Friday, June 29, 2012

Winey Reading Notes: Natalie MacLean's "Unquenchable" - She GETS It!!!

I have said many times before how much I love to read. But it’s the rare book that introduces me to a Winey Soul sister. But find one I did in Natalie MacLean’s Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines (2011, Penguin, USA). What was my first clue that I had found a winey soul mate? Let’s take a look at some of MacLean’s philosophies of wine, shall we: “What is your favorite wine? The one someone else pays for.” “I like to drink wine – and I like the buzz.” “..alcohol makes me happy and stops me from being a tightly wound control freak, as some people (quite unjustly) characterize me.” She “gets” me. She really, really gets me. This, Winey friends, is a wise, wise woman.

She is also a talented writer (named World's Best Drink Writer by the World Food Media Awards, winner of four James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards), who, in addition to understanding the Winey Mom’s mind, also “gets” the whole wine thing. Her book walks you through an entire week of wine choices at the same time she is walking you all over the world, exploring eight different wine regions. At the end of the book, you’ll wind up with 7 yummy, affordable wines to drink each night of the week, plus one more for a Sunday brunch (she thinks of everything, doesn’t she?). Each chapter ends with her inside tips on choosing wines from that region (my personal favorite comes from the Germany chapter: “Look for labels that have illegible gothic script and impossibly long names that are difficult to pronounce…few people can read them, so they don’t buy the wines, and demand doesn’t push up the prices.”) She provides lists of best value wines from the region, recipes, wine pairings and links to all the wineries she writes about. She even adds a list of related readings for each region (bookworm heaven). She makes it so easy to enjoy, really enjoy, a bottle of wine!!

I am a sucker for amazing descriptions and MacLean sure knows how to paint a picture with words. Australia’s Barossa Valley is a “dry biscuit of russet earth”, a German Spätlese has the “fragile intensity of a Chagall stained glass” and October vineyards in Canada have “turned shades of yellow and green, like a spice cabinet”.

I feel so educated now that I’ve read this book. For instance, I know why the same grape is called Syrah in Europe and North America and Shiraz is Australia (easier to pronounce down under). I also know that one of the first Aussie vineyards was planted by a doctor in the 19th century, in order to grow grapes for his “wine cure.” (No, he didn’t stay a doctor very long…for some reason, demand for the cure turned him into a full time winemaker!) I learned that in the Niagara region of Canada, starlings are evil (they eat the grapes by the beakful). And I found out that Thomas Jefferson declared Rieslings to be the “best breakfast wines”, giving me an entire new level of respect for that Founding Father.

 I also took two very personal challenges from this book. First: modern-day Sicilian white wines are wonderful, but they don’t travel well and are best drunk right in Italy.. thus I will be heading to Sicily to drink white wine. Second: I will move to Argentina, because every Thursday, for the past 105 years, the locals bring their bottles to the Bodega Norton Winery and get their wine at cost. (This may have to wait until the Winey Daughter finishes high school and the Winey Hubby retires, but I digress.)

But mostly what I learned is that there are millions of Winey folks out there just like me, and Natalie MacLean has given voice to some of the Winey thoughts travelling through our minds. How can you resist a wine book where the author makes statements like: “As consumers, most of us like deals, but we don’t like the word ‘cheap’, given its association with ‘trashy’ and ‘worthless’..A cheap wine isn’t always a bad one, just as an expensive wine isn’t always a great one.” Or, “..certain characteristics, such as big oak, alcohol, and fruit flavor, can make a wine stand out in a tasting, even though it may not be the one you want to drink with dinner.” AMEN, sister, AMEN!

But I think my favorite quote from this book comes right at the end, where MacLean pretty much sums up why we (I) drink wine: “We need the simple joys in life, like a good glass of inexpensive wine, to regain a sense of ourselves. No worrying about how much it cost or what it scored; simply, do I like it, and do I like who I’m with?” How can you argue with that thought process? (That’s a rhetorical question; don’t even think about debating it with me, okay?)

You’ll learn a lot about wine history, wine regions and wine-making by reading “Unquenchable”. You’ll have a good time doing it too. But what this book really will give you is a wonderful sense of freedom in choosing your next bottle of wine – forget the scores, the prices, the reviews and just get a bottle that you like, that likes you back.


Facebook: The Winey Mom

Winey side note: Natalie has an amazing website that I highly recommend you visit. You’ll find an extremely helpful wine app for your smart phone, recipes and pairing ideas as well as a nifty on line cellar tool to keep track of everything you have drunk, will drink or want to drink. 

Another winey side note: The paperback version of Unquenchable comes out at the beginning of September! 

And another one: Natalie also has another book called "Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine Soaked Journey From Grape To Glass...I haven't read it, but it's on my "to read" list as I sip.

And another: There isn't one. I just wanted to see if you were all paying attention!

All quotes in this review come from the book Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines, 2011, Penguin, USA.
This book was sent to me by the publisher for review purposes.

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