Wine connoisseurs are all too frequently maligned for a certain self-seriousness, fomenting imagery of stodgy aristocrats in three-piece suits with spit buckets at the ready. Marissa A. Ross is here to disavow the world of these obsolete stereotypes. A former comedian and assistant to Mindy Kaling, Ross is now an L.A. based wine writer who infuses her prose with playfulness, spilling nary a drop of expertise in the process. An accessible approach played a key role in the development of Wine.all the time. — her ongoing web series and blog, and her writings in Bon Appétit Magazine where she’s the wine editor. Sometimes irreverent but always smart, Ross is far more likely to go for the cheap wine than the cheap laugh.
This June, she graduates from wine writer to wine author with the release of her first book: Wine. All The Time — The Casual Guide to Confident Drinking. As the subtitle suggests, Ross promises to impart knowledge without taking herself too seriously. She is a comedian, after all. She spoke to VinePair about her new book, her favorite people to drink with, and, of course, wine.
How did you get into wine?
I used to have a personal blog, mostly about music and making fun of myself and my life in Echo Park, but I was always drinking cheap wine. It accidentally became “my thing,” and inseparable from my comedy, whether it was social media or on stage. In 2011, my friend Molly McAleer started Hello Giggles and suggested I do a video series reviewing all the shitty wine I drank. While it started as a joke, I ended up really enjoying it. But after reviewing eleven bottles of grocery store wines under 10 bucks, I realized they all tasted the same. And so in 2012 I started “Wine. All The Time” to explore new wines and write about them.
Talk to us about your new book. How did it come together, and who is your intended audience?
I consider my book the beginner’s wine book I was looking for five years ago and couldn’t find. Everything seemed very overwhelming or boring to me when I was first getting into wine and didn’t have much knowledge or experience. I wanted to create something that gave people exactly what they need to know to start drinking better right now, something that was a bit of a springboard if they decided they wanted to dive deeper, and something that was fun to read. My intended audience is anyone who is interested in having a better understanding of wine, and also laughing a bit while doing it.
On your website it says you have no qualifications to write about wine aside from the fact that you drink it all the time. Clearly this is an exaggeration. But have you ever felt intimidated as you entered this realm?
Well, these days I have a few more qualifications [laughs]. And absolutely, it’s been intimidating. Because when I was just writing about wine for myself, for fun and for my love of wine, I never really had to care about “the wine industry.” But when it became my job, I became a part of the industry and most people in the industry have very different histories and experiences with wine than I do. And many believe that without certain experiences you’re not qualified to be a part of it. Also, people can just be assholes, regardless of what line of work you’re in.
Have you felt added challenges being a woman in this sphere?
Yes. But they’re the same challenges women face in everything. As a woman, you are constantly questioned, judged, and both minimized and dramatized. I don’t think people would call it “cute” that I wrote a book if I was a man, nor do I think I would be criticized for using profanity, sexual innuendos, or chugging from the bottle.
Your book is subtitled, ‘the casual guide to confident drinking.’ What recommendations do you have for folks that want to get more into wine, but feel overwhelmed by the process?
Definitely get my book! [laughs] That’s what it’s here for!
What's that? I have wine trickling down my face? AND YOU HAVEN'T PREORDERED MY BOOK?! GAHHH, WE BOTH REALLY NEED TO GET OUR SHIT TOGETHER. YOU PREORDER MY BOOK NOW (LINK IN BIO OR AMAZON THAT SHIT) AND I WILL WORK ON GETTING MORE WINE IN MY MOUTH. 🍷📚🥂 Reminder: this book will teach you how wine is made, how to taste wine, how to buy wine, and everything else I think you need to know, like how to drink with your family and not kill them. Photo by @andyjscott. H/M by @sydney_costley. #wineallthetimethebook
People compare wine flavors to some truly bizarre things. What are some of your favorite tasting notes of all time? Both that you’ve read or written?
I don’t know if I have any favorites of all time. Yesterday I wrote that the Tschida Himmel auf Erden rosé tasted like “an orgy of cranberries tag-teaming nectarines, red currants feeling up pithy grapefruits, and that guy Brett hanging out not quite ready to commit, but definitely in the mix.” I liked that one. I like all of them that are fun to write, and fun to read.
Who are your favorite people to drink with, and why?
Oh, there are so many! I love drinking with my husband because we can just shoot the shit about tasting notes and have fun. I love winemakers, chefs, and experienced drinkers that are very passionate but also open to conversation. And I love people who know nothing about wine but want to know more. I just love having good conversations with people.
What are some of your favorite bottles and varietals, and why?
Gamay is my absolute favorite, to a fault. I can’t help it! I love it so much! It’s just so juicy and tart and drinkable. I’m a big Foillard fan. This is so hard, but some of my other favorite bottles that I love are Vini Rabasco Cancelli Rosso (and Rosato!), Partida Creus Garrut, Brendan Tracey ‘Wah-Wah’ red blend, and Cruse’s Valdiguié Pet-Nat. I love wines that just taste like bottled fireworks that pop off in my heart, and all those do. And many others! I really only write about wines that make me feel something very intensely.
How does one review a wine, objectively? And how do you feel about points systems?
I don’t know, honestly. Of course we can review a wine based on whether or not it’s made well, whether it has flaws, but wine is so subjective. I catch a lot of flack for it, but it’s why I don’t write negative reviews. There’s plenty of things I don’t like that most other people do; I don’t want to hate on people for enjoying whatever they’re enjoying. I’d much rather just show people what I enjoy and if they enjoy it, too, great!
I “get” point systems, but believe they are problematic because they are used to market wines to consumers who don’t know where the points are coming from or why they are deducted, nor do they have the same palates as those that are judging. So they’re just blindly judging a wine by a number given by some dude.
How would you compare writing about comedy to writing about wine? What about your background in comedy has helped the most for wine writing?
They have a lot in common, at least for me. Writing comedy and writing about wine are both really hard to do in a way that is both intelligent and entertaining. They also both take a lot of vulnerability and ego. You have to have the confidence to put yourself and your opinions out there knowing someone is probably going to shit all over you.
My background in comedy has helped me the most in wine because I don’t take myself too seriously. I take what I do seriously, but I can laugh at myself, as well as at wine culture and the industry.
Correction: A former version of this story mistakenly called Ross a comedian. She is a former comedian.