Wine Talk: Sebastian Maniscalco Stays Thirsty

The comedian credits a man nicknamed "the Grape Ape" with teaching him about wine
Wine Talk: Sebastian Maniscalco Stays Thirsty
A first-generation Italian-American, Sebastian Maniscalco's got plenty of jokes about food culture. (Jon-Paul Bruno)
Apr 12, 2019

Like a fine super Tuscan wine, Sebastian Maniscalco has only gotten better with age. His comedy career began more than 20 years ago, but it’s only in the past few that his popularity has skyrocketed. A Chicago native raised in an Italian-immigrant family, Maniscalco, 45, centers his comedy on his upbringing, as well as his observations of everyday interactions in the world around him. From shopping at the local food store to Uber rides to raising his daughter, Serafina, with his wife, Lana, pretty much everything is fair game for Maniscalco.

His TV specials, including 2016’s Why Would You Do That?, 2014’s Aren’t You Embarrassed? and this year’s Stay Hungry, which debuted on Netflix in January, offer a glimpse into his popular standup comedy acts.

Most recently, Maniscalco joined an impressive cast that includes Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci in Martin Scorsese’s upcoming film The Irishman, which will be released this year.

But what does the comedian do to unwind from his fast-paced career? One favorite activity is enjoying a bottle of wine. Associate editor Gillian Sciaretta sat down with Maniscalco to discuss the wine misadventures of his younger days in L.A. and some of his wry observations on the world of wine and the people in it.

Todd Rosenberg
Maniscalco sold out Madison Square Garden for four shows in January.

Wine Spectator: In your book, Stay Hungry (Gallery Books, 2018), you mention that your father-in-law, Scott, who is nicknamed "the Grape Ape," really got you into wine. Can you elaborate on that?
Sebastian Maniscalco: Prior to meeting my wife’s family, I was not really educated in the wine world. I used to go to the grocery store and just pick out a random bottle of wine. But then after having the wines that Scott was pouring, my palate became a lot more familiar with what good wine is and what swill is. And he spoiled me with the fact that he was pouring some really, really nice bottles of wine for holidays and what have you.

We’d go out to a restaurant, and I didn’t know anything about the wine lists. But after years of being around him and knowing where the wine is coming from and what type of grape it is, what to expect, I started picking up the list when we went out.

WS: When you were starting your comedy career, you worked as a waiter at a bar in the Four Seasons Beverly Hills for many years. Did you serve a lot of wine?
SM: Every once in a while, you would get one of these guys that orders a nice bottle of wine. Now, I’m a little upset at myself that I didn’t take the job as seriously as I should have. Thomas Keller came in one night to give a food demonstration. And they asked me if I wanted to go, and I was like, “Eh, I’m not going to that.” I just didn’t know. I was very ignorant.

So there was one instance where a gentleman ordered a bottle of wine, like a 1980-something. All I remember is that it was expensive. And I presented the bottle, I opened it, and I was going to pour it. And the guy is like, “Do you want to decant that?” And I’m like, “Umm … Yeah! Yeah!” But the decanting process at the Four Seasons was also something I hadn’t mastered, because you had to put a light to the neck of the bottle so you can see the sediment. And I’m like, to myself, “Oh man …” I had to ask my manager.

Todd Rosenberg
Maniscalco at Radio City Music Hall

WS: Is there any particular wine out there that really resonates with you?
SM: For whatever the reason, I was introduced early on to Tignanello. And I really, really gravitated toward that wine. It’s a wine that I pick up every time I go to Wally’s [Beverly Hills]. So being Italian and whatnot, that wine has stuck with me and has been a staple in my—I don’t want to call it a collection because that means you have to collect, you don’t drink. I’m kind of ripping through these wines.

Also, we’re friends with the Colgins through my in-laws. So we’ve been up to their winery in Napa. After we got married in Napa, they hosted the brunch. They were kind enough to take us through their operation. So they always float us a bottle every once in a while. I try to hang on to it, but I am drinking everything that I have.

WS: You mentioned you buy wine at Grand Award winner Wally's Beverly Hills at lot. What do you buy?

SB: [Lana and I] like the Cabernets, first and foremost. Then we like the Italian super Tuscans. And something that I haven't gotten into that I want to get into, but it's a lot of information, is French wines. And I tend to be kind of put off by them and intimidated by them, just because it's something that I don't drink on a regular basis.

WS: Your comedy centers mostly on observing people’s behavior. Do you have thoughts on people’s behavior toward wine?
SM: There is a level of sophistication that comes with drinking wine. And again, I’ve been on this side of the fence. My father-in-law taught me when you pour wine, you don’t fill the glass. You maybe pour less than a third.

And we have friends that come over. And we open a bottle of wine, and they pour like half the bottle in the glass. It’s a large wineglass, but they pour half—half!—of the bottle. It’s just like: You have to have wine in your collection for people like that, people that don’t really appreciate it.

Like, I’m sure if somebody comes to your house that doesn’t drink wine and says, “Yeah, I’ll have whatever you have open,” you then go to a shelf of wine just for that type of person. You’re not going to waste the beautiful wine on this person, because there has to be a level of appreciation that comes with drinking wine.

A version of this interview appears in the May 31, 2019, issue of Wine Spectator, "Women Chefs of San Francisco," on newsstands April 16. See what else is new!
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