What do you do if you like drinking wine, but know nothing about it? Well, if you’re in that boat right now you can do two things. First, check out the wine content here on The Manual (duh). Second — and the one to choose if you’re of the podcasting sort — is to listen to Ben Schwartz.
You probably know Ben Schwartz as one of the stars of House of Lies and Parks and Recreation (and soon to be the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog), but did you know that he also loves wine? He loves it, but for a long time, he’d say he knew next to nothing about it. That’s why when wine producer E & J Gallo approached him about hosting a new podcast, The Wine Down, he was all for it.
“At the beginning when I was drinking wine, it was whatever was the sweetest that I could get my hands on,” Schwartz says. “As I grew up, I began wanting some wine while I was eating or a little wine afterwards. It was always something I enjoyed, but knew nothing—truly nothing about.”
The Wine Down, which was produced by The Wine Dialogues, an arm of Gallo, has changed that. When they first approached him, they asked what he would do with it. Not knowing a ton, but still really enjoying the act of drinking wine, he knew exactly what he wanted to do.
He explains: “I’d get comedian friends and a wine expert and the three of us would chat. It’d be entertaining and people would learn stuff. We’d hope it’d take away the ‘snobbery’ of the wine world.”
The goal, he says, was to make anyone feel like they can learn about, talk about, and enjoy wine. To do so, he and his friends traveled to Napa to talk with an assortment of winemakers to learn about everything from the basics of red, white, and bubbly wines to how to pair wines with foods.
“We wanted to give an experience (going to Napa) that wasn’t necessarily readily available, especially in a podcast,” Schwartz says.
And the biggest thing he learned during the first season of the podcast? With a laugh he admits that it might seem simple to a lot of people.
“The thing that blew my mind was that it was such a scientific and a creative process. These winemakers are artists.”
They are artists, he says, in the way that comedians are comedians. In order to get where they are, they need to cut their teeth and climb ladders. You don’t just start at the top. Instead, you do a variety of jobs in numerous places, learning the art and the craft of what you’re doing.
On a practical side, Schwartz says that the best thing he learned was the most popular way to open a Champagne bottle.
“It blew my mind. It’ll change the way I approach sparkling and save myself embarrassment from now on,” he says. “It was as if someone had invented fire in front of us.”
On the drinking side of things, too, Schwartz says he’s learned a lot and his choices when he goes out to eat are now vastly different.
“I used to just hop on a red, but now I find myself challenging myself to try something new. We had an incredible winemaker, too, who suggested getting your wine first then seeing what you want to eat.”
Another thing Schwartz recommends? Having fun with it.
“If you just think about whether you like it or not and not try and dissect all of the other stuff, it takes away so much of the perceived pressure [of drinking wine with wine lovers].”
He may be playing around with wine more when he’s out, but we had to know what wine Schwartz would take if he were stuck on a desert island. After a few moments of silence, he’d come to a decision.
“Chardonnay … that was put in a nice toasty barrel.”
We’re right there with him, though we’d hope that there were more than a few barrels of it hanging out on the island with us (We’d probably cheat, too, and bring some whisky, because, like Boy Scouts, we, too, like to be prepared).
While you await what is to come next from The Wine Down, you can check out all seven episodes of the first season here.