THE TYPES of people who drink wine can be as interesting and diverse as the wines they consume. And, like the wine they drink, they fit into categories. Over the years, I have detected at least a dozen types of wine personalities who exhibit specific behavior characteristics.
* The Hoarder: One of the more curious wine-personality types, he spends considerable amounts of money buying wine, but no one has ever seen him drink any. He usually buys good wines by the case, stashing them away in a handsome wine cellar for all his friends to admire. Hoarders show their wines rather than drink them. While hoarders serve little purpose in the wine world -- except to line the pockets of wine merchants and vintners -- their heirs benefit handsomely.
* The Name Dropper: This wealthy wine personality is a distant cousin of the hoarder. He usually hoards quite a bit of wine, but he does, in fact, consume some of what he buys. The name dropper obsessively restricts wine drinking to first-growth bordeaux, grand cru burgundy and Dom Perignon, because his criteria are that his wines be the most expensive available and that some historical wine classification has rated the wine the best. The name dropper never learns that price doesn't always indicate -- or ensure -- quality, and that many of the wines he treasures are both overpriced and overrated. Name droppers miss a lot because they don't appreciate wines that are great, but not expensive or rated great by some 19th-century classification of wine quality.
* The Octogenarian: This wine personality derives great pleasure from drinking old wine which has the smell and taste of vinegar or mildew. Octogenarians worship many of the English wine authorities who share their adoration of old wines. Octogenarians are important to a wine culture because they make great buyers of wine most of us find too old to drink.
* The French Wine Snob: Overly maligned, this snob's sin is not that he finds French wines the most elegant, but that he finds anyone who disagrees with him contemptible. French wine snobs, while unforgivably dismissing the rest of the world's fine wines, are currently experiencing a surge in support as their favorite bottles continue to drop in price.
* The California Wine Snob: A powerful counter-influence to the French wine snob, this type heaps abuse on quality wines from all other parts of America as well as the the world. California wine snobs, after experiencing growing support through the 1970s, seem in danger of losing it because the prices of their favorite bottles are increasing faster than the quality.
* The Tannin Junkie: He is, in reality, a spinoff of the California wine snob. This individual is a masochist who gets his kicks by consuming youthful wines, primarily full-bodied, highly alcoholic California petite sirahs and zinfandels. A tiny group of enthusiasts, the tannin junkies fill a void in the wine market because they purchase wines that would otherwise be ignored.
* The Taster: These people never miss a wine tasting. They journey from place to place, tasting to tasting, fanatically sampling every wine within reach. The taster rarely has time to enjoy wine with food, preferring to spend every conceivable moment sampling it, or organizing his own tasting. The tasters are great conversationalists, and usually know a lot about tasting wine, without knowing much about enjoying it.
* The Super Consumer: This wine drinker can be seen scanning the newspapers for wine sales and rushing into any wine store offering the lowest prices, much to the consternation of the wine seller, who resents these "cherry pickers." Spawned by the consumer movement of the 1960s, the super consumers live by one motto: "Get your money's worth!" Frequently the smartest wine buyers, they are intelligent enough to ask for help when they need it, and belligerent enough to return a poorly made wine to the shop that recommended it to them. Regarded with contempt by other segments of the wine society, the super consumer is the emerging power group of the wine culture.
* The Scribe: Rarely seen, but frequently read in newspapers, magazines and other publications, the wine scribe tries to dictate the tastes of the wine populace. Unfortunately, some scribes do not know as much about wine as their readers, as they depend heavily on information provided by public relations people hired by the wine industry. A number of these writers, unsatisfied with their influence on the wine society, can be found in glossy advertisements, unabashedly pushing whatever wine the advertiser desires to sell. Despite these dubious influences, some scribes remain who believe in honest and objective wine rating.
* The Anti-Scribe: A vocal segment of the wine culture, these individuals are actually repressed scribes who lack an audience. Frequently anti-scribes, like ombudsmen, serve a useful service, conscientiously pointing out incompetence and irresponsibility among the scribes.
* The Coward: No matter how much wine they taste, or how much reading they do, cowards never have anything to say. They never, ever reveal whether they like or dislike a wine until the majority of the wine drinkers around them have expressed an opinion. Fortunately, cowards are a dying breed, since most wine drinkers today usually act as if they know a great deal. Most wine cowards do have something to say. I only wish they would say it.
* The Connoisseur: The least-understood of all the wine-society personalities, the connoisseur loves wine because it is wine. A dedicated student of the subject, the connoisseur enthusiastically tastes all types of wine, with an attempt at objectivity and rational decision-making about a price/quality relationship. The true connoisseur appreciates a fine wine whether it is from Australia or from Pennsylvania. While occasionally too serious about the grape, the connoisseur never seems to completely lose sight of the fact that wine is best when served with food.