10 ways to mildly irritate a wine enthusiast


Normally I come up with all the ideas for my posts myself, but recently my friend Jim Dunlop (on Twitter as @jimofayr) shared an article with me that he had enjoyed:
10 ways to mildly irritate a whisky enthusiast and suggested I do an equivalent for wine.

I was happy to oblige, so here it is.  Please comment if there are any others which particularly irritate you!

1. Describe a restaurant wine list as having “both red AND white wine”

I shit you not. This was exactly how a hotel restaurant wine list was described to me when I asked to see it while having lunch in the hotel bar. I know family hotels aren’t necessarily going to be a wine enthusiast’s paradise, but you’d hope that the hotel staff would know a little more than red or white.

Irritation factor: amused

2. Top up their glass with a different wine from the one they are drinking

“Sure, it all goes down the same way?” “Well they’re both French aren’t they?” Or even worse: “well they’re both red aren’t they?” Many wine enthusiasts like a sociable drink, but the odds are, when different wines are being served (at a dinner party or elsewhere), they want to try them individually rather than being forced to try some foul blend. Sometimes a well-meaning host can drive a wine enthusiast over the edge!

Irritation factor: miffed

3. Expect them to be a sommelier if they have a wine industry qualification

I happen to have the WSET Advanced certificate, which is a widely recognised qualification. It would be very useful to have if working for an importer, merchant or in a restaurant with a good wine list. However, just holding the cert does not make me a sommelier; I haven’t spent a single hour working as a sommelier so I have zero basis to claim to be one. I have a lot of respect for the trade as long hours are often unfortunately rewarded by mediocre pay. Some sommeliers don’t have an official qualification and still do a great job.

Irritation factor: exasperated

4. Ask them what they are celebrating when they open a bottle of Champagne

The Champenois are very protective of their image and “brand equity”, a good part of which has been built up by marketing and advertising the drink as a reward for success – think of F1 drivers spraying each other with fizz on the podium. But Champagne is still a wine, and plenty of wine enthusiasts are interested in drinking it on exactly that basis, with nothing in particular to celebrate – so don’t assume that they are.

Irritation factor: peeved

5. Remark that a wine shop is very expensive as most of the bottles are €15 or more

Most wines bought in Ireland and the UK are bought in supermarkets. Over the last ten years or so the choice in most supermarkets has diminished significantly, and although there are nice bottles available the bulk are by-the-numbers-at-a-price-point. This means that the majority of interesting wines are only available through wine merchants, who don’t (aren’t able to) offer huge discounts to tempt shoppers in to buy other things, and in any case aren’t able to procure their wines at the same cost as the supermarkets. All this means that most wines in merchants have a higher price than in supermarkets, but – and this is important – they often offer better value.

Irritation factor: bothered

6. Be an ill-informed wine snob

There are a few wine enthusiasts who are also wine snobs, but I contend that the majority are not. Many are used to hearing silly or even downright stupid comments from “know-all” wine drinkers who like to show off their allegedly superior knowledge. The classic is, of course, “Give me a Chablis any day, none of that Chardonnay crap!” which I have heard on more than one occasion.

Other beauties include “I don’t like French wines” (it’s fine to have an opinion, but have you really tasted ALL types of French wine to arrive at that opinion?) and “Wines from Australia all taste the same” which is of course poppycock.

Irritation factor: annoyed

7. Insist on topping up their glass in a restaurant

Some people enjoy being “waited on” in restaurants, including having their glass topped up by a hovering waiter. Others don’t, and I suspect that – like myself – many wine enthusiasts would be in the “no thanks” camp, for several reasons.

Firstly, as a responsible adult I feel capable of pouring wine from a bottle into a glass myself. Secondly, I like to drink at my own pace, so don’t top up my glass in an attempt to make me drink more.

Thirdly, as temperature can have a profound effect on the aromas and flavours of a wine I like to semi-consciously monitor that as I evaluate a wine – difficult if someone dumps a load more into your glass. As for restaurants where an open bottle is left out of reach or – and this is just terrible form – out of sight, I rarely go back!

Irritation factor (topping up): vexed

Irritation factor (hiding bottle): incandescent

8. Give them a crap glass to drink out of

A good wine glass doesn’t have to be expensive and, conversely, some which are expensive aren’t great for appreciating wine. Even a modest wine will taste better out of the right size / shape / material / thickness of glass. See this article for more thoughts on the subject.

Irritation factor: bothered

9. Ask them a stupidly broad question about wine

If I had a Euro for every time I’ve been asked a stupid, banal question about wine I’d probably have enough for a bottle of Cristal, or at least a bottle of Tesco Value Cava. These include:
• “What’s a good wine?” (Like asking “What’s good food?”)
• “What sort of wine do you like?” (Like asking “What sort of music do you like?”)
• “What wine should I drink with chicken?” (The answer for which is highly dependent on the method of cooking, sauces and other accompaniments)

Irritation factor: headbutting the nearest wall

10. Charge over double a wine’s retail price in a restaurant

Restaurants have more costs to cover than wine merchants, so it seems fair that they make a higher gross margin to cover these costs.  However, some just seem to take the piss: just before Xmas I was at a busy, well-regarded restaurant in Dublin which listed Torres Celeste (a lovely wine, it has to be said) at €50.  The RRP for the wine is €20.95 and I have seen it for less at respected merchants, so it was 2 1/2 to 3 times retail price (which is obviously more than wholesale price).  This is why I rarely splash out on a nice wine in restaurants, the Ely Group being a notable exception!

Irritation factor: thermonuclear destruction

11 thoughts on “10 ways to mildly irritate a wine enthusiast”

  1. Very amusing, Frank. As for the topping up a wine with something different, I know of this happening at least once in a very posh London restaurant (which I won’t name) with very posh wine in the glass. Not good.

    The topping up of glasses, even with the right wine, is fraught with potential problems. Most people know that we like to fill glasses to around a third full in order to swirl and soak up the bouquet. The same goes for Champagne, but even in wine friendly restaurants you often get your Champagne topped up to the brim.

    The condescending somm is frustrating, though less common in the UK than France and Switzerland in my experience. But I’m equally careful to avoid trying to outdo sommeliers with my own expertise…unless they are particularly obnoxious, as in the case of the very well spoken, English accented, man at a certain Yarra Valley sparkling wine “Domaine” a few years ago.

    1. Thanks David. Topping up with a different wine has only happened to me at private dinner parties, and in fairness by hosts whttp://frankstero.com/2016/02/15/10-ways-to-mildly-irritate-a-wine-enthusiast/#ho aren’t into wine but are generous with what they have. Shocking to hear it has happened in an upmarket restaurant!

      I think I know the “Domaine” you are alluding to as I visited it some years ago, though had lunch at De Bortoli rather than there – and service was fine at the latter, from memory.

  2. Let me refer to two points. No 2 – unforgivable, even if I have a sip of wine in the glass. However, when I have only a drop at the bottom of the glass which is fitted for the next wine – I accept. This drop is better than the chemistry on the walls of a new glass (rinse aid, etc.). No 7. This subject deserves for an individual treatment. For example – at home I always use a terracotta cooler . Not to cool down the wine, but to keep its temperature.

      1. I’ll have to play devil’s advocate here, as the situation is very subjective.
        Assume the wine is relatively basic – for example a €10 Chilean Sauv Blanc or a cheap Italian white (a broad sweep I admit but I’m sure you know what I’m getting at).
        You’re at a party; the host/ess serves you said cheap-but-quaffable white; it’s been out of the fridge/cooler a little too long and it’s warm out … is it such a bad thing to add one single cube to said wine to instantly chill it and, maybe a bonus, even improve it, or at least lessen its effect? I have to say I’ve done that before and the results have been very pleasant.
        Sure, you’re hardly going to do it to your Puligny-Montrachet, but do we not admire the Europeans for their blasé attitude to wine? I’m thinking Kalimotxo, Sangria, any number of sparkling wine adulterations (Mimosa, Buck’s Fizz, Bellini, Kir Royale, etc.), spritzers, etc. etc.
        So ice to wine by default? No. In special circumstances and with all things considered? Yes.

  3. I have to agree with you about finding a wine on a wine list for more than double it’s retail price in a shop Frank. We are currently looking into using suppliers in the restaurant that only supply to on trade to avoid this, as I find it almost embarrassing when guests mention the price difference.

    I, also, won’t really splash out on wine in restaurants for the same reason as yourself.

  4. Another inspired post, Frankie!

    I was once corrected, in no uncertain terms, by a customer (in the expensive white Burgundy section, no less) that “…Chardonnay is not a grape, no matter what [my] Google told [me]…!” But in all fairness to buyers, I’ve heard some massively stupid things from wine colleagues and wine managers, too!

    Cheers to all,

  5. Great stuff. I get #9 all the time. “What’s a good wine? I like dry, I don’t like sweet.” First of all, you’re American. You like sweet. The one that grinds my gears the most is the “What wine goes with turkey?” around Thanksgiving. I know it’s unreasonable to be irritated by it, but you’ve got a crap ton of food on Thanksgiving. Why so much focus on the turkey? Search for a good wine for Thanksgiving overall, like Riesling. And don’t give me that “I don’t like sweet” bull. LOL

    I had a wine snob from #6 that was driving me bonkers. He acted like he knew everything but he was impressively wrong. One time he was in and I pointed out a Tuscan blend to him. He responds with “oh that’s an IGT. I don’t drink IGT’s. I only drink DOCG’s” UH WHAT???? Alright, mister wine snob. We’re done here. With that I stopped trying to help him. He came back one more time after that and hasn’t been back since. He was never pleased with any of my suggestions anyways. Bye, Felicia!

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