I’m not going to name the website on which I saw the following quote, mainly because I’ve already given them too much promotion here and they don’t deserve any of it. Sites like this about wine help perpetuate and foster those asinine, irritating Attitudes that are exactly what cause most normal people to dislike wine lovers. The prissiness, the tsunami of affectation that wine geeks adopt, are both unnecessary and wildly dishonest. The real reason wine people cling so fiercely to the fetishistic aspects of the old, debased wine clichés is not because they, personally, are particularly proper and sophisticated in their everyday lives (some are the biggest boors and knuckleheads I’ve ever met), but because they desperately want wine to be something exclusive and uber-sophisticated and beyond the reach of Joe Sixpack and his rowdy friends. Wine is not that, of course. It’s grape juice fermented and bottled. And, judging from some of the crowds I see at some deadly mediocre wineries, out here on the Left Coast, I’ve found a TON of confirmation that, for these geese, the actual merits of the wine they drink are totally secondary to the totems with which they surround it.
Here’s what this website had to say about the type of behavior they feel one should display when tasting wines in a public setting:
“Etiquette is one of those things that, on the surface, seems unnecessary but it is a powerful tool. It is the outward way of showing that you are, indeed, not a monster.“
That was the first whopper that made me catch my breath in this howling list of dos and don’ts that would cause even Emily Post to go, “Whoa, Dude!” Monster? Really? Apparently Idi Amin, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Adolph Hitler, and the thing from the “Alien” movies were just dabblers. If you really want to terrify the masses or menace Tokyo, leave lip prints in more than one spot along the rim of your wine glass. Or, if you’re neither a woman nor a drag queen, you can hold your glass somewhere other than by the stem or handle the bottle by the neck…all of those grievous sins are proscribed here.
Of the nine “rules” laid out in their post, only one is an ironclad must: “Offer wine to others before pouring seconds for yourself.” And that’s only a “must” if you don’t want to be thought a rude jackass. (If you don’t care, drink up, Jackass!) I gazed upon this list in disbelief, stunned that an adult human being would sit down and, either deliberately or subconsciously, set out to reinforce nearly every single stereotype that makes normal Americans hate wine lovers. If that had been their goal, here, they could scarcely have been more thorough. The only sin they whiffed on was “Do not pontificate endlessly about either your views on the history of the grape or winery or tell those around you that they should or should not like what they’re tasting.” I can understand that omission, though, because that’s the only one that suggests leaving others alone and letting them have their own experience, an attitude which would serve to negate everything else on their list.
This prissy nonsense set up a tiny buzzing in my head because I really, absolutely believe in the notion of etiquette, manners, politeness. That may be hard to believe, given the occasional degree of vitriol screaming off this page but, in person, in daily life, you’d have to hunt with deadly intent to find anyone prissier than me about holding doors for ladies and walking on the street side of the sidewalk when accompanying a woman or thinking of others before himself. I do all that and a LOT more because I was raised within a stiff code of conduct, in the 50s version of the South, in which a fella might have dirt under his nails and look like a derelict but there was no excuse for bad manners.
But, the most important part of that early indoctrination was a genuine “powerful tool“; a viewpoint that is possibly the only one of my inherited beliefs that was able to withstand the scrutiny and skepticism of the adult Steve Body and remain fully in place: Mind Your Own Business.
“Mind Your Own Business”…Sing it with me, folks! Shout it to the rooftops! Don’t be nosy. Don’t insert yourself in situations to which you’ve not been invited. Don’t presume that all and sundry need or want your misshapen, discolored little pearls of “wisdom”. Leave People Alone, Unless Invited In. Simple. Elegant. Unshakable. You will never, in a billion years, be thought badly of for minding your own Ps and Qs. You just may, in fact, get invited to more tastings and maybe even make friends, because nothing says “gracious” like knowing what not to say in a public setting. Smile, be friendly, offer help where it’s genuinely helpful, but stay the hell out of other people’s affairs, otherwise. Think whatever you like. I urge the folks at this website to think anything they like about my behavior, should they ever find themselves at a tasting or dinner with me. They can declare mental Mardi Gras and fantasize about yours truly as a piñata, if they like. Because I absolutely guarantee, in writing if they like, that I will make more than one lip print on my glass, hold it somewhere other than its stem, and will probably even have either more or less in my glass than those around me. (Yes, they actually concerned themselves with non-uniform group consumption!) But the first time something like that forces its way out of their pieholes, we have a Major Problem…and they won’t like its resolution.
But, as we’re dealing with meddlers, here, I’ll take a stab at it. Here, then, are The Fool’s 9 Rules for being a good guest or a good co-weenie at wine events:
1. Don’t flash your wine knowledge. Your friends won’t tell you this because they’re probably too polite, but nobody needs your wisdom or opinions. TRY to remember that the thing, the tool, that you use to form opinions about wine is something that everybody in the room has just as much experience with as you do: Their tongue. There IS one major exception to this rule and ONLY one: If you made the wine. In that case, preach on, Pastor! If you’re asked for your opinion, bombs away! Lacking that, stifle, Edith.
2. Keep your personal tasting fetishes discreet. Y’know all that gurgling and sloshing and heavy breathing you do when you’re tasting wine with friends? The stuff you picked up from watching a YouTube video or watching some professional wine critic work? Don’t do that. Or, if you must, do it quietly, maybe facing away from onlookers. If you gurgled and sloshed like that when eating at a restaurant, they’d ask you to leave. If you did that at home, your kids would roll their eyes and your wife would hit you with a rolled-up back issue of Wine Spectator. It doesn’t make you look erudite and sophisticated any more than it would if you did it at Jamba Juice.
3. Don’t bring your gadgets. Fact: just about 90% of all those wine gadgets that people tell you they simply could not live without are complete nonsense, the triumph of the power of suggestion over common sense and objectivity. You don’t need your $75 wine aerator. Pour the wine into a decanter and go sort and file your underwear for 45 minutes. You’ll be astonished that your poor, helpless bottle was able to get through rehab all by itself. Don’t show up with your pour spout or your Special Glass or your sommelier’s corkscrew, unless you’re asked to. Nothing says “weenie” like showing up with a color wheel, an aroma kit, and your Coravin.
4. Don’t rattle off descriptors. You really want to be a drag on the party? Start lobbing around terms like Robert Parker’s “unctuous” or “hedonistic” or James Halliday’s “cat pee” or “forest floor”. Or, the granddaddy of all wine-babble eruptions, Dr. Vinny’s “cow pie, horsey, mousy, pungent, stable, metallic or Band-Aid“, all in one sentence! You once read those in some wine critic’s review and started using them. It’s second-hand knowledge and your use of it is about as genuine as some kid who absolutely believes that his glow-in-the-dark plastic pole is a light saber. Fact: when I and other critics get together at a tasting, we don’t stand around and fling descriptors at each other like monkeys flinging feces. We are all, I suspect with NO proof, a tiny bit embarrassed by a lot of ’em. I’ve used the terms “jazzy” and “decadent” and “obsequious” and I don’t feel good about it. (I’m a little queasy about “brambly”, too, but I can live with it…I guess) Stick to actual flavors, if you’re asked to describe the wine, and try never to say “treacle“.
5. Don’t bitch about the glassware. I’m guilty as sin of this one but the only ones who ever hear it are my family and they know just to tell me to shut up and drink wine. Yeah, yeah, you have a glass you just swear by. So does the guy next to you. You love Riedels. Wouldn’t use anything else. The guy next to you may well adore Baccarat or Waterford or even The Opulent Items Diamond Glass, which retails for $3,750 apiece.(?)(!) Who’s right? Both of you…you’re right for you and that’s all that matters. TRY to grasp the concept that your tastes are not universal, nor should they be. We’re Americans. We’re consumed with the idea of “best”. We love competition and we fervently embrace status symbols, of which wine glasses are among the easiest and most affordable to obtain. If manners are at all a concern, shut up and smile and taste the wine. If you’re really put off by the glass, don’t ever go back there. That’ll show ’em!
6. Don’t tell us all about your cellar gems. This is simple, crass one-upmanship and really doesn’t need explanation. You’re trying to feel superior. If you feel a ravening need to do that, seek counseling, not invitations.
7. Don’t drink like Kerry Washington. Really. Yeah, this is me telling you how to drink wine but I’m doing you a BIG favor, here. It would be crass and revolting if you went out in public and drank Hi-C Orange like Olivia Pope chugs Chateau Le Four Hundred and Eighty-Five Bucks, as though it’s trying to crawl out of the glass and flee to Mexico. Drinking in huge gulps like that shows one thing: that you don’t really care about tasting the wine you’re given. If you prefer to drink wine like a dehydrated defensive lineman, do it in the privacy of your own home and make sure you have something soft on which to pass out. Safety First.
8. Don’t denounce the wine. If you’re at a wine trade tasting, at a winery, or at a tasting bar, there is almost always a spit bucket into which you can dump a wine that really doesn’t agree with you. Nobody’s going to get upset or offended. But at a dinner or a party at which you’re a guest – particularly if you’re not paying a dime for the privilege – don’t announce to the room that your wine is, as the French would put it, merde. That’s just plain ol’ country-rude, but you’d be astounded at how many people do it. Don’t sit there and ask someone to remove it, lest it further assault your delicate sensibilities. If possible, finish it and decline a refill. If not, just don’t drink it. The host will still get the message that he/she should choose more carefully. It might also be a good idea not to trash wines in the winery’s tasting room, as that goes beyond simple bad manners and amounts to screwing with their business. Others there might like the wine you hate. And, if they don’t, no prompting is needed from you.
9. Mind Your Own Business. It really IS none of your business if someone around you, in ANY public situation, is gleefully or obliviously violating every one of the nine rules as set forth by this dipstick website. I said just that to the person who wrote the list. It is none of that person’s business, nor is it anyone else’s, and not their privilege to remake the world according to their tastes. You want to be thought a real “monster”? First, embrace irrational hyperbole and, just to make a cheap point, equate people who taste wine in a manner you don’t like with Godzilla and Vlad The Impaler. Second, display your prissiest and most intrusive tendencies on a website so everyone who reads it winds up wondering not whether you have a broomstick up your fanny but more about the size of it.
Yeah, we live in the internet age and we all love to stick our noses deep into everyone else’s bid-nuss. But that doesn’t make it right or acceptable, so if somebody gets right up in your grill about it, the next time you decide to tell them how to think or act, don’t be shocked. You were warned, probably in grade school, what happens to Nosy Parkers.