Even in the gatekeeper-filled world of drinks, wine has always felt extra gatekeep-y. “These reds go with that. Those reds go with this. Don’t ever pair white wines with this or that!” You wouldn’t be the first person to roll their eyes and want to shout “shut up already and let me drink!” at a wine snob.
While knowing the basics does provide a foundation to work from (which is true of any craft — food, drink, or otherwise), wine is so drastically varied that it feels virtually impossible to know or follow all the “rules.” And starting from scratch can be incredibly daunting. You need trusted, accessible voices to show you the ropes. Voices like winemaker and budding TikTok wine star David Choi — who offers a whole lot of guiding and no gatekeeping.
Choi wants you to love wine like he does. But more importantly, he wants you to love wine the way you want to. He’s not interested in what’s “right” nearly so much as he’s interested in “what works for you.” To say that the wine world needs energy like that is an understatement.
Choi makes wine for a living in Napa Valley in California (Magna Carta) and the Loire Valley in France (Angel Falls). His credentials are exemplary. It would have been very easy for him to fall into that same gatekeeping aspect of wine snobbery that’s pervasive in wine media and reviewing. But that’s just not his jam. Instead, Choi offers insights into inexpensive wine choices that manage to hold their own with much more expensive bottles, along with practical pairing ideas. It’s a devilishly simple strategy but it’s also a much needed one.
We got a chance to jump on a call with Choi recently and talk about his love of wine, what wines he thinks you should try, and why the juice is so beloved by so many. It was an enlightening conversation that got a little philosophical at the end, much like any conversation once you reach the last few sips from a fine bottle of wine.
Tell us how your first fell in love with wine.
I first got into wine back, basically, at our family table and that’s sort of how it started. We didn’t grow up generally drinking a lot of wine, but we would always have it for special occasions. So I grew up probably more smelling the wine than drinking it. I was still under 21 at the time, but my parents and family brought me up in that culture of learning a little bit about wine and what makes it a little different, the nuances of it, the aromas, things like that.
So for me, wine is always about the experience. It’s not just enjoying a glass of wine, it’s about who you’re with … the foods it’s paired with. Even today, every time we go out or do dinner or we’re around friends and family and we’re enjoying some wine with our dinner, it always brings me back to that feeling when I was younger of having all my uncles and aunts and relatives all around and we’re enjoying food and wine. It brings me back to that time.
That’s wonderful. What was the “ah-ha!” bottle of wine for you where you knew that it was more than just something to enjoy around the family table?
It was a Bordeaux that we had. I think it was for my father’s birthday and it was at a steakhouse. It was generally where everyone enjoys wine, gets a steak with a Bordeaux or a big red. Obviously, before I’ve had a lot of steaks but this moment was … it just worked so seamlessly and sort of melted. It had that combination where I was like, “Oh! Now I really know what people are saying.”
It hit with the fats of the meat and it was just the perfect moment for me.
Nice! That leads towards my next question. In food and drink, wine especially, you have these entrenched notions of the protocol. Big red wines with red meat. White with white fish, et cetera, et cetera. How important do you think those old school rules are in 2021 or do you feel they’ve always been malleable?
I think it sets a foundation, right? So it’s a go-to that you know is always going to work. For someone like myself, I like trying new experiences. I like to try things that may not work or that may not be by the book. Not all pieces of meat are the same, so one can go with something lighter, like a Burgundy or something else entirely. I like a lighter style red with a fish and that’s perfectly fine as well. It’s really exposing yourself and experimenting and experiencing these different pairings and seeing what you really like. Plus, as your palate evolves, you want new experiences. I think it’s fun. To be honest, though, not every pairing works. So should I just drink this glass of wine by itself or should I just have this meal by itself?
But it’s fun when you do get to pair different things. We shot content with Hot Cheetos and a Riesling recently. Going into it, I was like, “We’re just having fun.” It was just something that we wanted to try, but that paired really, really well for me and I was like, “Wow. This is something I would go back to. This is something I would recommend!”
That’s what I dig about your TikTok and your whole vibe: It’s about experimentation, sure, but also going with the flow and finding something good and admitting when it’s not. One of my favorite examples is with seafood where you’re so drilled with the dogma of crisp white wines with fish or seafood. Then when I was in Sicily a couple of years ago and, man, you get these beautiful volcanic grown reds that are a little hefty and you’re eating it with squid ink pasta and it’s just the most perfect pairing you could ever imagine.
It’s absolutely beautiful. When it goes well, you just know it. Your mouth tells you. Your senses tell you that it’s perfect and it has to do with where you’re at as well.
If you’re here, it may not have that. You may not get that same sense of that same feeling that you would when you were in Sicily.
So let’s talk a little bit about your TikTok. Let’s face it, the world of wine is very gatekeep-y. You’re the antithesis of that. What do you feel you’ve learned about wine through reviewing wines on TikTok? How has it expanded your knowledge?
It’s been great. Being in Napa and producing my own wines here and out in the Loire Valley in France, I don’t get to taste huge amounts of varying wines otherwise. It’s been many, many years since I was at the retail store where I was tasting hundreds of wines every week. And now it brought me back to that time where I get to taste and go back and see what’s going on and what people are producing. It’s been fun because most of it is value-driven. We do some of the higher-end stuff, but mostly it’s below $20, and mostly it’s below $15.
We want you to enjoy wine without having someone like myself come in and say, “You should only be drinking Burgundies of Bordeaux or Napa reds.” I wanted to come in with my knowledge and my experience and say, “Yeah, this is what you can find every day but these wines are at a much lower price and I enjoy them just as much and I think these pair really great with foods and whatnot.” And that has brought me back into the world of tasting wines again and I’m very grateful for everyone that’s enjoyed the content.
Why are Napa and Bordeaux so compatible when it comes to wine?
I would say comparatively they both have the best grapes in the world. Just seeing the quality and the care that everybody has for these grapes — because you can’t make a great bottle of wine without the grapes — that’s just number one. Those grapes are attended to seamlessly and perfectly in both places.
They are still different in a sense because the soils are different. The weather is different. We’re very fortunate in Napa to have very consistent weather during the day with the marine cooling. So it’ll be really cool in the mornings. But then during the afternoons and early evenings, it’ll get to be 95 or 100 degrees, and then it’ll drop back down to 60. So that combination for me in Napa is just perfect for growing the grapes that I need for a Magna Carta.
Let’s sort of step away from California and France for a minute, because there’s a whole world of wine out there. What would be somewhere completely unique that you would recommend to a new wine drinker as a region and then also as a varietal?
There’s a ton of great wine out there. I was very fortunate to have learned my chops in wine at a retail store that really developed my paleate. I would always recommend something from Italy. I think that there is a lot of great reds from Tuscany — especially Chianti — that are really underpriced right now. I think that you are seeing more come on the market.
I always go to, and I know we weren’t speaking about France but I love Beaujolais. It’s an all-year-round wine for me. I love a little bit of a chilled Beaujolais wine during the summer and, for me, Beaujolais also is a great food wine. It’s a little more elegant in style but it’s still a red that has the full expression of those grapes that you’re getting with the Gamay [grape]. That really makes it a great food wine. So that’s a wine that I enjoy all year long. But Italian wines are the best food wines. So anytime that you’re at a restaurant, I would always recommend them because I always know that it’ll be a great pairing for your dish.
What are some hidden gems that really take you to the next level when you’re talking wine?
So if you started at Beaujolais, the next step that you would take up would be Burgundy, right? But actually, the other ones that I really love, would be to start in the Rhone Valley, with a Cotes du Rhone. And then you would evolve to a Chateau Dupa. From there you would go to the Northern Rhone, like some Syrah. I think that’s an evolution and I think those wines are really well underpriced and undervalued. There’s a ton of great stuff out there from the Rhone Valley.
What makes wine such a special part of our lives?
It’s the beauty of it. Wine for me is my heart. I wasn’t gifted with painting or being a lyricist or a poet. My art is through being able to create a great wine and that’s my passion. I love that. Every year is a little bit different. Our blends are slightly different every year.
And being able to bring that to everybody and have them enjoy that while seeing the faces and the enjoyment that they have and the experiences that they have is … everything. Especially in this day and age of where there are so many things are going on in the world that’s really tough, where you turn on the news and everything is bad. I just want to bring a little bit of enjoyment into your life for a few hours with your friends and family that you can enjoy before everybody has to go back into this really tough world that we live in now.