Working in a tasting room five days a week, I notice that there are distinct differences in the way we describe ourselves and the kind of wine drinker we are or want to be. What I mean is this: are we wine-snobs, connoisseurs, aficionados, wine-os, or my favorite, winers?
The name we choose, or perhaps the one we don’t choose, is indicative of the kind of wine drinker we envision ourselves to be. Labeling ourselves as connoisseurs or aficionados signals a certain degree of expertise and leisure associated with wine drinking and I think these qualities also signal a certain degree – or pedigree – of class. That is, those referring to themselves as connoisseurs or aficionados might also more readily refer to themselves as educated, upper class, and with a larger budget for leisurely pursuits. Wine-o, on the other hand, connotes the opposite end of the spectrum. Those seeking to deflect a particular high-end style filled with leisure and wine-snobbery – whether this is true or not – might utilize these terms. Most notably, wine-o also connotes a level of addiction. The alcoholic is not a super-aficionado, but a degrading wine-o unable to control his or her commitment to two-buck-chuck.
There is also a shift in the way in which the terms are used. Depending on the term, we either express the affirmative or the negative. That is, we attribute to or deflect from ourselves a particular kind of identity. And here is where it gets interesting… Wine-o is often used in the affirmative, i.e. “I am (or he is) a wine-o,” and is often expressed in a humorous, self-deprecating way. With this “wine-o” comes a degree of modesty, humility, embarrassment, and/or insecurity with the pleasures of wine. The wine-o might well be educated in the language of wine to the degree they feel comfortable and the the degree their wallet feels comfortable, but because they don’t or can’t spend the unspeakable amounts of money on some wines fail to refer to themselves as a connoisseur or aficionado. Hence, we speak of connoisseurs in the negative, i.e. “I am NOT one of those connoisseurs.” What ever happened to the connoisseur of value? Can we not be connoisseurs and aficionados unless we spend a week’s salary on a bottle of wine or until we travel the world to experience the rarest and most sacred chateau or bodega? The funny part is that although we place negative connotations on names like winer and wine-o, those appear to be the names preferred over the connotatively-superior connoisseur.
It’s surprising the number of people whose first words out of their mouth when they step up to the tasting bar are: “I am not a connoisseur of wine” or (pointing at their partner) “she’s the wine-o” – the self-deprecating rejection of wine and its associations with high culture – to which I stop them and jokingly explain that in this place, “we call ourselves connoisseurs here.” As wine professionals, do we need to establish an environment in which the self-proclaimed wine-o can feel as though he or she is the connoisseur or aficionado? Or do we embrace the wine-o and winer names, hoist up the banner and attempt to break them of their cultural meaning? We cannot ignore the power in naming a consumer, nor the stage the customer sets by naming themselves.