Confessions Of A Former Wine Snob

Including the role Trader Joe’s played in my reformation


Autumn is upon us. As the weather cools, the breeze softens and the leaves fall, serious wine drinkers usually turn in their pinot grigio for pinot noir. To some people, autumn means pumpkin spice everything. For a discriminating wine lover like myself, it means switching from white to red.

I thought I became a “wine expert” by bartending for a trendy, international hotel that shall remain nameless. I was paid to attend tastings, given incentives to up-sell and got crash courses in pairing. I was groomed to become a wine snob and the money I made working for the hotel allowed me to fund my snobbery.

Dropping $40 on a bottle was nothing to me. In fact, it was empowering. I threw cocktail parties in my downtown loft just to have opportunities to show off my wine savvy. My friends pretended to care for about five minutes. At restaurants, I only ordered wines that were complicated to pronounce and used phrases like Old World and New World. If the restaurant didn’t carry the wine I asked for, I made sure to turn up my nose and respond with, “Never mind, I will take a martini.” I even traveled to Italy to learn about Italian food and wine. I wanted to be that person that says, “Well, when I was in Italy, blah blah blah.”

Instead of a connoisseur, I turned into an snob.

After 10 years in the service industry, I decided that I needed a change in my career. I left the industry, moved to New York City and pursued writing. Having to pay my dues in the media industry, I took internships and low-paying gigs. I no longer had the funds to continue my lavish wine habit, but I wasn’t about to stop drinking wine. I figured I had to discover brands that didn’t didn’t break my bank account.

I’ve shopped at Trader Joe’s for groceries, so when another “starving artist” friend mentioned they sell inexpensive brands, including their own, I became hooked. I frequented the store so much, the cashiers knew me by name. I bought so many bottles of Two Buck Chuck, I thought I would have to change my status to “in a relationship with Trader Joe’s.”

Not having the money to buy the most expensive wine allowed me to really learn about the beverage I’ve been obsessed with. It allowed me to venture outside my biases and develop my own opinions about various brands and varietals and not just depend on what everyone else thought. Ryan Opaz touched on this in On Wine: A Tragedy. He writes, “There is no perfect wine. There is no right wine.” This is what I had to learn.

Not having the money to buy the most expensive wine allowed me to really learn about the beverage I’ve been obsessed with.

But I will take it a step further. There is no right way to wine. I learned, though I preferred to be a seasonal wine drinker, others may not. And that’s okay. You don’t always have to sip a cabernet with your steak or a chardonnay with your fish.

And exquisite wines can be inexpensive. In fact, a study conducted by the American Association of Wine Economists found that “individuals who are unaware of the price do not derive more enjoyment from more expensive wine. In a sample of more than 6,000 blind tastings, we find that the correlation between price and overall rating is small and negative, suggesting that individuals on average enjoy more expensive wines slightly less.” On the other hand, they state, “For individuals with wine training, we find indications of a positive relationship between price and enjoyment. Our results indicate that both the prices of wines and wine recommendations by experts may be poor guides for non-expert wine consumers.”

Now, I’m not thumbing my nose at wine training. I believe people should attend wine tastings and events and visit vineyards because it’s fun and very informative. Events allow you to learn about the science of winemaking. They equip you with the ability to distinguish the differences in aromas and tastes of various grapes and introduce you to the marketing nuances of the wine industry. The key to this newly learned wine knowledge is not to anoint yourself Wine God but to discover what excites your palate.

Along the journey of my writing career, I started focusing on food and beverage. The fact that I wrote about food and wine allowed me to attend tastings, parties and even vineyards. I was paid to drink wine. Well, not quite, but you get the idea. I felt like I was back in the fold. Even though my work allowed me to indulge in high-end wine again, I was a changed wine-enthusiast. Even the thought of drinking rosé in a can couldn’t scare me.

I still occasionally blush when my friends ask me to order the wine for the table and plan on giving my friends a play-by-play of my wine excursions, but when it comes to wine, I’ve learned that most expensive doesn’t necessarily translate to best.

Jacy Topps is a freelance writer focusing on feminism, music and wine. She likes her Pinot Noir with bacon and Brie. Follow her on Twitter at @jacytopps

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