Anti-Snob Wine Appreciation: 7 Tips from Sonoma


In Sonoma: Kevin Rose and my attempt at an artsy wine photo.

Thick legs, full body, good structure. Sounds to me like a bad description. But no, it’s a cabernet sauvignon. Huh?

Alas, maybe wine just isn’t for a lad who grew up on Long Island with a rat tail.

Then again, as the soon-to-be wine demigod Gary Vaynerchuk sayeth: “Most people in the wine business are douche bags.”

Sad but true. So how do you appreciate wine without turning up your polo collar and becoming someone worthy of a slap in the face? I just came back from a weekend in Sonoma, and here are 7 tips I learned to follow after bumbling through wine for a few years in Nor-Cal…

1. Don’t get depressed if you’re not a “super taster.”

Don’t get depressed if you don’t taste hints of coriander, cauliflower, and cat fur in wine. If you can drink black coffee, you’ll never be a super taster, though you have a better chance if you’re an Asian woman. Consider examining four characteristics of wine to begin with: tannins, alcohol, acidity, and fruit. To get a feel for the astringent effect of high tannin content, similar to “cotton mouth,” chew on some grape skins.

2. To swirl wine like a pro, try moving from the elbow instead of the wrist.

I’ve always had trouble swirling wine without putting the base of the glass on a tabletop. Jean Charles, owner of Deloach winery, made a simple suggestion that works like a charm with a few minutes of practice: trace small circles in the air with your elbow instead of moving at the wrist. This will open the “bouquet” of the wine for smelling.

3. Tasting is smell-dependent, so prep your nose and use it properly.

Even if you don’t have a cold or congestion, doing a quick nasal irrigation the morning before tasting wine (or food, for that matter) will do wonders for enhancing taste sensitivity. After swirling, insert your nose in the glass and tilt your head to either side to test both nostrils. There has been some evidence to show that the nostrils alternate in workload (“shifts” of 4-6 hours), and you’ll almost always find one has significantly more airflow than the other.

4. Consider using a wine aerator if you don’t have a decanter to enhance flavor and finish.

Decanters are generally glass containers with wide bases used to expose wine to air. Gary decants not just reds but whites. For an alternative to this sometimes time-consuming and often expensive process, consider one of the newer wine aerators, such as this pocket-sized option from Vinturi with instant clean-up:

5. Test wines at various temperatures and don’t drink whites too cold.

I have been told that most people drink red wines too warm and white wines too cold. Gary drinks his whites at room temperature, as he believes that the colder the liquid, the less you taste. I store whites at 55 degrees and allow them to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving. For reds, I often stick them in the refrigerator for 15 minutes before serving. Experiment with different temperatures to gauge how it affects your taste and personal preferences.

6. When in doubt, go for the varietals (grapes) or regions that are out of style.

Before the movie Sideways, merlot was popular and thus overplanted to meet demand. This resulted in a ton of me-too merlot, which flooded the market with bad wine, making selection harder for the consumer. Pinot Noir is now en vogue and the current fashion, producing the same problem. Consider wine from up-and-coming regions like Canada and Portugal, or my personal favorites, Chile and Argentina. It’s quite hard to go wrong with Malbec and Tempranillo from the Mendoza and Jujuy regions of the latter.

7. Your palate is the ultimate critic.

Would you stop eating one of your favorite foods because someone else disliked it? Of course not. Wine is no different. Ultimately, the question is: do I like this? The arbiters of taste at Wine Spectator might think their palettes refined and worship-worthy, but it’s as ridiculous as a writer at Rolling Stone insisting that you should stop eating spaghetti because they give it a 74 out of 100. One of my favorite white wines costs less than $5 per bottle, and there is no shame in it. Drink what you like and enjoy it unapologetically. It’s the epicurean pleasure, not the price, that makes wine worth the time.

Daniel Burka playing Vanna White with one of my two favorites from this trip: Forth vineyard’s after-dinner Sauvignon Blanc 2006.

My second pick from the latest Sonoma trip: Rochiolo’s 1997 Estate-Grown Chardonnay

Posted on: March 25, 2008.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

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61 comments on “Anti-Snob Wine Appreciation: 7 Tips from Sonoma

  1. Tim – What’s your opinion/experience with bottle storage? Upright vs. on its side?


    If it’s a normal cork, I vote on the side or upside down. You want to keep the cork wet so it doesn’t let air in, at least that’s my understanding.

    Hope that helps :)



  2. I knew someone that came in my watering hole for her Ruinite all of the time. She wasn’t a drunk, but she loved that cheap red stuff. I used to scoff at her, but then I realized….she’s getting more pleasure than I am out of less expensive wine…and therefore I’m the wrong one.


  3. I love this post and thank you for turning me on to GaryVeeeeeee, although he is very over the top, Gary Vaynerchuk makes wine tasting even more fun and sniffy! It’s always fun when you go to a winery with a bunch of friends who look young and look like ya’ll are just there for the freebies. Once my friends and I went tasting at a local NJ winery and blew them away when we bought them out of their seasons Spanish Passion and Sangiovese. I am not sure if the grapes are more superb in Cali but it’s true once you find a wine that gets you, like you get it, its a perfect match. Interesting info on nasal irrigation nothing says yummy vino like saline LOL Maybe that’s why I like spicy foods so much! I can’t taste anything because my nose is stuffed up.

    Anti-Wine Snob Brigade. The revolution is on!



  4. Being a supertaster isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I can’t drink beer at all and I don’t care for a lot of the wines that friends like a lot; so far I’ve found all of one that I actually like. Sure, I could pick out all kinds of flavors from them, but what’s the good if none of them are actually, well, tasty? So I end up with a fruity alcopop every time and I don’t feel all that sophisticated at all. :) I don’t enjoy coffee, either, unless it’s laden with milk (and chocolate and hazelnut syrup, mm). I wish there was some way to turn it off!


  5. To get the true understanding of red wines.. Go to the barrel tastings. Because then all of the senses are enhanced as they are raw.. stronger. And then when they bottle it in a few months (or year), buy a bottle of the same zin you tasted. Then you’ll have a flood of flavors taking you back to standing in the barrel room with a fire crackling, probably raining, and the emotions of the day.


  6. Hey Tim,

    I am a fan of white wines to the disgust of many of my friends and co-workers. Albeit, I am just a noob when it comes to wines. I am just beginning my journey into the wine-world, for years I have immersed myself in the fine tastes of liquor, but now, as my tastes grow and evolve I am starting to like wines. I thought that I should begin with whites as they are a bit sweeter and not too bitter, as my wine loving parents have told me. Also, being from Canada there is no shortage of ice wines in our house. But back on subject, I like whites for their sweet simplistic nature, which also pairs beautifully with the food in my diet which consists mainly of veggies, chicken breast and fish.

    If you’re feeling up to it, have a apperitif glass of Niagara ice wine VQA with dark chocolate (taking a hint from your past post about your trip to the “Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory”).



  7. Nice writeup, Tim. Especially pertinant for me now as I am starting to drink wine and learn to enjoy it. I have given up beer 6 days of the week, my old alcoholic staple of coice, as I’m testing out a diet inspired by yours. Cheers.


  8. I saw you in Scoble’s Quik video from that weekend – looked like it was a blast. If you don’t have your aerator with you, you can decant any wine by pouring it back and forth between two glasses before pouring. Same effect. Am totally interested in trying the wines from the weekend, and am disappointed I can’t get Pelee Island in Vancouver – I’ve tried. :( We promote BC wines, but i really really like the whites from Ont, especially the Pelee island ones. lovely. if you ever make it to vancouver, be sure to look me up. We’ve got some fantastic wineries less than an hour away and we can continue the conversation we started leaving the BBQ. :)


  9. Tim

    You will have to make your way down to Australia for a mini-retirement. We have a bunch of great wine regions and a variety of sensational wines. And we aren’t too snobby about who drinks what. Shiraz from McLaren Vale in SA, Semillion from Hunter Valley, Riesling from Clare Valley SA, Cabernet from Margaret River WA. Then there is arguably the best red in the world…Grange Hermitage Shiraz from SA.

    Come on down and enjoy.


  10. Holy Cow Tim!

    My best friend has a website called Anti Wine Snob and when I saw the title of your blog post on my Google Reader, I thought maybe you had written something about it! Her site is fairly new and trying to generate traffic, so my heart skipped a beat for a second.

    Alas, no link or mention of her site :-(

    The article you wrote sounds very much like the sort of stuff she writes and you should check her site out some time. You sound a bit like kindred spirits (no pun intended) when it comes to wine.

    If you’re feeling particularly philanthropic and want to help a really cool person out you could even make a little mention of it on your site. You have such a huge following (myself included) that I know it would send some much needed traffic her way.

    Anyway, thanks for all the great advice on “Lifestyle Design.” I’m slowly trying to incorporate some of this stuff into my own life!




  11. p.s., I know you don’t want us putting URL’s in the comment box, so I didn’t put the URL to Jesse’s site in my comments. You can google the name however (anti wine snob), and it should come up at the top.

    Or, if you really, really want to be bored out of your skull, you can visit my site (full of my pontifications about health care).

    I’ve got a link to her site in my sidebar.




  12. Tim,

    I am beginning to find with your blog posts that I am getting a bit of information overload. What you’ve got to say is damn important and it’s great stuff, but it’s hard to think about the ideas in your book when all of these blog posts are competing for my attention.

    I know there is a huge demand out there for what you write about, but I think it would be more beneficial for people if you did a post say once every two to three weeks.

    That way your being congruent with your low information diet and the quality of what your saying has more impact.

    Just a thought



  13. Great post, I believe point number 7 to be the crucial factor in enjoyment, far to many people get caught up in whats fashionable, or worse, price.

    Kudos to you and Gary for bringing wine back down to earth.


  14. Heh, I hate wine. It just tastes sour to me. On the other hand, I love black coffee and el cheapo vodka, so I guess I just don’t have taste buds ;)

    Tim, what is your opinion on transhumanism in general and longevity in particular? We will be putting up an interview with Aubrey de Grey shortly, stay tuned for that (yes, it will be in English, not Swedish like the rest of the site).

    Oh, and another question, have thought about learning the Danish language? Forstår du lidt af sproget? ;)


    Hi Ravenwood,

    To be honest, I’m not that familiar with transhumanism. Danish, on the other hand, I’d love to learn. However, it might be hard to practice considering nearly all of you seem to speak English well :)



  15. Hi Tim,

    Since you will be in the UK next week, try picking up these BBC DVDs

    Quite funny to see the odd couple “wine ponce and no-nonsense petrol-head” on a road trip Sideways’ style.

    And, since you like your chocolate … this chocolate is quite “hype” at the moment after a TV series on Channel 4 about how it was produced.

    Hmm, being Belgian it’s difficult for me to be promoting UK chocolate ;-)




  16. One of the ways I particularly like to get most of the taste of wine is to:
    1) breath in
    2) take a slip
    3) exhale through your nose slowly
    4) swallow

    And then you’ll feel that all the taste from the wine will come up in your nose and you will be able to identify a few things like the fruits flavors, spices, etc.