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Wine Talk: Peter Sagal

NPR host provides intelligent humor on the air, but he keeps it simple—and wallet-friendly—when it comes to wine

Eric Arnold
Posted: May 23, 2006

Peter Sagal, 41, is the host of NPR's hour-long comedy quiz show Wait Wait … Don't Tell Me! Each week, Sagal leads a live audience and a varied group of guest panelists--ranging from Paula Poundstone and Mo Rocca to Richard Roeper and P.J. O'Rourke--through a series of games testing their knowledge of the previous week's headlines. The show has been on the air for eight years, but it wasn't until a recent broadcast that Sagal admitted he has a fondness for inexpensive wines with pictures of animals on the labels. Though he learned to love cheap red wine while traveling through France with his wife, Sagal will reach for expensive wines when the occasion calls for it.

Wine Spectator: How did you first get interested in wine?
Peter Sagal: Like a lot of Jewish kids, I grew up associating wine with Manischewitz. It was just horrendous. But a year or so out of college, some friends of mine had a Seder, and they had some kosher wine that wasn't Manischewitz. It was actually good. Then, moving to L.A., I discovered the glory that is Trader Joe's. Even before the rise of Two-Buck Chuck, we all knew that you could go in there and a get a bottle for $4. I was just a typical young adult in L.A., just drinking cheap red wine. But I only started to get appreciative of good wine when my wife and I took our honeymoon, which was driving around France and Italy.

WS: What did you find there?
PS: What we'd do is drive around little towns. Wherever we went, we'd go to the local supermarket and buy a bottle of wine with the name of the town on it. And it was always fantastically good and usually very inexpensive. One of the most memorable bottles we had was in a town called Beaumes-de-Venise, which is in the south of France. We went to the supermarket, bought some sausages and chesses, some paper cups and a bottle of Beaumes-de-Venise red wine. It was like 15 francs. We sat on the side of the road and drank it, and it was fantastic. And as soon as we got back to the States we started looking around for this bottle of wine, and we could never find it. Years later, in one of the nicer restaurants in Chicago, they actually had a red wine from Beaumes-de-Venise. And it was some insane price, $100 or something. But we got it anyway, just to have it. And it wasn't as good as we remembered.

WS: What kinds of wine do you usually buy?
PS: Sadly, even though I've had in my life some great bottles of wine, I'm still a great believer in the glory of cheap red wine. Later on, after that honeymoon, my wife and I got to live in France for a few months in a town called Cassis. I remember going to a winery festival, and people filling big plastic bottles of red wine out of a big vat. We love that. We think wine should be like that. Though I occasionally indulge. When our third daughter was born I bought my wife a really good bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. And like everyone else, I'll buy a decent bottle of real Champagne when the occasion arises. But I'm still a great believer in cheap wine. I think we need more of it.

WS: Out of all the wines you have at home, what percentage have animals on the labels?
PS: It ranges anywhere from 10 to 50 percent at any given time, depending on which child goes with me to Trader Joe's, which is really the determining factor. "Get the frog, papa!" We also became big fans of Zinfandel because of a restaurant [in Chicago] called Zinfandel that specializes in that on their wine list. One of our rules of thumb is that Zinfandels with Jewish names are the best ones …Cline, Rosenblum.

WS: What's your favorite wine?
PS: We have a particular enthusiasm for a particular vintage of Bandol from a vineyard called Domaine Tempier. Whenever we have a particular thing, I often order or try to find that wine. It's expensive [compared with what I usually buy] and hard to find.

WS: Do you ever imbibe with your panelists? What wines do they like?
PS: Some of our ladies tend to go for white wine. Amy Dickinson ordered a Pinot Grigio from the bar [where we went after the show]. But the men tend to be liquor drinkers, particularly P.J. O'Rourke, who is one of the greatest drinkers I've ever known. He flew out to Chicago to do our show, and I went to the bar afterwards, and he got in there first and was already nursing a scotch. I said, 'This is a dream come true to have a drink with P.J. O'Rourke. But I gotta tell ya, in my fantasy, you and I were both drinking martinis.' He looked at his scotch, downed it in one gulp, and turned to the waiter and said, 'Two martinis, please!'

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