When it comes to books on subject of wine, Natalie MacLean's Red, White, and Drunk All Over is in a class by itself. Successfully sidestepping the "textbook" trap, this collection of episodic chapters feels more like sitting down to catch up with an old friend - a smart, funny friend who happens to know a hell of a lot about wine. Both a sommelier and a gifted, award-winning writer, MacLean transports readers across the country and around the world as they tag along on her adventures in wine in this immersive, engaging read.
I was pleased to discover, and I'm sure you'll find, that this book lends itself to a style of study involving a sofa, a quilt and a glass of Pinot Noir, as opposed to a desk, a hard chair and a stack of various volumes of viticultural reference. It's an entertaining, often laugh-out-loud tutorial. Time and again, MacLean reeled me in with her tall tales and thoughtful profiles, and before I knew it, I'd learned something new. In Red, White, and Drunk All Over, MacLean effortlessly sheds light on precious gems previously hidden behind a dusty curtain labeled "oenophile" - ideas and facts I'd believed to be too mysterious, too obscure or too complicated to ever fully understand.
Take this passage for instance, one that I circled with my pen and marked with a post-it note: "The most affordable and easiest way to discover the wines of Burgundy is to buy from reputable negociants. The best merchants are restoring wine lovers' faith in burgundy by making consistently good wines at less outrageous prices..." MacLean goes on to list several producers from this prized French region whose wines can be had for a (relative) song.
Another chapter offers empowering advice on ordering wine in restaurants, as MacLean recounts the amusing tale of her night as an "Undercover Sommelier". Upon completing a successful portion of the evening, she beams, "I've nailed every pour and feel like a gymnast who dismounts from the parallel bars with a backward flip and a perfect landing." Her legwork, our reward. Mixed in with her musings are helpful hints on navigating restaurant wine service. I found this passage particularly powerful: "Many scrupulous people feel guilty about sending back a bottle... But an establishment can usually return rejects to the wine merchant for full credit. Remember, too, that restaurants take the cost of returned bottles into account when they price their wines, which means that anytime you buy a bottle, you're already paying for the privilege of being able to send it back." It sounds so simple, and yet we've all found it difficult to act on our own behalf in such a situation. I'll have more gumption after reading this book.
As a die-hard fan of anything glam, I also loved the chapter entitled "Big City Bacchus", in which MacLean spends an evening with celebrated novelist and wine-lover Jay McInerney. And toward the end of the book, you'll find MacLean's must-read guide to pairing wine and cheese. I'll be referencing her specific, fool-proof recommendations in the approaching holiday soiree season.
Head to Natalie MacLean's website, www.nataliemaclean.com, to order a copy of Red, White, and Drunk All Over. While you're there, sign up for her free newsletter and take a moment to explore her food and wine matching tool. In fact, I've been known to get lost in this popular site for an hour before I know what's hit me. See for yourself, and pick up a book or two while you're at it. I'm thinking stocking stuffers - how 'bout you?