Sunday, May 31, 2009

Lewis Black on Wine

The problem with so much wine journalism is that it's a conversation between a wine professional and a wine expert. It's all very safe and insular and wonky, full of conventional wisdom and tired dogma. Yawn. (Actually, that's the problem with journalism of every stripe.)

That's why I like talking to outsiders about wine. And comedian Lewis Black is about as outside as your can get.

Here's the interviews I conducted with the unbridled Black for Wine Spectator:

Wine Talk: Lewis Black
Apoplectic "Daily Show" comedian is a big !$@%-ing wine fan

By Robert Simonson

Lewis Black began his show business career as a playwright, writing more than 40 plays before he discovered his true niche as a stand-up comedian with a knack for red-faced sarcasm and apoplectic fury at the follies of mankind. He makes regular appearances on Comedy Central's The Daily Show, was nominated for an Emmy Award for his 2006 HBO special Red, White, and Screwed, and received a Grammy award for Best Comedy Album for 2007's The Carnegie Hall Performance. Black recently spoke with Wine Spectator about how red wine has found its way into his kitchen, his tour bus and his dressing room.

Wine Spectator: Who first introduced you to wine?
Lewis Black: The real introduction came from my brother, who has since passed away. He lived in France, working for a company that used to exist called Digital Equipment Corporation. We traveled to St.-Émilion. I started thinking, "Oh, this is why he moved here." He's one of the first people I knew who got a barrel; this was 15 years ago.

WS: What kind of wines do you like best?
LB: It's tough for me not to like a wine.

WS: What about white Zinfandel?
LB: True, but I drank it at one time, early on. When I was in late-stage high school, my friends and I didn't like beer. We drank Manischewitz, to be honest. When Gallo came out with those jumbo bottles, we drank that. We did Lancers, Boone's Farm. The first time I thought I'd moved on to something better was with [sacramental wine] Cribari.

WS: Now that you're more sophisticated in your tastes, what do you drink?
LB: I like the Ribera del Duero wines. Most of my friends like the French and California wines, and I bring in these Spanish wines. I do like California Cabernets. The Robert Foley Claret, I'm mad for that. I like Malbecs. The horrifying thing about wine is you'll try a $15 Malbec and say, "Well, that's a very good-tasting bottle of $15 wine." But then if you try a more expensive Malbec, you'll think "Holy shit!"

WS: So you're a red wine man?
LB: I lean toward red. In whites, I like the Sauvignon Blancs of New Zealand. And here's why I like them—and this is psychotic, but it's true. Many of them have a slight grapefruit taste, and I feel like it's really kind of a breakfast drink.

WS: I heard you have a private barrel at the new Manhattan urban winery, City Winery.
LB: Yes. I also bid on an Australian wine dinner. I actually went to Australia, and, you know what? They're cheating! When I was in Australia, it was like "You guys are keeping the good stuff!" You try their wines down there and you say, "Really? THAT'S a Shiraz. Screw you! That is not what you're selling us!" That was an eye-opener.

WS: Do you collect?
LB: I collect only on a vague level. The problem is I collect and then I drink it! I just think, "Look what I've got!" I have a tour bus when I work. On the bus we have a wine refrigerator. And comedians usually have a rider in their performance contract, so I usually ask for a bottle of wine wherever I perform. Initially, I just asked for a bottle of red wine. And then I realized, "I can't get bottle after bottle of Kendall-Jackson wine!" So I revised the rider and made it a $40 to $50 bottle of wine.

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