The Wit, Wisdom and Wine of David Letterman

lettermanI don’t now anybody with an ambivalent attitude about David Letterman, who is retiring from a three-decade career in light-night television following tonight’s “Late Show” broadcast on CBS.

You either love him and his brand of comedy, or you don’t. I happen to be a fan — even if there haven’t been very many “wine moments” on either his original NBC program or his current CBS program.

There’s a reason for that, as Letterman told Jane Pauley on this week’s edition of “Sunday Morning” on CBS. He began drinking as a youngster when his father offered him sips of the stiff stuff, and he liked it. The habit continued through high school and escalated in college.

But one day, in his mid-thirties, Letterman had a revelation. He suddenly came to realize that not very many people are given the opportunity to host a network talk show, and if he kept behaving in the way he was behaving, it could all go away. So he quit drinking. Cold turkey.

He may have banned alcohol from his body, but he didn’t ban it from his show. I recall one appearance by Martha Stewart in which she was cooking with wine, and Letterman actually took a swig from the bottle — only to spit it out a moment later. Then there was the time a bowling lane was set up outside the Ed Sullivan Theater, and bowling legend Dick Weber knocked over all kinds of things with a bowling ball — including champagne glasses with set-ablaze Sherry in them.

In October of 1996, just after the New York Yankees had won the World Series, several members of the team appeared on the set and sprayed Letterman with Champagne — a reenactment of their locker room celebration, more or less. You can see a picture of that foamy image here.

Much more recently, actor Kurt Russell appeared on the program, and promoted the wine he makes under the GoGi label. It’s a Pinot Noir from the Sta. Rita Hills appellation of California’s Central Coast.

Letterman asked Russell what the alcohol level was, and Russell replied, “About 14.1.” That’s pretty standard for a lot of California red wines these days.

Letterman, still ever quick with a rejoinder, deadpanned, “Call me when you get it up to 20.”

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