The Seven Minute Guide to Understanding Wine

Gary Vaynerchuk, the host of Wine Library TV, told Big Think all you need to know about buying wine: the most important wine store rule of thumb, the best under ten dollar bottles, the importance of vintage years, the best blogs to learn more, winning moves for impressing a date when talking to a sommelier, and more.
  • Transcript


Question: What is the best rule of thumb for buying a bottle of wine?

Gary Vaynerchuk: I know you guys are big time and there is a lot of people going to watch this video, so for the people that watch this video, if you leave with one thing out of this video, even though there is much more important things being said about life and happiness and making money, about just playing the game perfectly in my opinion, this is what I want you to leave with.

When you go into a wine shop, not only if you remember what you like or don't, or know what you like or don't, no matter what it is, or you have no idea, just like the question was asked, you have to try a wine from a variety you've never had before.

Please don't buy another Pinot Grigio, another Zin, another Pinot Noir, a different kind of a Chardonnay. No.

Tannat, Chinon, Albarino. These are things I want you to look for. You've got to try a wine from Cahors, Bandol, from Torrontes from Argentina.

So the answer is this, I can tell you right now, you are a wine expert if you spend two years and in that window you never order the same kind of wine. If you do that, and then once you hit all the wines you can find; Gruner Veltliner, Rieslings from Germany, Rieslings from Washington State. Different places making different grapes.

You are going to be shocked of what you know and how much you understand your palette because everybody who's watching this right now. Here's what you're really doing. You’re only drinking Coke and Sprite every meal, and you have no idea if Root Beer, Hawaiian Punch, Grape Soda, Black Cherry, you have no clue, tomato juice, pomegranate juice, you have no idea if you like those because you’re sticking to Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir.

Please, for me, try something new.

Question: What are your best under ten-dollar wine recommendations?

Gary Vaynerchuk: There’s two countries right now that I think you can be very safe in finding some really neat stuff. One is South Africa; if you order a Chenin Blanc, very crisp, very clean, very aromatic, great with shell fish and light salads. You can get them for eight to twelve bucks, all day long.

And in red, hands down, the dominant country in value in my opinion is Portugal. Portugal is just ripping. I think the quality out of Portugal for seven to twelve is staggering.

I actually want to do a 20/20 investigation on how much these people are getting paid over there because I can’t figure out the math is going to be so good and they can delivery them for seven bucks. So, from Madoro, the Dow, Allen Casio, these are places that really make some great, great Portuguese wines.

Question: What’s more important when buying wine: the label, or the year?

Gary Vaynerchuk: What your palette likes. So the makers for sure, the pedigree’s important, right. You know this builder is good, you know this chef is good, and you know this car maker is good. You’ve got a reference point to know if the wine is going to be good. But, this is farming.

I don’t care if you’re the best wine maker of all time; if it rains everyday you’re finished. So, that’s also very, very important.

What I think is most important when you start learning is understanding the grape varietals. Understanding the difference between Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling and Pinot Noir, and Pinot Gris, and there’s a lot there that will really be the foundation of what you like.

Question: What’s an impressive question to ask a sommelier when you’re on a date?

Gary Vaynerchuk: The real move, like the date move, is to Google esoteric great grape varietals, right, and just ask for, “Do you have any late harvest Grenache from Banyule." Totally like throw off the som with the mad skills, but you’ve got only one move.

If you want to be a little bit more authentic, which I highly recommend, I think it is imperative to name off three wines that you’ve had in the past that you’ve liked, and ask the sommelier to go in a different direction with varietals, or from a different country, and to expand your pallet.

I think there is a romance with being on a date of saying to your date, let’s explore some new stuff together kind of thing. I like Cabs, but what else would I like. Well, you might like Tannat because there’s big tannens and big fruit you know. And so that would always be something that would be my go-to move.

Question: Aside from Wine Library, what are the best places to learn more about wine?

Gary Vaynerchuk: I think, if we’re living in the Google era, right? I feel like you could learn so much more by reading good blogs like VinoGraphy or Fermentation, Dr. Vino. There’s just too many good resources from the blogosphere, and from forums.

What I love about Corkd is not only can you review the wines, but then people can comment on those reviews. So, like creating theoretic conversations around wines I think is very cool.

I’m excited about the fact that I don’t think people have to spend $150 for a class, or necessarily buy a book. Both are so worthwhile classes, there’s that engagement, interaction, books that’s kind of there with you. I still think there’s nice romance about a book, though I’m thrilled for a Kindle or e-readers, or whatever. However you want it, iPhone, knock yourself out. It’s all about the content.

But I think there’s so much free content out there that I don’t necessarily need to sit here and recommend a source that’s going to hit somebody in the wallet. Save those 20 bones to buy a good bottle of wine.

Question: Are bottles costing over $25 worth buying?

Gary Vaynerchuk: Yeah, we were talking outside and I was saying you’d be shocked what happens between 50 and 25. The wine world right now, 25 to 40 bones, you can drink world-class stuff. You start getting into the Chateauneuf-du-Pape world, the Priorat world, you start getting to wines that you can necessarily get to under $15, and they are really sensational.

And really I feel that the quality of the wine, given the depressed market, and given the advances in farming, a $30 wine today probably tasted as good as most $60 to $80 wines a decade ago. That’s powerful. That’s a very good direction for the wine drinker. I think it’s very obvious.

And so, if I could say anything, if you are into wine, you start looking seriously into 25 to 40 bones, you can get some crazy stuff.

Question: Are wine clubs a good way to learn about wine?

Gary Vaynerchuk: No. You’re going to over pay. That’s all. I got nothing there. Wine of the Month Clubs are fine. Listen, I created one for Gary Vaynerchuk on Wine Library TV because I wanted to create one that was legit. People get ripped off. They’re paying full value for fancy packaging and a letter that says, “Thank you.” So, no.

Question: What’s the best way to find good wine values?

Gary Vaynerchuk: I think that the best way to do that is to find sources that you respect and trust, whether that’s Wine Library TV, or another blogger, or a local wine merchant that that’s the only way he’s going to keep you is by giving you great service and saying, “Don’t buy that, try this.”

I really do think we’re going to see an explosion in things like Cork’d. I mean that’s why I’m so bullish on it and launching it now. I think Yelp has provided a platform that people understand that community-driven scoring has value and I think that’s going to come to wine in a big way.

Recorded on:  September 15, 2009.