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Your ACI Is Lower if You Care About Wine, Not Higher

A couple weeks ago, celebrated author and journalist Calvin Trillin wrote this article for Slate.com. The piece criticizes, in not so many words, those who care to achieve a higher level of knowledge or understanding about wine. So the story goes like this: Trillin is in a Grand Central bar when he overhears a few guys discussing wine; he and his drinking companion then assume there’s a high likelihood – 61 percent chance, apparently – that the men in question are “a—holes” (ACI stands for A—hole Correlation Index). It may be true that the stereotypical wine-knowledgeable person correlates with people who introduce things like aluminum siding, Super PACs or mortgage-backed securities to the world. But to my mind, vilifying those who care about this Cabernet versus that one carries with it a much greater ACI.

Taking into consideration the time and place of the story, as well as the subject of it (an old barfly), I can see why a discussion of wine among a few young, brash, rich dudes would seemingly correlate with a high ACI. But doesn’t being a young, brash, rich dude merit a high ACI on its own? Even if they were discussing, say, the upcoming Super Bowl? Or the Steve Jobs biography? Or Call of Duty, undoubtedly the coolest video game ever? The fact that they’re even attempting a conversation or trying to achieve a greater level of understanding of what they consume, to me, naturally lowers their ACI.

Look at it this way. Today, there are as many Whole Foods markets in America as there are gun stores (ok, maybe not that many, but still); we have two basic-cable stations about cooking; multiple reality shows feature culinary competitions; and a new farm-to-table restaurant seems to open every week in the West Village. There had to be a time when caring about the heritage-breed pork versus regular free-range swine instantly kicked your ACI up to 100. But not today – it’s cool. Such knowledge lowers your ACI because it involves understanding where your food comes from. And knowing where your wine comes from results in a high ACI? Why, exactly?

There are dozens of considerations with wine that are important. Does the winery treat its vineyards in a sustainable manner? How about its people, who spend day after day toiling in the rows under the hot sun? Is the wine produced by a major conglomerate or a small family that scrapes by for putting quality ahead of quantity? How dependent is the production facility on automation versus a skilled workforce? Is the wine mass-produced or made with TLC? Was the growing season solid, or is the wine overpriced since it carries the fancy label, but comes from a rainy year? Most people who care to learn about wine in these ways care just as much about the provenance of the food they eat; there should be no crime in foodies applying the same hunger for information to their choices in wine.

To be fair to Trillin’s drinking buddy, he said this of the observed trio in the Grand Central bar:

…Nearly 40 percent of people who think of themselves as wine connoisseurs are people who have learned a lot about wine for one legitimate reason or another and are not pretentious about it. Those guys over there are in the other 61 percent, I’d wager. When they get through analyzing a few pinot noirs that they wouldn’t actually be able to tell apart, they’ll probably turn to cigars or single malt scotch. People who spend a lot of time discussing both cigars and single malt scotch, by the way, have a 78 percent ACI.”

At least he acknowledges there’s a difference in wine connoisseurship (and he’s quite generous in assuming that a full 40 percent of connoisseurs have good intentions). For sure, the ACI on the three men probably was fairly high in that they didn’t care about the unique, important, defining characteristics of the wines they were discussing as much as they did about sizing each other up – and the corresponding thickness of their wallets. Still, it seems far too easy to assume there’s a difference between the three wine-obsesseed and the yoga-pants-clad woman shopping at the Palo Alto, Calif., Whole Foods who insists on fair-trade quinoa with no knowledge of what the designation actually means. Let me be clear: There is none.

Understanding production and provenance, and caring about what you drink is just as important about caring about what you eat. Having an elevated ACI, however, is something different entirely – and is usually pretty easy to determine on its own. In fact, plenty of other behaviors, actions, characteristics and ignorant opinions leap to mind far ahead of wine connoisseurship as indicators of a high ACI.

Chief among them, actually, is leaning against a Grand Central bar handing out ACI ratings – whether to wine lovers or anyone else. Though I can’t deny, I am tempted to try it sometime. Maybe there’s a little ACI in all of us.