Comedic actress Rachel Dratch, 47, is best known as part of the cast of television's Saturday Night Live from 1999 to 2006. In 2012, she published a memoir, Girl Walks Into a Bar …: Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters and a Midlife Miracle, that details her experiences in the entertainment industry and the birth of her son Eli, whose father, John, works in wine and food sales. A thread of wine appreciation runs throughout the book, which has recently been released in paperback. Wine Spectator spoke with Dratch about matching palates with Larry Stone, challenging know-it-all waiters and Manischewitz.
Wine Spectator: How did you become interested in wine? Was it the time spent in high school hanging out with the jocks and the kids who would drink in the woods, as you described in Girl Walks Into a Bar…?
Rachel Dratch: Well, some of us—the girls, really—would drink Riunite. And then, you know when you're in college and you drink beer all the time, and it's disgusting? As an adult I was liberated by the idea that I could drink wine and enjoy it. So really, appreciating good wine was about avoiding beer.
John, on one of our first dates, took me to San Francisco for a food and wine festival, and we did the whole package. One of the events was a wine-tasting seminar with Larry Stone and Rajat Parr. As you would taste, you were supposed to write down your impressions of what you were tasting. I kept being all proud of myself because I'd write down what I was tasting, and then Larry and Rajat would say the same words. I kept turning to John and saying something like, "This is a chewy red," and then Larry Stone would say, "This is a chewy red," and I'd get all excited. It made me feel like I kind of had a good palate for wine tasting.
WS: Do your vacations tend to revolve around wine?
RD: I've gone on a few trips to Napa and Sonoma with my girlfriends. We just taste at a few vineyards every day, and that's how I've continued my wine education. On one trip to Healdsburg we had paella from this guy Gerard [Nebesky], who specializes in making huge paellas for vineyards, and on that same trip we went to MacPhail and Pax. One of the guys we were with knew the winemakers at those two wineries, so we went and sorted some grapes and pulled out some twigs and got to sort of peek behind the scenes. And on a Napa trip, we'd ordered a bottle of Davis Family Cabernet Sauvignon in a restaurant, and it was so good that I mentioned it to John. And when I got back to New York he had a case shipped to me.
WS: You included an anecdote about drinking an occasional glass of wine during pregnancy in your book.
RD: Yeah, once in a while I'd have a glass, but then it became sort of a moot point for me because I had such bad heartburn. But I was open to the occasional glass. And one night I was out with [fellow Saturday Night Live alum] Amy Poehler, and she was about a month and a half ahead of me in pregnancy, and just way more visibly pregnant than I was. So the waiter says, "Would you ladies like anything to drink?" And then he turned to Amy and said, "You can't have any!" and she just glared at him and said, "Yes, I can!" and proceeded to order a glass of wine.
WS: What types of wines do you gravitate toward when you're buying for yourself?
RD: I really like California and Oregon wines. I find them to be a lot smoother and easier-drinking. But I always used to go to this Italian restaurant, Supper, before I had a kid. They have an all-Italian wine list and so there I'd drink Dolcetto, Primitivo and Montepulciano [d'Abruzzo]. And when I drink white wine, I usually get Pinot Grigio, though now I feel a bit self-conscious ordering it because of Ramona [Singer], on The Real Housewives of New York City. She has made me feel that when I order Pinot Grigio, I may as well be ordering white Zinfandel.
WS: Where else do you like to drink wine and eat in New York?
RD: I like Babbo if I'm going fancy. And I like this little restaurant in the East Village called Pylos. It's kind of like a gourmet Greek place; the chef is Greek and they have an all-Greek wine list. And Pierre Loti is a little place near me that I like. They have a pretty good wine list, and over the summer I had this weekly rosé date with a friend of mine, like a little mommy happy hour.
WS: In your book, you talked about taking John to a Passover Seder for the first time and being a little concerned that some of the traditions of the holiday may be confusing or off-putting for an outsider. Does that trepidation extend to kosher wine?
RD: Oh my god, the Manischewitz! I guess I've never had the chance to try good kosher wine. (See recently rated, recommended kosher wines.) I've only ever had Manischewitz, just a little sip when I was a kid, and then not again for years and years. Recently, I tried it again and it was like, "What? Why are we doing this? It's like gefilte fish. We're not reeling anyone in with this stuff. This stuff can't compete with chocolate eggs and jellybeans."