When I last caught up with comedian and avid wine consumer Matt Bellassai he was embarking on a cross-country tour of live shows based on his popular web video rants. Toward the end of that conversation I asked him if he’d thought about making his own wine, and Bellassai hinted that something of that nature might be in the works, but that he’d also like to broaden his knowledge of wine and winemaking. The fruits of that labor have finally come to bear, as Bellassai and winemaker Winc have released “To Be Honest,” named for his booze-fueled series. “I think it’s fitting for a wine to be called that,” Bellassai tells me. “Wine is honesty juice in my book.”
I recently spoke with both Bellassai and Winc’s Chief Wine Officer Brian Smith about how the collaboration came about. Smith tells me that his people at Winc approached Bellassai purely as fans. “We’re a digitally native wine company and we’re always looking to try and innovate and push into places where wine really hasn’t lived before. We were just genuine fans of what Matt was doing and just really enjoyed his work and his comedy, and obviously wine is a big part of that.”
Bellassai with Winc's Brian Smith (L) & Ryan Zotovich (R) - Courtesy of Winc
The opportunity to release a wine of his own presented Bellassai with a platform for expanding his own expertise on the subject. “For as much wine as I drink it’s the first time I’ve been to a winery and seen the huge vats its kept in while its fermenting and how it’s put into a bottle,” Bellassai says. “That whole process was foreign to me, I’ve only seen the final product. I wanted to capture the process and write something fun around it. We filmed a four-part series, and it’s comedy, so it’s not exactly what happened, but we wanted to go through the process of how wine is made and we got up at five in the morning and picked grapes. I have a whole new host of words in my vocabulary about how it’s made, how you taste it, how its presented. It was enlightening. Now I have a little bit of knowledge when I crack open a bottle.”
And cracking open a bottle, a whole bottle, was an important factor for Bellassai from the get-go. “We had early conversations that started with what are my drinking habits, what are my tastes. From my videos, if people are familiar, I don’t just sip my wine–I like to consume a lot at once. ‘Crushable’ is the word we used. Something you could easily drink a bottle of in one sitting if you choose to do so."
The finished product is a 2015 red blend that’s a mix of Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Grenache and Merlot. “It’s got this beautiful texture, ripe fruit, juicy, silky. We ended up with something that’s really balanced,” Smith said. “Matt ended up driving the Grenache addition. It is really 'crushable' and the Grenache is the element that makes it really smooth, really fruit forward. The Sangiovese grapes add this fresh, subtle, sour cherry pop on the finish.”
Matt’s description? “It’s the opposite of a wine snob wine. You drink it. It tastes great. This point is not to think about it. Just drink it.” If you’re looking to pair To Be Honest, Matt suggests pizza, pasta and mac and cheese, but with one caveat. “Those are usually the foods I eat after I’ve been drinking.”
Courtesy of Winc
So what can fans of Bellassai expect from the wine? “People can expect to sit down and enjoy it and not make the grimace-y face I make in my videos when I chug other wines. That’s my hope, anyway.”
While I enjoyed the wine for those very reasons, I did my due diligence and had Food & Wine’s wine editor Ray Isle give To Be Honest a taste. He characterized it as “light, fruity and fun” and “very drinkable from a large glass.” Mission accomplished, Matt.
To Be Honest is available now from Winc for $13/bottle.