Oenophiles, or hardcore wine enthusiasts, tend to operate under the assumption that everyone cares about wine as much as they do. They use phrases like “typicity” and “residual sugar,” and they’re overly concerned if anyone is drinking anything too sweet or peppery or acidic, as if everyone’s palate is perfectly balanced and attuned to those flavors.
Most people, myself included, wouldn’t know a floral note if it punched them in the face. That’s why I’m thankful that Marissa A. Ross exists to educate us.
Ross is a comedian, writer, and personal assistant from Los Angeles, whose wine-reviewing webseries, “Wine Time,” brings the joy back into being a wine enthusiast. Ross isn’t a card-carrying oenophile, but unlike most wine lovers, she knows you can be enthusiastic about something without having a master’s degree in it. She also never forgets what wine’s primary function is: getting you drunk.
On her webseries, Ross offers some good advice on that front, as well as how to cure the inevitable hangover that comes afterward. “First, you have to make sure it’s a day you don’t have work…Then smoke a bunch of weed, drink a bunch of water, eat a slice of pizza, and go back to bed. Then two hours later when you wake up, you will repeat the process of smoking weed, drinking water, eating pizza, but then add a Coca-Cola,” she advises. If you’re feeling experimental, she adds, you can switch out the pizza “for Thai food, or a burrito.”
Thinking seriously about wine doesn’t come naturally to Ross. Growing up, she says wine was just something the adults drank at parties, but her parents were never the kind to let their kids indulge at the dinner table.
When Ross moved to LA as an adult, she found solace from her crazy roommates with Two-Buck Chuck, which she says is the best way to get drunk on a dime.
“I’d hole up in my room with the wine and blog and write and apply for LA casting, and ignore the crazy hoarder, heroin addict, Craigslist hooker that was my roommate,” she told me over the phone.
At some point, however, Ross realized that wine was more than just the best possible option for a cheap buzz. She says she came to this realization while she was preparing to go to a dinner party where, she says, she “knew bringing Charles Shaw was sort of a faux pas.” So she picked up a bottle of BR Cohn, “probably a Cabernet,” for around $15 instead.
“I really liked it! I liked the way it tasted, and not in a way where it just tasted better than rum,” she later told the Daily Dot. “I started wondering why I liked it, and [why it] was better, and that became a whole conversation.” Thus, Wine Time was born.
On her website, Marissa qualifies her advice by saying: “I have no qualifications to be reviewing wine aside from the fact that I drink it every day. So what I’m saying is, I’m very, very qualified.” It’s representative of the winking attitude she has toward her webseries and her audience: She knows a lot, but she doesn’t quite consider herself a typical oenophile.
“I really enjoy drinking it and learning about it, but I’d never call myself an expert,” she says. “I will always be a student of wine, and I think that anyone in the wine industry and has any sort of integrity knows they’re always going to be a student too.”
Hers is a novel perspective in the wine lover community, which generally has very specific requirements for who gets to enjoy wine, and how they get to enjoy it. On one side, you have those “experts” who insist on using “crazy language to make people feel unwelcome,” says Ross. On the other, you have the more informal “mommy juice” contingent. The assumption is that men take wine seriously and women don’t, and at face value Wine Time is about a woman not taking wine too seriously.
The gendered stereotypes people have about wine enthusiasts frustrate Ross to no end. “I hate that kitschy mom wine shit,” she says. “You’d never see a ‘daddy’s juice’ glass. It just affirms all these awful stereotypes that I want no part of.”
Ross hopes that Wine Time reminds people there’s a large middle ground out there, with people of all genders enjoying tasting new things. “Most of my life I’ve hung around with guys,” she says, “and guys who used to bring over just the hoppiest IPAs are now really into sharing wine. I know a lot of guys really into rose. I’m hoping it becomes more of a thing.”
Ross is still working on comedy—she has another webseries, Tangents & The Times—but she’s increasingly shifting her focus to Wine Time, in hopes that her efforts can change wine appreciation culture.
“We have these stereotypes because no one is saying we shouldn’t. The only things that people are saying about wine are either super snobby science stuff or ‘mommy’s drink time,’” she says. “Like, you’ve taken this enjoyable thing and totally distorted it. It’s a really unfair representation of wine culture.” She hopes to start a project that provides more in-depth coverage of the winemaking world and the characters therein, while still keeping Wine Time going.
If wine follows in craft beer’s footsteps, Ross’s timing might very well be fortuitous. While ten years ago, you’d never be able to find craft beer in your average grocery store, now you have every microbrewery competing for space, as well as Budweiser’s Super Bowl ads trying to combat the craft beer trend.
Ross says the explosive popularity of the craft beer trend has been “huge.” She hopes wine will ultimately follow in craft beer’s footsteps. “That’s when people will try something new and then want to learn more. Like that one time I spent $15 on a bottle and it made me want to research it, I hope that happens for everyone.” If anything, she’s making sure of it.
Photo via Marissa A. Ross/Twitter