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A Long and Storied History of Wine Snobbery

We’ve all encountered them. Wine snobs. You know, those insufferable, pretentious, obnoxious boors who pontificate for hours about the correct stemware or whether 1996 was a “good” year. It’s enough to make a fellow turn up his nose at a fine pinot grigio and grab a beer instead. As it turns out, wine snobbery is nothing new. The practice has a long and storied history that dates to Neolithic times, perhaps as far back at 8,500 years before the birth of Christ.

Ancient oenophiles didn’t have the benefit of glass bottles, or even pottery crocks, so they likely slurped their fermented grape juice from wine skins (jugs made from the skins of animals). It would be another 5,000 years before pre-Phoenician vintners developed the skills to package and transport the fruit of the vine in pottery crocks. Winemakers in Greece and Rome began competing for market share, resulting in different quality wines being produced for the wealthy and the poor, with excellent wines commanding a premium price from the aristocracy.

Making and preserving wine was a challenging endeavor. It required fresh grapes, which were not always available, and once produced, wine had the frustrating habit of turning into vinegar at the most inopportune times. Beer, on the other hand, had long been a staple of the working class. Making beer required little skill and was considerably cheaper – just grab some grain, which could have been stored in the granary for a couple of years, add water and let nature take her course. It’s perhaps not surprising that those who could afford the ‘good stuff’ might turn up their noses at working-class refreshments like beer, and wax lyrical about the superiority of a fine Persian merlot, or discuss whether 127 BC was a good year or a bad year.

Mike Parker

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