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Wine Is Just So High School

The social structure of the wine world plays out like a class reunion
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jan 9, 2013 11:00am ET

The wine world reminds me of high school sometimes. The cast of characters and social structure is really not all that different. Just consider:

The Know-It-Alls: They were the first to raise their hands in class. Their knowledge of wine is impressive but they see it as a competitive sport, so it's not always fun to be around them, unless you're also a Know-It-All.

The Chest Thumpers: Here we find the braggers and the jocks. Everything about wine to them is bigger than life. "Ooo! Ooo! Look what I'm drinking!" They often complain they're on too many mailing lists, and of course their wine cellars are amply stocked with magnums and imperials.

The Blue Bloods: The old money. The trust-fund babies. Wine has been a part of their life since birth and they make it seem so effortless and perfect. It's OK to envy them, particularly their cellars of first-growth Bordeaux from their birth years: 1961, 1982 or 1989, of course, and fully stocked by Daddy.

The Glitterati: The prom queens and kings. It's all about the show. They know just enough about wine to order what's fashionable and have recently switched from Cristal back to Dom Pérignon.

The Eccentrics: A subset of the geeks and freaks. Popularity makes them nauseous. Normal is passé and mind-numbing. They haven't eaten a Big Mac since eighth grade. They try so hard not to be a cliché that they have become their own cliché. They're suspicious of any wine that actually tastes good. They love natural wines and orange wines. They're biking through Jura this spring.

The Party People: The stoners and keg-standers back in school. They may have transitioned to wine in adulthood but secretly it's still mostly about the buzz.

The Serious Students: Many wine drinkers will see themselves in this group. They're passionate about wine but it doesn't consume them. They're savvy enough to know that they share some of the characteristics of the Eccentrics, the Chest Thumpers or any other group, but they're grounded enough to know not to cross the line ... too often, anyway.

The Masses: All the rest of those wonderful wine consumers who just sip and enjoy and never talk about wine when they're drinking it.

OK, so that was a fun little exercise, of course, but where do you fall? Are you honest enough to admit the truth? You might see yourself in more than one group. I certainly am. What group did I leave out?

Mark Lyon
Sonoma, California —  January 9, 2013 12:27pm ET
How about the "Social Butterfly" group? Move from one wine region of interest to another new fascination. Have to sample all that's offered from that special appellation. Then, get bored or satiated and now onto the next "group" or "Wine Region". This is me. I'm rather compulsive/addictive with wines and one of my fun outlets. There is some blue blood to me, but I bought the fine wines for and educated all my extended family. Didn't get First Growths from Daddy.
Daniel Sherer
Windsor, CA, USA —  January 9, 2013 1:21pm ET
Tim…that was a great and clever idea in looking at some generalities and making meaningful and fun comparison(s). Well done! I have nothing to add to a funny and spot-on concept. Thanks!
Dustin Gillson
Dayton, OH —  January 9, 2013 2:06pm ET
I probably most closely relate to the "serious students" although I am completely consumed by my passion for wine. I try not to geek about how VSP benefits Pinot over Cabernet too often, unless I know the audience is interested. I might well be a know-it-all in truth, but tend to hold the philosophy of "if you like it, drink it" rather than to push my beliefs on others.

There doesn't appear to be a category for it, but I spend much of my "wine time" seeking out the classics. I really enjoy finding a wine considered to be a benchmark in its class, region, varietal, etc.
David N Burke
Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada —  January 9, 2013 2:26pm ET
Hahahaha... Ok so I found all my friends ( 2 of my sommeliers are literally going biking in the Jura this spring LMAO )but I cant place myself. I am crazy passionate about all things wine, am very knowledgeable and my work allows me to share all I know ( just without the pretension that sometimes comes with wine chatter )I am forever discovering new regions to play in and usually fall in love with a producer or two that then has my life long loyalty ( Gramercy as an example )Tim this was a great read! well done
Erik Miller
Santa Rosa —  January 9, 2013 3:08pm ET
Great blog Tim! I completely agree with Daniel. You are spot on and it made for some very enjoyable reading! I am glad you didn't sugar coat and of the characters!
David Rossi
Napa, CA —  January 9, 2013 4:07pm ET
I'm half Eccentric and half Know-it-All. Not flattering, but the truth.
Tim Fish
Sonoma County —  January 9, 2013 4:08pm ET

Thanks for the comments all. Mark, I like your "Social Butterfly"group. Good idea.
Mia Malm
Napa, CA —  January 9, 2013 6:01pm ET
How about the Drama Club/Gleeks? They'd either go for a) showy, splashy wines or b) artistically important, authentic expressions of terroir accompanied by much self-important debate about meaning and context. (Hey, I resemble that remark...)
David W Voss
Wisconsin —  January 9, 2013 6:36pm ET
Happily I think, I am a serious student with a side of the masses. Since the early 80's I've passed thru a couple of the other categories and now say when asked that I like a wine and you may not or vice-versa.
Shauna Rosenblum
Alameda, CA —  January 10, 2013 2:46pm ET
Very clever analogy, Tim. You said you find yourself in multiple groups...I'm curious in which cliques you might place yourself?
I feel like I encompass a bit of every group, except the oldest vintage in my cellar is probably 2008, not 1961...and I bought it... lol. Plus, I know enough to know that I certainly don't 'know it all.' #tipoftheiceberg
I think the one group we are missing is the step beyond serious students...Obsessive learners, okay, nerds. The kids in the AP classes, who could accept nothing less than a 4.0. The kids who were still in the Chemistry lab on Christmas eve. I proudly wear the Nerd clique badge...but mostly, I just love making, drinking and talking about wine. NERDS unite!
Craig Cawlfield
California —  January 11, 2013 7:54pm ET
Another category you could add is Cheerleaders - consumers who are convinced they've found the ultimate wine producer, and will remain loyal to that producer til death. Their fridges/cellars are stocked with many cases of that one producer's wine, but little else. At tastings, they may drop a few token words of appreciation for other wines, but they always come back around to plugging their eternal fave.
Michael Janow
Winchester, VA, USA —  January 14, 2013 3:08pm ET
Tim -
I have had retail customers inquire about your tasting reports regarding the DOMAINE CHANDON Rosé North Coast étoile NV. I am unable to locate on Dm Chandon's website this wine. Is it a new release?

Michael Janow
D'Vine Wines & Beer
Tim Fish
Sonoma County —  January 14, 2013 3:33pm ET

I'm not sure how you're searching but Chandon does list an étoile rose on its website and it can be found elsewhere. Perhaps it's the North Coast designation that affects the search.

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