This summer, Vaynerchuk’s new book hit the stands: Gary Vaynerchuk’s 101 Wines 2008: Guaranteed to Inspire, Delight, and Bring Thunder to Your World. As you might expect, it’s a paperback; Vaynerchuk just isn’t a hardcover kind of guy. He’s a Jersey boy who uses a New York Jets spit bucket and bounces ideas and opinions off of his brother, the off-screen cameraman who films his videos, which have a basement-staged Wayne’s World level of technical appeal. Vaynerchuk reminds me a lot of the wrestler I roomed with in college for a stint. The guy was 100 percent jock and would attack me with take-downs and head-locks whenever I walked through the door. When he wasn’t doing that, he’d snap beer bottle caps at me at around 90 mph. That’s Vaynerchuk, except that he knows wine. I mean, he really knows wine.
In 101 Wines, he recommends 101 of his favorite wines in an array of prices, styles and varietals. But more than just a list with accompanying tasting notes, each wine listing is sort of a mini wine lesson for the reader, capturing the story behind each wine and describing aromas and flavors as only Vaynerchuk can. They are almost always colorful descriptions. That is, after all, the guy’s forte. Sure, he might sometimes use well-worn wine descriptors like “complex,” “oaky,” “lean” or “silky.” But more often than not, you’ll find Vaynerchuk talking about wine smells and flavors as “cotton candy,” “fruit bomb,” “gasoline” or “gamy.” At one point, he says about a “gamy” wine, “I feel like I’m a hunter, and I just killed a wild boar and ripped it open and took a bite. But before I did, I spread strawberry jam all over it.” In describing Bodegas Berberana Tempranillo, he says, “The tannins are really nice, so this wine will last about as long as an open Twinkie, three to four years.”
Sometimes Vaynerchuk’s stuff—especially on the Website—comes off as shtick. And he does have a shtick; he calls himself “the wine guy for the average Joe.” But hidden behind the shtick, behind the irreverence and behind the overtly anti-pompous persona, is a sports T-shirt clad guy who knows a lot about wine. That’s what makes both this book and Vaynerchuk’s videos so appealing: When the shtick grows a little stale—and yes, his videos are somewhat lengthy—his vast knowledge of the world’s wines is what finally wins the day.
Vaynerchuk is fond of big, bold wines, and he doesn’t shy away from those with serious alcohol content. These are wines that “bring the thunder,” as he likes to put it. Does his new book bring the thunder? Well, yes, mostly. One thing for sure: It’s a lot more fun to read than 98 percent of the wine publications that cross my desk.
Vaynerchuk loyalists might be interested in the mother of all wine tastings, his “Thunder Cruise.” It’s a seven-day Caribbean wine-tasting cruise from April 17-25, 2009. I recommend leaving your silver-plated sommelier’s tastevin at home. (GaryVThunderCruise.com).