When I lived in San Francisco, post-college, I dated a young sophisticated law firm partner. He took me to all the best restaurants in the city. I was into food and cocktails and kept notes on where to go for the best martini, roasted garlic bulb, or fresh Focciaca.
Wine grabbed my full attention the evening he brought me to Ernie’s, a restaurant featured in Hitchcock’s Vertigo and a favorite with San Francisco’s wealthy social set.* Dining at Ernie’s was way beyond any experience I’d had or even imagined. I remember three things about that evening; we ordered frog legs, three wait staff stood lined up at attention next to our table with white napkins laid over their left arms for the entire meal , and most of all, a thick leatherbound portfolio listing wines was presented by an intimating man with an impressive shiny chalice on a chain around his neck. At that moment, staring at this strange episcopate figure with a European accent, I wanted to unravel the mystery of the wine list.
Being in my twenties in San Francisco, there was a lot to learn and enjoy, so wine was just another new adventure like attending the Opera, Symphony, Ballet, theatre, museums, galleries and special events. My job was in philanthropy so I got to attend parties at the Getty’s and other mansions in Pacific Heights. For some reason, the large homes with full staffs and catered lunches didn’t intimidate me in the least, it was obvious to me who was interested in people and who was interested in money and pedigree. Now that I’m immersed in the wine industry, my ability to separate the folks who are genuine wine enthusiasts from those who are “snobbish” comes in handy.
Here’s what I’ve observed:
Wine Enthusiasts. No matter where they are in their wine education, they just love wine. They enjoy a glass of wine at home, with good friends and neighbors and they never mention price unless it’s a great wine at a bargain. Sometimes they just enjoy it without talking about it at all.
Wine Snobs. They tell you how much the wine costs before it’s even open. Their response to the wine such as “is this amazing wine or what?” is determined by the price, label or rarity. They have funny rules like “I only like French wine or I only drink Napa Cab.”
Being a wine snob is reversible. My suggestion is to journey through wine’s past, present and future in the vineyards of the world through history, stories and images. Start at the beginning when wine was pure and unmanipulated. You can also seek out wine makers who are bringing back the old winemaking traditions.
*Here’s a wonderful brief history of Ernie’s from a restaurant insider.