No matter how much wine I drink, and no matter how much I read about wine, it’s always somewhat of a mystery to me. Don’t get me wrong, I love wine, and feel that I appreciate it, but I wish I just knew more, that I could feel confident in describing what I’m drinking beyond such repetitive words as “blackberries” or “citrus.”
Natalie MacLean’s recently-published book, Red, White, and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass, leads the way towards a better understanding of wine through an enjoyable and amusing combination of fact and storytelling. MacLean is an accredited sommelier who first began writing about wine while on maternity leave with her son, and she publishes a free newsletter called Nat Decants through her website.
Instead of writing a didactic treatise on wine and its extensive history, MacLean takes the reader on a series of adventures in the United States and France, exploring different vintages and relaying her personal experiences in the field. As MacLean picks grapes in California, works a day in a New York City wine store, and tours vineyards in Burgundy, she creates vivid and often humorous visions of her adventures while weaving in factual information along the way. In one of my favorite chapters, she visits with the heads of several French Champagne houses, introducing the reader to the surprising fact that many are still women, a legacy from the many widows who took over the vineyards after losing their husbands to war or sickness in the 19th and 20th centuries.
In the midst of her adventures, MacLean describes the differences between New and Old World Wines, talks about how critics such as Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson influence the wine market, and provides helpful tips on pairing wine with food. With her smooth, flowing writing style and easy sense of humor, MacLean makes the wine world much more approachable to any level of wine lover. Both the novice and the more advanced drinker will enjoy the introduction to the world of vineyards, winemakers, and vintages MacLean explores.
Would we really want MacLean to completely demystify wine? I don’t think so. Part of what many people savor about wine is its inherent mysteries, and the joys experienced in personally discovering a previously unknown combination of flavors and aromas. MacLean’s Red, White, and Drunk All Over doesn’t take anything away from this excitement; in fact, it encourages you to go out, grab a glass, and drink a wine you’ve never tasted before.