The author of two books — the second, Unquenchable, just out on shelves now — MacLean has travelled the world to visit myriad wineries, sipped a wine that retails for $2,000 a bottle and met the winemakers behind their eponymous labels. But, she is quick to point out, people who feel they need to be experts before they can make a choice on what to order from the wine list just need to take a page from her book.
Unquenchable chronicles MacLean’s search for the best bargain wines in the world, creating a book that is part armchair travel, part memoir and part wine class — without ever being overtly instructional.
“With wine, you have to entertain first, educate second,” she says over a coffee during a quick stop in Calgary during her book tour. (Sadly, wine at 10 a.m. is just not appropriate.) “If it was just tasting notes, it would bore me first.”
The book came to fruition five years after MacLean published her first, the bestselling Red, White and Drunk All Over. After its success, she was looking for a new project. The original plan was to write about the world’s best wines, but MacLean realized their high price tags and inaccessibility would make them out of reach for most wine lovers.
At the time, the recession was also starting to force people to tighten the purse strings.
Her practical side kicked in.
Unquenchable instead became a book about wine bargains, MacLean’s travels to discover them and the sometimes odd and eclectic people who populate the world of winemaking.
She started with eight countries and some 200 wineries suggested to her by subscribers to her newsletter. After taking that down to a short list of 40 for each region, MacLean gave herself two weeks in each country, eventually whittling it down to just three wineries per chapter.
Those who made the cut were chosen for having the most colourful and iconic characters, while also producing fabulous wines.
The conversational tone and charming anecdotes — MacLean’s chat with the man behind Wolf Blass is almost worth the price of the book alone — make it a fun, easy read. It’s learning without actually realizing how packed with information the book is.
MacLean acknowledges that’s part of the plan.
“It’s like putting the peas in the mashed potatoes for kids,” she jokes.
“People want to read about people,” she adds. “You have to tell a ripping good yarn, if you can.”
All of the wines in the book are in the $10 to $20 range — good ones that “taste twice the cost,” she says.
“We want to be picky wine cheapskates.”
And the number of those choices are increasing.
As people realized they could pay less for good wine, there was a shift in the market, says MacLean. Advances in technology have brought costs down, while more competition from new regions and new wineries in established areas have also had an effect.
She regularly shares new finds and old favourites with fellow wine lovers.
“I love the intersection of wine and online,” she says. “It’s never been easier or less intimidating to learn about wine.
“Wine is the drink of conversation and camaraderie. It should be enjoyed and not stressed over.”
Ultimately, MacLean says, it’s about knowing what you like and drinking it.
“There’s no better expert on your palate than you.”
Still stumped for some new picks? See the sidebar for some of MacLean’s favourites.
Natalie MacLean’s five bargain wines
• Full Press Winery Chardonnay, Niagara, Ontario: Full-bodied and robust with generous layers of green apple and vanilla smoke aromas and flavours. Pair with: crab cakes, grilled fish, roast chicken, fettuccine alfredo. $11.95 Score: 87/100.
• Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, D.O.C., Valdadige, Italy: Lovely lemon, white melon and chives. Very refreshing and clean. Pair with shellfish, salads. $16.95 Score: 88/100.
• Errazuriz Sauvignon Blanc, Chile: This citrus-infused Sauvignon has a rich mouth-filling texture. Pair with: vegetarian pasta, herbed chicken. $11.00 Score: 88/100.
• Louis Latour Pinot Noir Bourgogne, Burgundy, France: Gorgeously tart cherries with redcurrant and cranberry notes. Silky smooth and seductively long. Pair with salmon, mushroom risotto. $18.45 Score: 88/100.
• Santa Rita Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, Maipo Valley, Chile: Love it! I will not be snobby and resist a 90 score just because this is a $14 wine. It’s tasty, robust and packed with flavour. Pair with steak, hamburgers. $13.95 Score: 90/100.
For more of Natalie’s wine picks and pairings, visit nataliemaclean.com.
You can read more reviews of my new wine book Unquenchable here.