Natalie MacLean is a gal who likes her wine buzz. The Ottawa-based wine writer says as much on page seven of her book, Red and White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass. Right up front, she states,” I wouldn’t be writing about wine if it weren’t for the buzz.” How can she be any more honest? Despite having alcoholism in the family, she comes right out and admits to what few wine writers will: they like to catch a jag.
I’ll second that emotion.Nat’s wine writing has been awarded numerous James Beard and MFK Fisher awards and she writes an immensily popular e-newsletter called Nat Decants
, which has become a powerhouse of vinformation since it began in 2001. I especially like the wine and a food matcher, accessible on the right panel of this page.
But, for all the wine knowledge she dispenses to the masses – did I mentioned she is an accredited sommelier? – Natalie’s history lacks front line experience. She’s never worked the service side of wine or food, nor the distribution or retail sector, or in the winegrowing fields.In an attempt to put some balance in her wine life, Nat set out for wine regions she’d never visited to get the first-hand experience she’s been craving and to write a book about the wines she’d drunk all over.Chapters on tasting in Burgundy, Champagne, Bordeaux are rich with descriptive prose and insight about the ancient producers there. And the chapter with author Jay McInerney is like soaking your brain in alcohol. But the chapters I enjoyed the most were the ones where little Miss Intellectual rolls up her sleeves and dives into one-day wine jobs. Like a vinicultural George Plimpton, this is where Nat is at her most vulnerable best, literally.
In Undercover Sommelier, she dribbles red wine on a table she is serving and gets a cold shoulder from the customer. She writes, “For the first time in my life I realize what it’s like to feel servile, dismissed,” and you want to say welcome to the real world, princess.In A Tale of Two Stores she sells wine and decides that “Working in a wine store is a lot like life: you spend most of the time waiting around for just one or two memorable moments, (which you can easily miss because you went to the bathroom.)”
Been there, thought that, too.
And in Harvesting Dreams, Nat gets down and dirty picking grapes in a Bonny Doon vineyard. In a flight of fancy, she says, “At first, I feel like a hero returning to a hometown parade: leafy green vines reach down in front of me on either side, like well-wishers wanting to shake my hand. But after three hours, the streets are deserted and I’m alone. It’s backbreaking work carrying an ever heavier pail…”
Oh, her aching back.These first-hand experiences form the character arc of this book, and create drama, which is what readers, like me, love. Much of the informational interludes – such as the pages on proper behavior on both sides of the table, which should be read by every foodie on the planet – could have been written from her office in Ottawa. But her real-life situations keep readers from falling asleep from wine theory overload. She writes with wit and wonder, and it’s a treat to see her learn how the wineindustry works, being brought along for the ride.Ok, enough about Natalie MacLean, here’s how you can buy her book, Red and White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass.Click on the link here and buy it from Amazon. The original hardback is the cover shown here. The paperback reprint that I got has a “new chapter.” It’s a fun holiday read.