Feature photo by nickherber. Photo above courtesy of Gary Vaynerchuk.

Juliane Huang sits down with celebrity sommelier Gary Vaynerchuk and gets the dish on how to fit wine into your current budget, even if that means pairing it with a Big Mac.

It started with gentle sobs during the car ride to and from work. Like many of us trapped in 9 to 5’s, Gary Vaynerchuk dreaded going to work.

“I hated it,” Vaynerchuk said. “When I first started working in the [wine industry] I cried everyday. But one day it clicked for me; I saw people collecting wine the same way they collected baseball cards I was selling on the weekends. I decided to make myself into an expert and let my natural marketing ability take over.”

And take over it did. Soon after Vaynerchuk began uploading his now wildly popular video blogs on his personal site, Vaynerchuk’s internet presence skyrocketed into the web stratosphere, eventually landing him appearances on mainstream programs like The Conan O’Brian Show.

“In 2006 I saw what was happening in video with people like Ze Frank and Rocketboom and I got very excited with the potential for a social web,” Vaynerchuk said. “I knew would give me an opportunity to connect with consumers in a different way [so] I started sharing some of my business and social media ideas on my personal blog. People really liked it so I stuck with it.”

Now a web sensation and the first ever Social Media Sommelier, Vaynerchuk releases regular video blogs that cover topics from wine recommendations to business advice to tips on happiness.

Photo by Couche Tard

(MT): With the economy being what it is today, not everyone can afford, or even is willing to afford, that fancy-shmancy bottle of wine. What are the top three budget bottles you recommend for people to drown themselves in for 2009?

I prefer to recommend regions rather than specific bottles. Check out wines from Portugal, especially the Douro region. We’ve also seen great value out of Malbec and Torrontes from Argentina, and Sauvignon Blanc from Chile.

(MT): When we’re pressed for cash, sometimes it’s a choice between eating or drinking. If we hit up fast food joints, we can have both! What are your wine recommendations that best accommodate our favorite fast food?

With a Whopper, I’m thinking Red Zinfandel. On a budget you can produce that experience with a Primitivo from Italy, Primitivo being a relative of Zin. With that Wendy’s Chili, I have to go with Albarino from Spain. Zippy acidity to pair with that little bit of spice. Filet-o-Fish? How about a Macon? Crisper and easier to pair with food than a California Chardonnay, you can get a decent white Burgundy for under 12 or 15 bones.

(MT): Are there any wines you’d recommend with our favorite snack foods?

With Cheez-its I think Sancerre could be an interesting play. These Sauvignon Blanc wines from the Loire Valley in France have minerality and sometimes a little saline quality that I’d like with the salty crackers. With potato chips I’m thinking about Viognier. The floral elements of the wine might play very nicely with greasy potato chips. With Cheetos or Doritos I’d look for a Spanish red. Tempranillo based wines, especially a Ribera del Duero, with all that seductive up-front fruit to combat the bold flavors of the snack.

(MT): Do you currently have a favorite (or a few favorite) bottle(s) of wine? Do tell!

Not really, every wine is a different experience and I rarely bring home more than one bottle of anything. My favorite category and something I think is totally under appreciated in America is Champagne and sparkling wine.

(MT): And how do you like to enjoy your wine?

With family and friends!

For all wine aficionados, fans, and newcomers, Vaynerchuk emphasizes trusting your own palate.

“The most important [thing is] to keep and open mind and try new things,” Vaynerchuk said. “There are so many traditional rules about pairing this with that, and so much of it is ridiculous. Wines will change with foods, and your experience of the food will change with different wines. Expand your palate by trying different things, and forget about the traditional rules!”

Remember, the point of wine is to enhance your tasting experience, so go with your own personal preferences and let your taste buds make your libation decisions!


COMMUNITY CONNECTION

Are you a beginning oenophile? Check out Craig Martin’s classic article, “How to Drink Wine Like a Pro” for tips about getting started in the world of wine.