The first time I went sailing as a crew member for a friend who owned a schooner, I did everything that I was told to do—everything that I understood, that is. By the end of the day, before I passed out from overwork, I had dubbed sailing talk as “jiberish.”

Every hobby has its own language, acronyms, initials, and probably a secret code or two. But I swear, after reading the language of online wine geeks I wonder if many of them have any fun at all drinking wine. The language that ranges from the pompous to the unintelligible speaks to obsession. But to joy? I don’t know.

It seems as if many geeks are in the game for a pleasure other than the sheer joy of a solid, subtle, “perfect with my food” wine. They want to be blown away, not only by the wine and its unreasonable price, but also by reaching a level that eludes mere mortals—indeed, that mere mortals may never understand.

A geek dissects, analyzes, splits hairs, argues, confuses opinion with fact, jumps on others who disagree, demands some sort of special treatment—especially in restaurants—and all around seems to revel in obvious self importance. It’s no wonder that us regular folks find something elitist about wine geekdom; as the saying goes, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Good luck to anyone with a subjective opinion about a wine. There’s always a geek to disagree and challenge. But challenge what? The only kind of person who challenges subjectivity is someone too cocksure for me to want to get to know well.

A gathering of wine geeks, with its talk of tannins and integrated oak, of calibrating palates, of intensity and power seems always to come with an edge. The conviviality may at times even seem contrived, as if you are being set up to say something others lie in wait to challenge.

Sitting around a table with a bunch of geeks greedily tasting and spouting off often reminds me of my Brooklyn neighborhood, when the mobsters shot high stakes dice on the street corner.

The mobsters knew the game inside out; they spoke insider’s language, too (a hundred says he fours or eights, it’s a snake, I’ll cover him, etc.). These guys hung out together, robbed together, and some of them even killed together. They were a dysfunctional family. When they gambled with great intensity, it was like a contest of the fittest, a challenge to the top dogs.

The crap game produced a great degree of noise but, win or lose, you’d have been hard-pressed to identify as joy what the players expressed—obsession, maybe; desperation, to be sure.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
March 2008. All rights reserved.

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