Lewis Black arrives at Brooklyn Winery a little after two P.M. on a Tuesday. I introduce myself and explain that we’ll taste a flight of some of the urban winery’s best products, get his thoughts on each, and perhaps learn a thing or two about him in the process. “Yeah, you’ll learn that it’s too early for me to be drinking,” he mutters as he removes his coat. “And that spitting thing is bullshit.”
The Grammy Award–winning comedian, New York Times best-selling author, and Daily Show contributor has one résumé credit few are aware of: amateur wine connoisseur.
“I drank cheap [wine] in college, and then I went to Scotch,” explains Black of the first steps of his journey. “By the time Scotch took off, I was done with it. ‘Oh really, the Glenmorangie that was $12 a bottle is now $50? Fuck you.’”
Disillusioned with the brown stuff, Black found wine again when his brother—who had lived in France for five years—started buying French wine by the case. “He bought a quarter barrel of this Bordeaux from Saint-Émilion. And to us, it was like, ‘What, are you fucking kidding me?’ Literally, like a hundred bottles came to his apartment in New York.”
But Black was soon hooked, eventually going so far as to rent property at Château Valandraud in Saint-Émilion and inviting guests to visit and drink with him. “My friends are separated along the lines of being relaxed and uptight. . . . The ones who didn’t give me shit were great, and then the other assholes, I’d point to a car and go, ‘There’s the car. Fuckin’ do whatever you want.’”
So here we are at Brooklyn Winery, where Black is looking forward to a tasting flight, having recently enjoyed a glass of the winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon during a Nets game at the Barclay Center. Following a brief tour led by winemaker Conor McCormack, Black and his longtime friend Steve Olsen—owner of New York City’s West Bank Café and another of Black’s wine-loving influences—sit down to sample some of the stellar beverages McCormack proudly makes in Williamsburg, New York.
II. THE SCARY POINT
Next is a 2013 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, also from the Finger Lakes, but fermented in used French barrels to slowly expose the wine to oxygen.
“This gets to my scary point,” Black reveals, as the wine—which he ultimately enjoys very much —is almost too oaky for his taste.
“What else gets you to your scary point?” I ask him.
“When I go, Really? I drank two bottles by myself?!”
III. WORKING ON IT
“This I couldn’t do,” says Black of Brooklyn’s Skin Fermented Chardonnay, a white wine naturally fermented on its skins with wild yeast. The orangish wine is tart—bordering on funky—and even McCormack admits that the wine polarizes customers.
“Keep working on it,” Black says to McCormack before letting out a wheezy chuckle.
Black worked on honing his own style for decades, having not gone full-time as a professional comic until he was well over 40 years old. But things did move fairly quickly once he began touring in the early 90s: “You take what I’m doing now, and double the energy and double the yelling—who was gonna fucking follow that?” he contends. “About six months into it, they just started headlining me.”
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