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Wine Snobs

Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent. — Eleanor Roosevelt

David swirled the wine in his oversized glass and brought it to his nose. After an exaggerated sniff, he said, “I’m getting a bouquet of leather. Italian leather.” He sniffed again. “Prada. Ladies’, size seven.” He pinched the foot of the glass between his thumb and forefinger and held it out at arm’s length, at a 45-degree angle so as to peer at the color of the wine’s penumbra against a suitably white background before concluding, “The left foot.”

“Good one,” I said. I lifted my own enormous glass in front of my eyes, tilted it just so, and proclaimed, “Based on the teenage-goth-lipstick tint, I can tell you this insolent little syrah is going to need some aeration.”

“Allow me.” David reached into his murse and pulled out his Nuance Wine Finer, a sleek black gadget he inserts into the neck of a bottle to aerate, filter, and catch drips as it pours.

We already owned the aerator, but we’d had to purchase the glasses, each of which could hold an entire bottle of wine. I wore a white ball cap with the words “Wine Diva” written in a florid font and sandwiched by curlicue illustrations of a wine glass and a bunch of grapes. From a ghetto-fabulous chain around my neck dangled a shiny silver tastevin (tahst-VAHN), the sommelier’s cup I borrowed from my friend Joe the Sommelier. David wore a cream-colored linen jacket, his reading glasses, and the murse, an over-the-shoulder satchel in which he packed a vintage Chateau Laguiole corkscrew designed by master sommelier Guy Vialis, the latest issues of Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast, and Robert Parker’s color-coded vintage charts. Despite our attention to detail, we still had to explain to everyone we encountered on Halloween that we were dressed as wine snobs.

The Sunday after Halloween, while David and I were flipping through pages of the New York Times, I paused in the middle of a story about a ventriloquist who I don’t find funny but who kills in the red states and looked up at David. “Do you think we’re snobs?”

David set the travel section on the table. “Why would you think that?”

“Well, for one, we already owned most of that stuff for our costumes; and, two, I think that’s what other people think of us. You know, when I first met you, a lot of my friends said you were a snob because you didn’t like the food at Albie’s Beef Inn.”

David groaned. “Do you have to like the worst of everything in order to not be a snob? Albie’s is a fun, kitschy place to hang out, but I wouldn’t go for the food. Being a snob is not about what you like or dislike; it’s about looking down on others for what they like or dislike. Preferring certain wines over two-buck Chuck doesn’t make us snobs.”

“So then the real snobs are the people who think we’re snobs because we have no interest in eating grocery-store cheddar when there’s Fromager d’Affinois right beside it?” David nodded. “Speaking of cheese, I think that cheese-of-the-month club we tried a few years ago both saved and ruined me,” I said, suddenly craving a bite of Midnight Moon, my latest cheese crush.

David reached for a slice of the cheese I’d set on a board before him and said, “If you are exposed to a number of things and then get to choose from them, you may well have a preference for one over the other. Maybe that preference could be perceived as snobbish if your choice happens to be for the option that is more exotic, more expensive, or more esoteric.”

“You think it’s a classist thing, then? Reverse snobbery? Like, people who have disdain for those who appreciate well-crafted things? I guess it makes sense that a guy with an inferiority complex about not having graduated high school might be inclined to mock a person with a Ph.D. from an Ivy League college.”

I remembered a conversation from the night before, when my friend Kelly, barely recognizable in her Jane Jetson costume, told me, “A snob is something others may see in us; one might think you’re a travel snob if they haven’t had the opportunity themselves to travel. Some people think snobs come across as ‘too knowledgeable,’ and people who are ‘too knowledgeable’ can come across as arrogant.”

Andrew, who was dressed as a samurai, sympathized with snob accusers. “Snobs are people who take things too seriously,” he said. “Like Scotch drinkers. You drink it for fun — it’s fucking booze — but they discuss it like they’re dissecting the Talmud or something. Makes me not want to drink it. Snobs are ostentatious about their knowledge.”

“Snobbiness is all about saying, ‘Look at me,’” Kelly explained. “Snobs are easy to spot because they feel compelled to impart their knowledge on the uneducated.”

I was pretty sure I wasn’t a snob — by definition, snobs are people who think they’re better than other people. I don’t think I’m better than people with different tastes, like friends who prefer beer over wine. I don’t dislike beer because I think it’s “beneath me,” I simply don’t drink it because I don’t care for the bitter taste of hops.

“It’s like movies,” David said, setting the movie section of the paper atop the travel section. “Some people like The Gumball Rally, some like Road to Perdition.” In this case, I knew David’s preference lay with the former.

“My taste is my taste, and the more I learn and try new things, it’s subject to change,” I said. David agreed.

While we were in the midst of congratulating ourselves for not being snobs, my sister Jane called. “Oh, Jane, perfect timing,” I said. “David and I are talking about snobs.”

“You mean how you are one?” Jane said.

“No, more about…wait, do you think I’m a snob?”

Jane giggled and said, “If the Christian Louboutin heel fits.”

“Jane, I’m totally not a snob. I don’t think I’m better than people who have different tastes.” I relayed to her all of the things David and I had discussed and then recited to her the definitions of “snob” and “sophisticated” to make sure she understood the difference. Throughout my lecture, Jane was uncharacteristically silent.

When I’d finally finished my impromptu dissertation, Jane said, “Okay, you’re not a snob.” Because I know my sister, I remained quiet for a beat so as to let her deliver her punch line: “You’re a bitch.”

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