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Review: "101 Wines" by Gary Vaynerchuk

Gary Vaynerchuk’s WineLibraryTV is the world’s leading video wine blog. His informative and entertaining tastings on video attract as many as 80,000 viewers daily, not to mention the people who download his podcasts via Apple iTunes. (I watch them on my Apple iPhone 3G while on the treadmill. I don’t like getting on the treadmill, but Gary’s videos really make the time fly by. Three or four of his podcasts, which typically run between 15 and 22 minutes, give me enough time to get in a good workout including warm up and cool down. Plus, I get to broaden my wine horizons and frequently get a good laugh or two. Since, he’s recorded almost 600 of the podcasts now, I should be in decent shape by the time I’ve seen them all... If you haven’t checked them out, you really should.

As the tremendously successful operator of the Wine Library wine shop and one of the hardest working guys you’ll ever meet, Gary has tasted a stunning number of wines and famously developed his palate by sniffing and tasting pretty much every substance under the sun, as evidenced by Vaynerchuk’s appearances on the Conan O’Brien show among others. Gary’s detailed but irreverent tastings of wines from all over the world are a great way to get tips on expanding your own palate or finding tasty, if sometimes obscure, new wines to try.

While browsing the wine shelf at my local mega-chain bookstore, I was pleased to see that Gary has a book out and immediately snapped it up. Gary Vaynerchuk’s “101 Wines Guaranteed to Inspire, Delight and Bring Thunder to Your World” is medium garnet in color with a paper-white rim. It’s too early to tell, but I suspect it has legs.

I gave the book a sniffy-sniff. It has a light aroma of cut paper that reminds me a little bit of a college bookstore. Yes, definitely a college bookstore where they’ve got a lot of those loose leaf “readers” stacked up. But, the overwhelming smell is that of success.

Like many of my favorite wines, there’s a lot going on in this book. It’s got complexity, but is easy to enjoy. It gives you plenty to think about, but no brow-furrowing is required. There are a wide range of flavors to savor from Petite Sirah to Sauterne and plenty of bubbly commentary as well. The terroir spans the globe with all the prominent Old and New World wine regions represented as well as some a bit less well-known such as Israel and Lebanon.72d-gary-v-101-wines-cover

I get some earthy accents (“This wine makes you want to put on the Barry White and lick it off someone’s belly”) and wild game. One wine is described as tasting like “fresh-killed wild boar smeared with strawberry jam.” There’s a ton of fruit: apple, apricot, banana peel, lime, orange-tangerine, rum-raisin, star fruit, tropical and more. Gary is a big fan of vegetables so, we also get asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green bell pepper,  But, it wouldn’t be Gary’s book without the obscure too: escargot shell, goji berry and ostrich poop. I think the smell of ostrich poop is something we’re all familiar with... Thanks, G!

But, before you get the idea that the book is nothing but fizzy adjectives, let me set you straight. When it comes to interesting facts, this book really brings the thunder. Every wine description includes at least one educational sidebar, whether it be regional information, vocabulary, background on unusual grapes, a science experiment you can conduct at home, or fun facts about a non-wine substance that can be smelled or tasted in wine.

This book is not just another ranking of the world’s best wines according to one guy’s palate. Nor is it a guide to wines you should buy for investment purposes. It’s a book intended to guide you to new corners in the wide world of wine, to expand your palate and to entertain you in the process. It’s tempting to down the entire book in one big gulp. But, at well over 200 pages, you might just want to sip it slowly unless you’re on one of those long, transoceanic flights where you need all the wine you can get.

If you are familiar with Gary, you may know that he’s become a bit Old World in his tastes and doesn’t always feel California wines. But he is also a straight-shooter who goes out of his way to be inclusive and doesn’t give in to preconceptions. And, I’m happy to say that Northern California wines are well-represented in the book. There are quite a number covered, including several in the top 25. And, they aren’t all Napa Cabernet Sauvignon either. There wines from all over the state including Amador County and Lodi, a wide range of varietals, and many wines that I’ve never even seen mentioned in other publications.

At just 20 bones, this book is a really good value. You should definitely give it a whirl. Your palate will thank you.

I’ve only seen the book in one store so, to to save you a bunch of hunting around, I’ve linked it up here so that you can buy Gary Vaynerchuk’s “101 Wines” directly from Amazon. Enjoy!

Gary’s love of vegetables is well known. What’s your favorite vegetable? Would you want to taste it in a wine? What kind of wine?

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2008 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.