Only on RCL: Talking With Author Mark Oldman About How to Drink Like a Billionaire

November 29, 2016 5:00 am
(Regan Arts)


Here at RealClearLife, we’re in the business of connecting you to everything good—and in many cases, that translates into “the good life.” We’re not shy about offering up billion-dollar superyachts and multimillion-dollar art auctions, because we know that’s how some of you roll.

For the rest of you, we up the “dream” of that life daily, without question, to your delight (all million or so of you).

But what if we told you that acting like a billionaire isn’t that difficult to accomplish? That this coming Friday, you could walk into your neighborhood wine bar and drink like one?

That’s what author and wine expert Mark Oldman promises in his aptly titled new tome, How to Drink Like a Billionaire: Mastering Wine with Joie de Vivre. Oldman tells RealClearLife that he’s been on the case since founding a wine club at Stanford University when he was an undergrad there in 1990. “I brought top winemakers from Napa and Sonoma to campus and ran about 40 tastings and learned so much about wine from that that I started teaching an introductory class,” Oldman says. From there, he fanned out to wine seminars, speaking engagements, and even TV (he was a judge of PBS’ The Winemakers).

So, of course, we had to ask him about his latest book and get as much wisdom out of him for you RCLers. Here’s what he had to say.

You’re 47, but have a young look about you. Is that because you’ve discovered the secret to reverse aging, and it’s fine wine?
Well, wine can pickle your organs in a good way sometimes. I would attribute my youthful appearance to 70 percent genetics and 30 percent the restorative effect of wine.

Per the title of your book: Is the billionaire the new millionaire?
‘Billionaire’ is a metaphor for somebody who feels totally in control. The problem with wine is that it’s gotten a lot more casual in the last decade. Wine and its culture, as wonderful as it is, still intimidates lots of people. You [could] have [that] feeling when you walk into a wine store and you see all these choices on the shelf, or you’re in a restaurant and you’re looking down a vast wine list, and maybe the waiter or sommelier isn’t especially friendly. So my feeling with the “billionaire” [in the title] is it’s not money, per se; price is often not proportional to deliciousness. It’s someone who drinks with a billionaire’s confidence. I see my wine pro friends—that includes fellow wine writers or vineyard owners or major collectors—and they tend to be the most relaxed about wine. Whereas most of my friends, my mom, my sister tend to tense up more about wine because they haven’t yet achieved that billionaire’s confidence.

Oenologist checking the wine properties before closing barrels (Getty Images)
Oenologist checking the wine properties before closing barrels (Getty Images)
Getty Images


Who is this book targeted at? Novices? Experts that need to take it down a couple notches?
I call my audience the “sophisticated masses.” Meaning, these are cool, sentient, well-meaning, smart people who want to maximize life in every way. People who want to have a really good drink without yet having to become a wine obsessive. I [also] loaded the book with all sorts of delightful new pieces of information for experts. For example, if you just put your hand over the top of the glass when you’re swirling it, you will double the smell of wine.

You mentioned you had some wine collector friends. We recently ran a piece on a fraudster, Rudy Kurniawan, who duped the auction world with counterfeit wines. What would be your best advice to someone looking to build out their catacombs at auction, but who is unable to taste the product?
You bring up one of the great hazards of collecting wine. First of all, realize that the wine that’s being counterfeited is the most valuable. In most cases, these are the bottles that most of us would never dream of buying because they’re so expensive. I’ll go to wine auctions sometimes, and I focus on the areas that the Wall Street and hedge fund types wouldn’t be quite interested in. So for example, I’ll avoid the Rolls-Royce of wines, but I’ll go for that lesser-known, entry level BMW. Rudy counterfeited what I call the “museum artifacts” of wine, and I actually know some people who were victims of his fraud. It really complicated things, because (a) you [can’t] taste it beforehand and (b) if it’s older, older wines, even if they’re real, don’t always taste straightforward or good. I think it’s caveat emptor: Let the buyer beware, but realize in most cases, unless you have infinite funds, you’re probably not buying the wine at the level it’s being counterfeited. But that said, be careful of purchasing very, very valuable wine online if they cannot tell you the provenance: where they bought the wine from. There are lots of little things, but what the Rudy case proved was that even the seemingly persnickety auction houses don’t always catch the fakes. So you really need to be careful. If there’s a certain type of wine you love, try to pin the auction house down as to how they acquired it.

What should be one’s most important takeaway from this book?
That price is not proportional to deliciousness. That, my metaphorical billionaire knows. If you want to drink really expensive wine, it’s perfectly fine, but just realize that those extra dollars you’re paying aren’t necessarily reflective of increased quality in the wine. For certain wine types, it could be over $25. Or with other wine types it could be over $35. Once you pass that hurdle, you’re paying less for the inherent quality of the wine and more for things like the scarcity of it or how much marketing that winery does. Or something as simple as maybe that winery just wants you to perceive their wine as more valuable, so they raise the price of it.

Oldman recommends a New Mexico vineyard, Gruet, selling a top-notch $15 of champagne (Getty Images)
Oldman recommends a New Mexico vineyard, Gruet, that sells a top-notch bottle of champagne for $15 (Getty Images)
Getty Images/Blend Images RM


Give our audience one secret value wine that our audience may have never heard of.
For sparkling wine, nothing beats bubbly from the region called Champagne in France. But if you want 70 percent of the joy at 20 percent of the price—maybe even less than that—there is a winery in New Mexico—that’s right, New Mexico—called Gruet. It’s owned by French people, it’s made in the traditional French way, and it is absolutely delicious. Even the label looks like French champagne. It’s going to get you pretty close to the wonderfulness of the actual article. So with the holidays coming up and New Year’s, [get to know] Gruet. It’s kind of like this open secret in the wine community that if you want the ultimate $15 bottle of bubbly, you go for Gruet.

Wow, 15 bucks.
It can range from $12-$20.*

There’s that old commercial featuring Atlanta Braves pitcher Greg Maddux and St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire, where Maddux quips “Chicks dig the long ball.” Last question: Should chicks actually dig the wine guy?
Yes, and I think they do, because I think—and it works for both sexes—someone who takes the time to learn just a little bit more [about wine], it sends the message that maybe you care a little more about quality and aesthetics.

*In Oldman’s book, he has a laundry list of other great affordable picks—that you’ll obviously have to get by buying his book. Buy it here.

—Will Levith for RealClearLife


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