Picture a wine critic, and what do you see? A middle-aged Englishman with glasses wearing a suit and sitting with his legs crossed? A room full of bearded baby-boomers standing in a circle with their pinkies stuck out, speaking in droll tones? It probably isn’t Gary Vaynerchuk, the Belarus-born wine aficionado who has blown up in popularity over the last few years. In a picture on the home page of his Web site, Vaynerchuk sits on a leather couch with a sneer on his face, pointing his finger at the camera. Your father’s wine critic he is not.
“All rules out there are crap,” Vaynerchuk says, when asked what to keep in mind when selecting a wine to go with your dinner. “You should explore a bit more because they’ve killed creativity.”
His honesty is refreshing, and plenty of other people think so. Vaynerchuk’s daily video blog in which he reviews wines draws over 80,000 viewers with each new installment. That Vaynerchuk has been able to achieve such popularity in a niche market is impressive, especially given how unorthodox of a critic he is. All of his videos are filmed in his office, he speaks a mile-a-minute in his New Jersey accent and he spits each sip of wine into a New York Jets trashcan.
Vaynerchuk recently did a signing in Chicago to promote his new book, “101 Wines Guaranteed to Inspire, Delight, and Bring Thunder to Your World,” drawing plenty of fans. In our conversation, he dished on what wines he thought worked best with traditional Chicago-style pizza and hot dogs, staples of city summer cuisine.
“Rich wines like Syrah would go great with those kinds of pizza. You can go with something with a really bright fruit, like a Super Tuscan,” he says. “With [the hot dogs], I’d be more interested in different varieties. I’ve actually been very fond of having Zinfadel with that. Also, I think that Pinot Noir from the central Otago of New Zealand goes extremely well as well.”
As a retailer in the wine industry for fifteen years before he became a critic, Vaynerchuk’s built up a lot of credibility in the industry and is proud to represent it. It’s hard to imagine a wine critic becoming a celebrity, but if there was one who would fit in on the red carpet, it’s Vaynerchuk. “I kind of felt I was the perfect character, based on my personality and my credibility,” he says of his job. “I felt like I could do it.” (Jeremy Gordon)