Last year Natalie MacLean’s book, Red, White, and Drunk All Over came out in paperback. If you haven’t seen the book, you may have visited her website or read her monthly newsletter, "Nat Decants." She has received many well-deserved accolades for her writing. As the bio on her website puts it, she funds her late-night vinous habits with a day job as a wine writer, judge, and speaker. Natalie’s book is without a doubt a pleasure to read. She writes as someone with authority while also revealing her witty and light-hearted personality. She’s funny at times, so much that one writer called her “laugh out loud funny,” a term that struck me as being geared for advertising; but, I assure you I was laughing a lot through this book. Her writing is also very vivid, even sensual at times.
Natalie starts the reader’s journey with a peek at her first moving experience with wine at a restaurant she and her husband, Andrew, frequented early on in their relationship. The wine was a Brunello, a Tuscan delight that was so delicious that she was not merely impressed, but felt almost physically moved, feeling a flush of warmth running through her entire body. This wine encounter was so intense that it launched her lifelong on a journey of discovery with wine. As the second part of the book’s title hints, A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass, we follow her along segments of this wine journey, and get to vicariously enjoy astounding wines in Burgundy, Champagne, and California, as well as catch a glimpse of the unique people who make those wines. We also learn that Natalie is very much a good sport and not afraid to get dirty. She immerses herself in the process of winemaking by working under the searing sun in the vineyards of central California, and following an Aussie vintner high and low through the cellars of Bonny Doon, in Santa Cruz, Ca.
When she’s not tasting Burgundy wines with the introspective Aubert de Villaine and the fiery Lalou Bize-Leory, or learning about the wine world according to the philosophic Randall Grahm, Natalie tackles the sticky subject of wine scores, a vinous minefield indeed. The wine industry has few topics as controversial as Robert Parker and wine scores. Sharing that dubious honor might be James Laube and his crusade against cork, or the ever increasing level of alcohol of New World, blockbuster, powerhouse, hedonistic wines, which, I personally enjoy as equally as a bottle of 6% alc Moscato d’Asti. She compares and contrasts the approaches of Jancis Robinson and Robert Parker, and also discusses the effect of wine scores from the numerous wine writers and critics. We also read her take on the effect that is so endearingly referred to as the Parkerization of wine—the tailoring of wine in hopes of garnering the high scores.
Also along the wine journey we follow Natalie going under cover as a sommelier, learn the story behind Riedel, and read the about the ins and outs of retail wine. Many readers will be able to relate to Natalie as she invites us into her home as she prepares for entertaining guests on Thanksgiving. We learn about all the considerations with selecting and serving wines to go with the vast array of flavors that can be involved when having friends and family over for dinner. In that chapter, as well as another dedicated to combing food and wine, she shares the secrets of food pairing. At the heart of her guidelines of taking into consideration such things as tannins and acid in the wine, or the richness of a food, is her encouragement that wine drinkers truly do know more than they realize: the reader should trust his or her taste and not worry about the old axiom of red wine with red meat and white wine with poultry and fish. It’s perfectly acceptable to stuff those old rules into the trash bin, except maybe for such things as tannic reds with salmon.
All in all, Red, White, and Drunk All Over is a very enjoyable read. As a wine blogger and writer I can certainly relate to her when she says writing about wine allows her to extend her hedonism and gives it a “sharper, more satisfying edge.” After having read her book, I bet she’d be a lot of fun to share a bottle of wine with. She is passionate about wine and loves talking with people who are equally passionate about wine as she is.