May 3, 2008
Thunder in the Southland

The bright side of a flight delay is that you finally have time to catch up on your reading. Fortunately, I'd tossed into my luggage a couple of new books as I headed for Sacramento International Airport yesterday. One of them is Gary Vaynerchuk's "101 Wines Guaranteed to Inspire, Delight, and Bring Thunder to Your World" (Rodale, $19.95, 236 pages, softcover). By the time I got to Ontario about two hours later than scheduled, I'd covered most of the book and strolled out of the terminal pretty much convinced that "101 Wines" is one of the more entertaining and, as the title suggests, inspiring wine books of recent years.

If the name Gary Vaynerchuk doesn't ring a bell, he's the wild guy responsible for, where he simply sits down with a New York Jets spit bucket, a few glasses of wine, and walks viewers through a tasting. He's loud, confident and almost always entertaining. His descriptions often are hilarious. That spunk is seized adroitly in his book, which basically is a series of descriptions of 101 wines he'd recommend to his best friend.

"I have selected wines that break down barriers, create new styles, and ooze charisma," he says in the introduction. He likes blended wines over varietals, and tends to prefer wines with big, ripe, concentrated flavors. "Fruit bomb" is one of his favorite descriptors. His taste often isn't my taste, but I do like the freshness, bluntness, humor and color of his descriptions.

Unlike a lot of wine books that talk of specific wines, his selections generally are current. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean they will be easy to find. Vaynerchuk lives in New York City, and several of the wines he's chosen, being European, may be easier to find there than on the West Coast. What's more, several of the wines were made in small lots.

Nonetheless, I found the book's enthusiasm so infectious that as soon as I got to my final destination, Riverside, I headed to La Bodega Wine & Spirits, which locals told me is the city's best wine shop. I walked in with my Vaynerchuck book and with the help of a clerk attempted to find among the shelves 10 wines I'd marked as especially provocative. Unfortunately, the shop didn't have a single one. Maybe I'll have better luck back in Sacramento. I'd sure like to get my hands on his No. 90 wine, the Peirano Estate Vineyards 2006 Lodi The Other ($13), a "dark, dark, dark" blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah, and his No. 15 wine, the Topanga Vineyards 2006 Clarksburg Grenache Blanc Celadon ($28), which he says would "Buster Douglas" similar Rhone-style California wines priced much higher. (According to his Vaynercabulary, "Buster Douglas" means to unexpectedly destory the competition, and is taken from James "Buster" Douglas, who in 1990 knocked out undefeated world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson in Tokyo.)

Why am I in Riverside? Not for the amazing hot-rod show under way just outside the hotel, though I do hope to tour it this afternoon, but for the Riverside International Wine Competition about to get under way. Like Vaynerchuk, I'll be looking for wines to bring some "thunder" to my palate.

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