Opinion: Handling the Misinformed Know-it-All

How do you deflect someone too big for their britches?

If I had the power to change the wine world I would send one type of wine drinker to therapy. It’s a personality type we have all come to know and loathe. Let’s call them “The Misinformed Know-it-All”. Let me tell you a story:

“Côtes du Rhône Is a Grape”
A friend of mine was recently in a wine shop in Brooklyn, perusing some Côtes du Rhône. He asked the clerk about the varietals in a particular bottle and the clerk replied “That’s the grape, Côtes du Rhône. It’s a French grape.” My friend tried to politely inform the clerk that Côtes du Rhône is a region in France, but the clerk adamantly insisted that Côtes du Rhône is in fact, a grape. Rather than humbly admitting fault, he clung to his misinformation with both hands.

I shudder at the thought of how many future customers will get their wine “knowledge” from this Misinformed Know-it-All.

Need another example? I’ve got one.

“All Rieslings Are Sweet”
I was recently dining at a popular sushi restaurant in New York and I ordered a Mosel Riesling from the wine list. I thought it would be a rather dry Riesling but when I took a sip it was apple-juice-sweet. I mentioned my surprise to the waiter who told me: “Well, all Rieslings are sweet.” I paused and considered how to respond, then responded “Sorry, that’s just not true.” Rather than deferring to my knowledge or trying to learn more, he simply walked away. I felt a slight pang of guilt. Did I sound like a rude wine snob, correcting a guy who was trying to help? Then again, I can’t stand perpetuating confusion so I don’t regret correcting him. I only wish he’d listened.

Wine’s history as an elite hobby sometimes yields an arrogance that we’re just beginning to overcome. The Misinformed Know-it-All has a few facts about wine that he grasps with both hands, frequently getting mixed up in the process. Correcting their mistake is often futile, so we are stuck letting wine myths continue on.

Why do people have this wine arrogance? Some of our own editors have proudly told stories of moments when they’ve learned something unexpected. Wine is a hobby with limitless knowledge and it’s OK to be wrong once in awhile.

The combination of the misinformed and the complexity of wine itself leads to a dangerous mix. There should be a polite way to correct these people, but somehow I always feel like I’ve kicked a puppy. Have you met a Misinformed Know-it-All? How do you handle it?

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