Meet the Comedy Writer Who Reviews Wine When She’s Not Working for Mindy Kaling

“I want teach people about wine in a way that’s not so snobby.” Photo: Josh Fuss

Over the years, wine has gotten Marissa Ross through some tough times as she’s tried to make it as a comedy writer in Los Angeles, but through her “Wine Time” web series and blog, where she reviews specific bottles, she’s been able to carve out a niche for herself. (Ross has also worked as Mindy Kaling’s personal assistant for over three years.) Her reviews and “Ask a Wino” sessions are funny, first and foremost, but what makes her show great is the seriousness with which Ross approaches the bottles. Above all, Ross wants to make young people confident wine drinkers and buyers — without being snobby or pretentious about it. It’s nothing if not a noble pursuit, so we called her up to chat about her project.

How did you first become interested in wine, and what motivated you start the video series?
I was a mess when I first moved to L.A., and I had insane roommates from Craigslist. I was blogging and doing a lot of comedy writing, and wine became a main character in my content. I would always drink wine and write. It started out like, “Hey, you have $4 to your name, you live in Los Angeles, what’s the best way to get drunk and forget that you live here?”

When my good friend Molly McAleer started HelloGiggles, she asked me to be of the first ten writers on the site, and do some video content. I didn’t know what I was going to do, and she said, “You’re always drinking different wines — why don’t you review them?” I shot videos for her once a week, and then I realized that because the site’s audience become more teenage-heavy, it probably wasn’t appropriate for me to be cussing and telling young girls to chug wine. I didn’t want to be a shitty role model! Well, not that I think of myself as a role model … but I don’t want to be an asshole to young girls and give them bad ideas. So then I started my own site! That was in 2012.

How has it evolved over the years? It seems like you’ve gotten pretty serious about the actual wine.
As I’ve gotten older, it has become less about me putting myself and my day-to-day life on the internet. I made the decision that I wanted to be a part of the conversation that is wine. And you get a little older, you get some more money, and you stop drinking shit. Not to say that I’m too good for grocery-store wines, but grocery-store wines and wine-store wines are just so different, and now I feel like I have the social responsibility to be like, “Hey, take that $10 you were going to spend at Ralph’s and get a beautiful bottle of wine for $12. You don’t have to drink that sugary bullshit!”

I feel like the reason that people continue to drink that way is because they don’t know any better. So when I started learning that I could go to a wine store and still buy great wines at great prices, I really wanted to tell people about that, so I think that that’s shaped the content, too.

Is “Wine Time” your main focus now?
I still work for Mindy. I’m actually wandering around her house right now! And I still do comedy writing. Everyone in L.A. wants to be a comedy writer, and you have to to be the absolute best of the best. Last year, after I went out for staffing, I worked on a campaign with Gia Coppola’s wine. It was so much more fun. Writing and being funny with wine is something no one else is doing, and I get to pave my own way and do my own thing. I don’t have to write a workplace comedy to send to ABC. I can write whatever I want and I’m the only one doing it!

I think it’s brilliant, because there’s definitely a need for accessible, playful content about wine — and alcohol in general.
Totally. There are two schools: the know-it-alls and the people that are like, “I know nothing.” I just love the idea of bridging those two worlds. I don’t even think that people really mean to be assholes about wine, but it has this thing about it. People can be so off-putting and drop every single vocabulary word possible. It’s ugly to me! Oh, you didn’t know that about vintage culture? Oh, can you tell me about that barrel process again?’

What’s your process of selecting which wines to review?
My mission is to teach people to be confident wine drinkers and confident wine buyers. And I find the best way to do that is to just walk into my local wine store and ask, “What’s new? What are you drinking?” Because they’re paid to drink wine all day and I’m not. Most times, I like what they pick. Although, I have to be honest: A lot of times I just buy wine based on the labels. I’ll be like, “That label is awesome — I really need this!” And then wine isn’t so great, but it’s still really pretty! I try never to buy the same bottle twice. But of course I have my house staples that I love.

Such as?
A cheap white wine that I keep in my house as my summer go-to is called Orlana Vinho Verde, and it’s at Whole Foods for $8.99. It’s the lightest, crispest wine with just the right amount of effervescence, so it’s super refreshing, and I can drink it all day. It’s like almost problematic how good it is.

And then I love this wacky red wine called R13. It smells like jasmine horse manure on moldy redwood. People are like, “What the hell?” but then you drink it and it tastes almost like a sour beer. I love that because it’s really tangy and light; it’s natural. It’s just under $20, so it’s not crazy, and it always blows people’s minds because it does smell so weird.

I always like to just have, like, a good California light red, like a nice Pinot. I love Broc Cellars’ stuff. You never know when someone’s going to pop by, and you always want to have something that you love and you know someone else is going to enjoy with you.

Do you have a suggestion for a wine to give as a gift when you’re trying to impress someone?
Right now, my go-to to seem impressive is a Malbec. ‘Cause everyone loves Malbecs right now! And people who don’t know anything about wine like saying that they drink a Malbec. It sounds exotic, but it’s not. People that don’t even drink are like, “Have you ever tried Malbec?” I’m like, “Yes, I’ve tried a Malbec, sweetie.”

Oh yeah, you need to throw in a “sweetie” if someone talks down to you like that.
I drink wine all the time — of course I’ve had a Malbec. They’re delicious! So that’s my go-to. love Pinots, too, but that’s just me.

I think your series works so well because, while it’s funny and goofy, you also clearly know your stuff.
Thank you! I try to fight the side of me that is constantly proving that I do know about wine. People are like, “You’re just some comedy writer who drinks wine.” No, I actually know what I’m talking about! I’ve done this a lot, and I I work pretty hard at it.

It’s also a male-driven industry — alcohol, in general.
Yes, yes, I agree. It reminds me of the entertainment industry in that way. There’s a lot of men, and it’s sometimes hard to be taken seriously.

So where do you hope to take this video series?
How do I say this without saying too much? I am working on a new project, and I just want to put this on a larger scale. I feel like the internet has become pretty insular, and it’s hard to reach bigger audiences now. There are so many people that really do want to know about wine, it’s just that they don’t know how, and it’s not easily approachable. Ideally, I still want to be a television comedy writer, so the main goal is to eventually combine the two, get on television, and actually make some real money.

What do you think of the food shows currently on TV?
I’ve learned so much about food from Top Chef, and I don’t cook. Like, I do not touch food. I mean, I eat it like crazy, but I do not cook at all, and I know a lot about cooking now from watching it. I feel like the world could really benefit from something like that, but with wine. Everyone drinks it all the time, but most have no idea what they’re doing! They just go into the store, and are like, “All right, I’ll buy Yellowtail because this is what I’ve always done.” I want teach people about wine in a way that’s not so snobby.

It’s especially helpful for people in their 20s, when they’re abandoning their college-age drinking habits and starting to pay more attention to alcohol.
That’s so true. In college, people just chug alcohol to get drunk, and as you get older, your drinking habits change. You’re not going to drink Charles Shaw and enjoy it. A lot of people don’t sit presently with their wine, you know? I always say, “If you just drink your wine and think about it, what do you taste? Like, really, what do you taste?” And then they know what they like. Maybe it’s plush, low-tannins, California reds. Or whatever. It’s just because I got them to talk about it instead of just guzzling it. And really taste it.

Would you ever dabble in reviewing other spirits?
I’ve thought about it, but my whole thing with wine is that it’s really special to open up a bottle and share it. It’s a shared subjective experience. I don’t really have that special relationship with whiskey. I love whiskey, but I get in trouble every time I drink it. I don’t get into trouble when I drink wine. But I love drinking, so, sure I probably would. Wine’s my true love, though! It’s my soul mate. I love it so much. I just love all of it.

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