Let's dispense with professional jealousy right off the bat: part of me wanted to hate Gary Vaynerchuk's new book, 101 Wines Guaranteed to Inspire, Delight, and Bring Thunder to Your World, because all of me wishes I'd written it. But here's the rub: it's wildly entertaining, and so is he.
First, for the uninitiated, some background: Vaynerchuk is the 32-year-old director of operations at Wine Library, a wine superstore doing business online and in its Springfield, New Jersey, bricks-and-mortar location. With energy and enthusiasm to spare, Vaynerchuk morphed the store's web site into a video blog, Wine Library TV, which now boasts 60,000 viewers a day (his fans call themselves "Vayniacs") and has garnered him considerable media attention. His signature move on the show, spitting with vigor into a New York Jets bucket, underscores his guiding philosophy that wine shouldn't be prissy.
"I want to change the wine industry, and I feel that I can," said Vaynerchuk in a sit-down during his recent book tour. The concept he's pushing is familiar to readers of this column: shatter wine's image as a status symbol appropriate for consumption only by an elite class of consumers.
That's not to say that Vayerchuk goes for familiar supermarket brands in an effort to lure in Joe Six-Pack. Instead, even the Wineau-friendly wines he touts are unusual varieties all from brand names you might not recognize.
The 2006 Fairvalley Pinotage ($10), which Vaynerchuk describes as having "sweet tannins, great freshness, and a bittersweet balance of cassis," is #99 on the list. Fairvalley is an offshoot of South Africa's Fairview brand, which we have to thank for perennial Wineau favorite Goats do Roam.
Clocking in at #98 is the 2005 Caracol Serrano Tinto Joven ($9). Described by Vaynerchuk as a "school-night red," it's a blend of Monastrell, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petite Verdot and hails from Jumilla, a small Spanish region near better-known La Mancha that's gradually coming into its own.
The highest-ranked under-$10 wine on Vaynerchuk's list, at #87 (he's a populist, but not a penny-pincher) is the 2005 Bodegas Berberana No. 1 Tempranillo ($9). "This is not a wine that is going to make you scream with delight or rip your face off," cautions Vaynerchuk. Even so, we'll give it a try — if only because he suggests pairing it with an In-and-Out burger.
Vaynerchuk closes every show with "You, with a little bit of me, we're changing the wine world," and he underscored that message when we met. "What I want to tell people, with as much passion as I can put behind it, is: 'Start thinking for yourself and trying different things. Try a different wine every night, every week, every weekend.'"
Then tell him what you think. Vaynerchuk welcomes your tasting notes at firstname.lastname@example.org.