a wine snob, because then everybody laughs and asks why, if you’re so smart, you don’t have an MS or MW after your name.
Better to feign humility going in, my friends. Grovel and fawn, brown-nose and bootlick, and thus, never have to answer for your failure to justify any supercilious display of snobbery with professional qualifications.
That said, when it comes to wine, there is nothing really wrong with being holier-than-thou, at least not on the surface. Issues only begin to show up when you are called upon to rationalize the precise level of snobbery to which you aspire.
Because, of course, there are many strata therein. And some are more parvenu-ier than others. The very nature of the word ‘snob’ indicates that you feel superior to those around you. Thus, like the specific gravity driving residue down to the bottom of the cesspool, there must exist a funnel of snobbery—layers of snob degrees you must channel yourself down, filter yourself through, until you finally reach your personal nadir of I’m-wine savvier-than-everyone-around-me.
And although I admit that a pretty piece of family-tree-style clip-art with branches and threads and squares for the various wine snob ranks would be appropriate here—even called for—my graphic resumé includes no such Folly-esque skill sets. *
* If any talented Samaritan among you would care to help me out, I will send you a Porta-Potty filled with all the brett-infected, overpriced and over-hyped Lebanese wine you can stomach.
The Peter Principle of Plonk
There’s a human condition first pointed out by Canadian hierarchiologist Laurence Peter which can be summarized like this:
‘Anything that works will be used in progressively more challenging applications until it fails.’
The Peter Principle was cited in the late 1970s when the business world began to recognize an intrinsic problem with promoting managers based on their performance at current jobs. What inevitably happens is that, since the corporate ladder climb consists of ambitious folks striving for the top, each one ultimately reaches a position where they cannot perform effectively enough at the new job to warrant further promotion. Thus, they advance no further within their company, and as a result, managerial spots are filled with people who have reached their specific ‘level of incompetence’.
Since a ladder climb suggests an upward trajectory, and since I have chosen the funnel analogy to denote the downward, drain spout-like momentum of wine snobs, I will rename our ubiquitous Peter Principle the ‘Dick Doctrine’.
Nonetheless, you will see how, in a similar vein and for the identical reason that managers who rise like scum to the top of the schlock pot do, wine snobs will always descend to their own level of incompetence.
The Changing Face of The Superiority Complex
Time was, an American wine snob stood upon the shoulders of Napa and beat his chest relentlessly until everybody in the room shut up. But soon enough, it became gauche to talk about Napa as a stand-alone , and you had to narrow your snobbery to an appellation within the appellation. Thus the funnel constricted to a specific point of egress depending on whether you preferred the maritime influence of Los Carneros, vineyards above the fog-line in the volcanic soils of Howell Mt. or the warmer weather of Wild Horse Valley.
And by ‘preferred’, of course I mean that you could dominate conversations by talking about it.
By the turn of the century, though, Napa and her satellites had become so full of themselves and wine cellars so packed with idiotically-priced Napanese goods that even wine snobs got sick of hearing the same old ditty.
So, the search began for trendier perches upon which their snobby little talons could alight, and because California is a breeding ground for fads, they began to find other places to yabber on about.
Take Paso Robles, among the voguiest California appellations, drawing trendapoids like moths to a hot but brilliant flame. As they are sucked inexorably into said flame, the Dick Doctrine can be viewed from start to finish in a carefully-controlled research setting.
First, the wine snob discovers Paso and considers the appellation to be a sort of untouched wild, wild wilderness, somewhere the plane might crash on a puddle jumper between L.A. and San Francisco. They see Paso as Napa without the cosmopolitan zip code, the reputation pressures or the forty thousand-per-ton fruit, and, since they claim to love nothing more than a relaxed, simplified wine experience—unless it’s mentioning a hundred dollar bottle of hundred point wine you’ve never heard of—Paso it was.
And the fact that the Paso experience may be fraught with genuine dangers like getting bit by a tarantula or being stuck in an endless conversation about Penn State and Joe Paterno with Gary Eberle made it all the more exciting.
For a long time, the problem snobs encountered in Paso was that the funnel clogged itself up with the sheer non-complexity of the place. Even though Paso Robles is three times as big as Napa, there weren’t all those varied microclimate-based sub-appellations you could struggle to memorize, then casually spew when you ran out of things to say about JoePa and thus become snobbier. You could talk about east and west Paso, but hell, you can do that with the earth’s hemispheres: It hardly makes you sound like the brightest bulb in the marquee.
Enter the Mother of Bureaucracy, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, who late last year authorized eleven sub-appellations for Paso—absolute snobification gold for those who thrive on arcane wine knowledge. Now they can memorize all sorts of new place names, link them to soil types and growing degree days and Heat Summation regions, and really get the snob game on.
Thus, like a healthy dollop of Drāno to a clogged commode, the funnel flushed and the Dick Doctrine was able to drain freely; a sluice gate of snobs now flows across the calcareous hillsides and alluvial river basins of Paso like orcs pouring out of Mordor, each one destined to seek his or her own level of incompetence.
We’ll follow one case study via a timeline. Our subject, who asked to remain nameless, is named Dick.
1980: Dick brings a bottle of Mateus to a fondue party in Peoria. His host, who becomes his snob sensei, pours it in the toilet and sticks a candle in the bottle, then serves a Heitz Martha’s Vineyard 1968. Dick sees the light and begins to circle around the flame: Top Napa Cabs. First, the super-ripe benchmarks—1970, 1974 and 1978—then , then, (as snobcosis takes hold) the more elegant odd-numbered vintages, 1969, 1973, 1975 and 1979.
1984: Since Dick has letters after his name that are neither MS or MW, but DDS, he can afford to be selective in his newfound snobbery. He is briefly sidetracked when everybody starts raving about 1982 Bordeaux and he discovers that he can pick up Château Lafite for $41 and Lynch Bages for $13. It’s even cheaper en primeur, but Dick has not yet refined his game to the point where he knows what that means.
2000: Dick is a good ol’ boy at heart; just a fat suburban dentist with a fat wife named Jane and two fat kids named Buddy and Squirt, and he soon focuses on California again. As befits a dense wine snob, he likes dense wine, and he fills his redwood-with-dark-walnut-stain wine cellar with all the powerhouse names he reads about in the Spectator—Dalla Valle ’90, Dunn Howell Mt ’94, Araujo Estate Eisele Vineyard, 97. He brings them out at dinner parties, brags about them at the country club, pays a corkage fee at his favorite clip joint to have them grace his table, waxing on about the microbial content in the soil structure of the microclimate within the row at the vineyard within the sub-appellation of the wine.
He has truly become a wine snob in the most classical sense of the word.
2008: With the onset of the recession, Dick finds his financial ability to load his lacquered, Napa-heavy cellar with a backhoe is somewhat constrained, but fortunately, by this time, he has struck up a tentative friendship with the wine steward at his second favorite clip joint, a sommelier called Mr. Winky the Scounge Doinker, who asked that his name not be used.
As Dick is nouveau riche, Mr. Winky is nouveau douche, and feels that he is imminently more knowledgeable about wine that Dick, which in fact he is. So when he introduces Dick to the wines of Paso Robles, which are denser and powerhousier than Napa’s, Dick defers like the big old alpha-male hippo finally conceding the harem to a younger, more virile opponent.
2011: Wine snobbery is a syndrome which begins in the gustatory cortex and affects the brain in stages; mental paresis generally occurs 30 to 40 years after one’s first exposure to really good wine.
The primary stage involves reading a lot of wine books and drinking above your means; secondary snobbery is often accompanied by a wine cellar, an uncanny ability to piss off other wine snobs and becoming insufferable to winemakers who must nonetheless kowtow to you and your checkbook.
By late 2011, Dick has entered the tertiary stage, characterized by poor gait, impaired balance, bladder disturbances and general mental confusion that allows him to switch vinological allegiance. Dick is now loading his wine cellar with wines from Paso, with a particular focus on the wines of Danny Daou, whose bio states that he is a man with ‘Homeric vision’. Love the image, other than the fact that Homer was blind.
2014: Down the douche-drain of Daou dinkdom Dick dashes. Discern Dick dash. Dick has narrowed his snobbery even further: Not just any dram of Daou will Dick drink; it has to be ‘Soul of Lion’. Love the image, other than the fact that lions have no souls.
2015: Latent and final stage wine snobbery has set in. It is acute and incurable and cognitive behavioral problems are evident. The snob funnel has now narrowed to its ultimate point and forces Dick out the business end:
In the end, here is how his downward trajectory culminates:
Dick is a California snob first, a Paso snob second, a west side of Paso snob third, an Adalaida snob fourth, a Daou snob fifth, a ‘Soul of Lion’ snob sixth. At this point, his brain atrophies into a late-harvest raisin and he breaks into Danny and Georgie Daou’s yacht and seeks out the ultimate, most snobby penthouse in which to swig his wine. This is the ne plus ultra snob dream come true; he has reached his level of incompetence.
He is arrested immediately, and thus, the Dick Doctrine is made manifest.
Now, I could get really snobby on your ass and do the same thing with France, but as it happens, my editor just called and my deadline is fast approaching for completion my new primer, See Dick Drink Pruno While Taking It Up The Ying-Yang In Sing Sing.
Meanwhile, my droogs; like the man says: Don’t be a Dick.