Outdoor Entertaining Tips with Marissa A. Ross.
To know her is to love wine. You may have become familiar with Marissa Ross as Bon Appetit’s resident wine editor. Perhaps you stumbled across her witty, irreverent Instagram profile. Or maybe you’ve read her recently published book — Wine. All the time. The Casual Guide to Confident Drinking. — a guide and a treatise on drinking great wine because it’s… fun. Whether you’ve met her on the Internet or are about to meet her right now, Marissa knows a thing or two about throwing a party. We sat down in her sunny LA backyard to chat about how she got into wine writing, her favorite way to drink, and a few choice tips for hosting the perfect summer barbecue.
Hey there Marissa! Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today. Let’s start with the basics: can you tell us who you are and what you do?
Absolutely. I’m the author of a book called Wine. All the time. as well as the wine editor at Bon Appetit magazine. My thing is that I write about natural wine, and my goal in life is to help people learn about that — to help people drink better.
You focus on a specific type of wine: all natural. Natural wine didn’t become a widely known term until pretty recently — can you tell us a bit more about how you got into wine in the first place?
It’s kind of a winding story. I dropped out of college and moved to LA to be a comedy writer and performer. When I made that move I had zero dollars and I could only afford to drink two-buck-chuck. I became known as this comedy writer who always was drinking cheap wine.
My friend Molly started [the website] HelloGiggles around this time and wanted this two-buck-chuck thing to be a video series. To prepare, I studied “how” to taste wine, but didn’t study what I was most excited about — what makes wine so good and interesting. For the series I would review these wines under $10, but pretty quickly came to realize that all wines under $10 taste the same. So started attending all these tastings at wine stores [near my home in LA]. I loved the wines and in my mind it was like “holy moly it’s crazy how great $15 wine was compared to $10 wine.” I didn’t know it at the time, but I was mostly drinking natural wine at these tastings. I’d go home and write about these wines that I was trying, and didn’t know I was writing about natural wine. I came upon that information well after writing about it.
[Natural wine] isn’t regulated. People in the industry define it as having “as little added and as little taken away.” That means no herbicides, no pesticides, often no irrigation either — farmers are relying on nature to get their plants watered. Nothing added or taken away in the cellar, either. A lot of people don’t realize there are a hundred approved additives and agents that go into commercial wine that won’t be listed on the label. The producers don’t have to tell you the ingredient list. I wanted to know what I was consuming. Nobody thinks about wine as an agricultural product, but everyone thinks about kale
I genuinely believe natural wine better for the environment, the consumer, and for small businesses.
Your writing focuses on how wine makes you feel. When you’re hosting a party, what kind of wine do you pick to set the mood?
To start I like to serve a sparkling wine. A lot of people think [sparkling wine is] just for celebrating. Sure, but why not celebrate everyday? Celebrate being with your friends and having a good time. Plus, sparkling wine makes people feel excited. The other great thing about sparkling wine is that the bubbles and acidity gets peoples mouths watering, and scrub their palettes. It’s perfect for making people excited to eat something delicious.
After that bubbles I typically move into a white wine. I’m a little traditional in this way. A nice white with high acidity — maybe like an unoaked Chardonnay, or something else light and fun, like a Vinho Verde. Lots of acid. Or rosé! If I’m going with rosé, I’m keeping it on the lighter side. I want it to be a transition bottle from the scrubby bubbles of the sparkling.
Next up: a light red. Light reds are my jam. If it’s 12% alcohol and a light red I’m probably going to love it. Everyone loves drinking them: they’re great in summertime with a light chill, but they’re also great at room-temperature. They’re also super versatile and go with everything you’re cooking.
Then by that point it’s the time of the evening when I’m going to open up something I shouldn’t… I always have wines I’m “saving,” which never get saved. I used to write myself notes that were like “don’t open this! you’re going to regret it tomorrow!” But love opening something exciting at the end of the night and surprising everyone.
How do you prepare to host a party? What’s the first thing and the last thing you do before guests arrive?
I’m a pretty gnarly hostess. I’m really obsessive about my house, which I get from my clean-freak mom. So first, I clean the whole house. I want it to feel clean, comfortable and comforting.
Second, I locate all of my wine openers. They always get lost or accidentally pocketed, so I go through my house and all my purses and get all the corkscrews together. You always need at least two wine openers on hand. Someone will lose one or take one, always.
Next up: glassware. I’m not big on changing glasses for different types of wine. I’m very much a universal glass girl. If the party is outside, I’m not doing glass at all — especially since I have dogs. If it’s an indoor party I definitely go with my normal glassware, and I make sure they’re all clean — some might break! I also hide the ones I don’t want anyone using.
Then I get to chilling my wines. I keep everything in my wine fridge until about an hour before guests arrive and then I put them in my big refrigerator to chill further.
I can’t believe I left this until now: it’s so important to have a good playlist going. How music affects how people taste wine and wrote about it in my book too and it interests me because I love music so much. It’s important to have the right music when people come in. In the evening I like to have it more jazzy, high acid wines and happier music goes really well with this kind of upbeat wine.
Can you describe — in indulgent detail — your perfect summer barbecue?
It’s now possible because of my new modern outdoor patio set from Article! Okay, picture this:
A group of ten friends over outside in my cool Article zone. We’ve set up an outdoor projector and are playing a favorite movie for ambience. Something easy that you don’t have to pay much attention to, like Dazed and Confused, or Jaws.
On the mid-century accent table, a big bucket of all my favorite wines being cooled down. We’ve got sparkling stuff, skin contact wines, light reds. My husband is making cheeseburgers for everyone, and we’re outside laughing nad talking. Being able to enjoy yourself with your friends — and with wine — is so wonderful.
To end the night we’ll play a round of glow-in-the-dark Bocce. As mentioned, I might open up a special bottle…
That probably inspired a lot of our readers. If they’re interested in getting into wine — natural or otherwise — what’s the best way to start?
I wrote Wine All the Time. because when I started getting into wine there was no introductory book. Just textbooks. The book is meant to be a resource for people who want to start to drink better right now. It covers the basics, like how wine is made, how to buy wine, how to avoid gambling at the wine store. Here are my top tips for getting into wine:
Shop at a wine store. A specialty store — not Trader Joe’s. Wine shops focus on wines of quality and tend to favor smaller producers. These are the people who are passionate about great wine!
Talk to the people that work there. They want to help you! Even if your local wine store doesn’t have natural wine, you’ll be able to find more unique options that still manage to support small producers. I know it can be intimidating to talk to people, but the more you do it, the more great wine you’ll end up with.
Use this great conversation starter. If you don’t know where to begin, use my favorite opener. I would ask the attendant was new and fun, and what they liked! They’ll probably be very excited to share their favorites with you. If you do have a specific wine you’re looking for, ‘hey I’m having this for dinner, is there anything you’d recommend for that?’
It’s key to not be afraid to tell them your price points. There’s great wine at every price point. Now get out there and buy some wine!