The Good Life – Avoid Being a Pseudo-Connoisseur

As much as I enjoy a good glass of red wine every once in a while, the idea of spending more than ten or twelve dollars on a bottle of vino is something that very rarely occurs to me. Despite what the movie Sideways and my wine snob acquaintances have to say, I agree with the assessment of Vanity Fair contributing editor Nick Tosches, who asserts that the only valid words to describe the tasting of wine should be “‘good’, ‘bad,’ or ‘just shut up and drink.'”

Obviously a dyed-in-the-wool cynic, Tosches wonders how a nose sophisticated enough to detect in “a bottle of rancid grape juice…delicate hints of black currant, oaken smoke, truffle, or whatever other dainty nonsense with which nature is fancied to have enlaced its taste,” is not able to “detect the cow shit [that] fertilizes its vines.” “A true wine connoisseur, if there were such a thing,” he says, “would taste the pesticide and manure above all else.” This unrealistic promotion and idolizing of wine, he claims, is an example of the disturbing character of our times, an era he labels “the age of pseudo-connoisseurship” in which we, “the moneyed suckers of today,” hypnotised by slick marketing campaigns, “seek fatuously to distinguish ourselves from the main of mediocrity.”

I can’t help but think that he has a very valid point, and it’s something I frequently consider when I’m writing this column about finding ways to better enjoy our lives. As much as I believe that it is one of the great joys of life to turn eating into a quality experience by spending some money on fine ingredients, I think that there is an ever-present danger of falling into the belief that “more expensive” automatically translates as “better.” There are certain items, such as handcrafted cheeses, cold pressed olive oil, and good quality imported balsamic vinegar that I will go to my grave believing are must-have ingredients in every kitchen. And I have been known to indulge in the odd pound or two of out-of-season organic grapes or asparagus, and even the rare three hour lunch at my favourite French bistro when I find myself down in the dumps.

In the end, though, I think that the best things in life are most often the simplest, and least costly, like ripe tomatoes and fragrant sage grown right in my own garden, or a bottle of delicious wine made with love and attention to detail in my neighbour’s basement, from concorde grapes grown on the roof of his carport. About such things, nothing fancy needs to be said.

Tosches, Nick. The Last Opium Den. New York: Bloomsbury, 2000.