The Americans' Matthew Rhys On The Wine Show And The Torment Of Drinking Expensive Wines All Day

By all accounts, actor Matthew Rhys is a busy guy: He's wrapping up his final season on the acclaimed FX series The Americans, played a pivotal role in Steven Spielberg's award-season favorite The Post, and the native Welshman and his Americans co-star Keri Russell also have a toddler, named Sam, at home in New York. You would think that another TV series is about the last thing that he could fit into his schedule. But what if that TV series involves traveling to Europe with his really good friend drinking wine all day? It would be hard for anyone to turn that down.

So when he was pitched by his pal—another busy Matthew, Matthew Goode (The Crown, Downton Abbey)—Rhys agreed to appear in Ovation's The Wine Show. The Matthews—known as Goodie and Rhysie on the show—are led on their journey by wine expert Joe Fattorini, who dazzles them with gadgets and tasks them to embark from their lovely hilltop villa and find the best-tasting wines. Meanwhile, Joe and presenters Amelia Singer and Gizzi Erskine travel and bring back wines from all over the world. The Wine Show just kicked off its first season on Ovation TV last week (the series is also available on Hulu).

Hanging out and drinking wine all day in a beautiful European villa sounds like the greatest gig in the world. But in a phone interview, the busy Rhys tells us repeatedly, it's not as easy as it looks.

The Takeout: Your life seems pretty busy. How do you fit in these globetrotting wine trips? 

Matthew Rhys: It's a tough one to sell to respective and better halves, when you say, "I'm going to go to Italy for months to drink wine." But Keri came out, so it wasn't too bad. Sadly, I missed out on the second series in France, because I was shooting The Post.

TO: What's the most surprising thing you've discovered about wine while you've been doing the show?

MR: The big thing for me: There are different types of earth. You always think it's the grape. More often than not, it most has to do with the kind of earth they're grown in. That's why you don't like the taste. That was such a revelation. I was like, "Ah, right, that's why I don't like Australians, or Californians." Although, that's kind of blasphemous to say in the wine world.

So it's little things, like the kind of bottles that some get finished in. All that stuff that you don't really give a thought to. They're like, "Well, this wood, they burn for five seconds longer than the other wood, so it gives you more of an oaky, burnt taste." You're like, "Oh my god!" It opens up the box of tricks for you. There's so much, what's the word, apothecary... there's so much tangible magic to it. Oh god, I'm talking out my ass. Ignore me, ignore me.

TO: That's what I think is so fun about the show. You guys decompress it for the rest of us. But you're also clearly having such a fun time, as you and Matthew, I assume have been friends a long time? 

MR: We have. It's much harder than you think. A lot of people go, "Fuck you, don't be so stupid. Three, four weeks of drinking wine is idyllic." So when you start drinking wine at 8:30 in the morning and stop drinking wine at 6 p.m., and the producer in mid-day is saying things like, "You know, you've got to stop slurring, and you've got to say something else apart from 'It's a really nice wine.'" I found it hard. You're opening so many bottles of wine, inevitably, everyone was like, "Oh, let me have a little quick sip of that." And then everyone was up and running.

Because as much as we were meant to be the two kinds of monkeys who knew nothing about wine, but loved wine, our brief was to give a description the everyman would say about a glass of wine. Sell to the everyman without going, "Oh, it smells of bubblegum and strawberries and overtones of citrus," or whatever. We had three stock answers. "I'd buy a bottle of this for a special occasion"; "it would go well with chicken"; or "I'd have this at Christmas." And they'd be like, "You've got to say more than that." And you realize how hard it is to do that job of trying to convey something that intrinsically is very personal, because it's strawberries and bubblegum to one person, but then it's chocolate and bark to another. It's an odd and sometimes tricky job.

TO: Were there things that you were scared to drink? Or wine that was super old? It seems like the show took you all over the place. 

MR: Yeah, they did. What they were frankly good at doing is going, "Yes, this is $100 bottle, but here's a bottle for $10 that is equally as good." They want to turn those things on their head. You don't need a lot of money to buy good wine.

TO: So now when you go out in the offseason to shop for wine, do you feel like an expert when you go into a bottle shop?

MR: No. I literally still don't have a clue. So much of it I couldn't retain, because I was drunk. So what I do is I text Joe and go, "Gimme a recommendation for a $12 bottle of wine."

There was a long period of fear after The Wine Show, where I was like, "I don't smell wine." I don't think I've burnt myself too badly. I'm back on the wine. But there was a long period where I was off wine.

TO: So you were staying in that beautiful house though the whole time?

MR: We shot it in blocks. We did all the travel in three weeks, and then the fourth week was in the house where we did all the links, basically. It was a gluttonous week. There was a chef, and he gave out way too much. We drank too much. You just live the whole week with this steady hum of a hangover.

TO: That would probably make it hard to face wine again early the next day. Especially reds. The tannins will kill you.

MR: Yeah, they will. But then, the better the wine, the better the hangover.

TO: So when you get back, do you just detox for a couple of weeks?

MR: Oh god, yeah. Well, you know, it's hard. I can't detox for too long. I'm not really one of those people. There's got to be alcohol in some form.

TO: You sound like a red guy more than a white guy.

MR: I'm a hard card for red. Rarely will I drink white.

TO: So for people like me who are watching the show who are like the same, what's your advice to ask if we want to get to know about the wine?

MR: Oh, god. I keep notes. Joe's big thing was to keep notes. Even better in this iPhone culture, take a picture of the bottle, right? You always go, "Oh, what was that great wine that we tried? What was it?" If it's a good one, take a picture and stick it in favorites. I think that's the simplest way to start.

Joe did walk us through a lot of the smelling of the wine, which I could tell is bullshit. If you walk through it and someone explains to you what it is you're smelling, it opens up a number of things and it takes the mystery away. You go, "Oh yeah, there is that." So I enjoyed that. He would do that more as a challenge to me. He'd be like, "Okay, tell me what you're smelling." And then obviously, male ego gets in the way, and we'd be very competitive about who can smell what or who could smell it first.

TO: What's your personal favorite thing about wine?

MR: I'll have to say, quite a bit, obviously, purely for the effect it has on my brain. I don't know. I enjoy the history of this ancient tradition, and the ceremony that goes with it, the social aspect. There's a million things.