Around the World in 8 Days: A Wine Guide That Gets It Right

I’m no wine snob, but I can appreciate a good glass of…basically whatever my husband might hand to me. He’s even invested in a wine cooler so he can keep bottles stored at the right pressure and temperature. But do either of us know all the right words to use when describing it? Could we hold our own in a room filled with real wine connoisseurs? Not a chance, unless it involved talking with one of my new favorite writers, Natalie MacLean. This gal is a wine pro to be sure—in fact, she was named the World’s Best Drink Writer by the World Food Media Awards and has won four James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards—but she sounds more like your best-friend-meets-adventure-travel-guide-meets-Bridget-Jones than a hoity toity critic.

In her new book, Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines (Perigee, November 2011), she journeys to eight countries, visiting 312 wineries and tasting more than 15,000 kinds of wines—all to prove that good wine doesn’t have to be expensive.

Not only does she achieve that goal, but she does it in a really fun, personable style, which you can get a full sense of in the very first paragraph of the book:

The question I’m asked most often: “What’s your favorite wine?” My answer: “The one someone else pays for.” The second question I’m asked is, “Can you recommend a great wine that costs less than $5?” Answer: “Not unless all you want is a wet tongue.”

Is that not just the best opening ever? And it just gets better from there, thanks to MacLean’s unique concept: eight main chapters featuring wines from eight regions, organized by day of the week (from Sunday dinner through the weekdays to Sunday lunch).

In each chapter, she shares some crazy adventure, laugh-out-loud conversation snippets with the winemakers, and of course, vivid tasting notes that’ll make you feel like you’re drinking alongside her. Here’s the itinerary you can look forward to:

Sunday: After passing kangaroos in Australia’s Barossa Valley, MacLean checks out the region’s shiraz, which she suggests pairing with comfort foods like roast beef or meat-lover’s pizza.

Monday: Speeding along the autobahn to Germany’s Mosel Valley takes her to the best vineyards for reisling, which pairs well with grilled chicken or fish.

Tuesday: A chopper ride through Niagara brings MacLean nose to nose with her fave red wine, pinot noir, which she enjoys with entrees like beef bourgignon or mushroom risotto.

Wednesday: MacLean heads to South Africa (where she takes a side trip to swim with sharks) for sauvignon blanc—the perfect accompaniment to Asian dishes, seafood, and salads.

Thursday: After marveling at a volcano, she learns about Sicily’s nero d’avola—great with roasted chicken or Italian pasta, natch.
Friday: Riding a horse through Argentina’s Mendoza region, MacLean goes for the region’s malbec, perfect with meals like prime rib and barbecue.

Saturday: After chugging along through a gorge in the Duoro Valley of Portugal, she savors port, a dessert wine you’ll love with things like almond tart and creme caramel.

Sunday lunch: No wine-loving globe-trotter could forget France’s Provence region, where our fearless taster goes gaga for rosé, which goes well with regional cheeses like brie and camembert as well as lunch classics like a chicken club sandwich.

There’s also a healthy amount of takeaway: each chapter ends with a section called “Field Notes from a Wine Cheapskate,” which includes lists of that region’s great wines that won’t break the bank, recipe ideas, and tips on wine shopping.

All in all, this highly enjoyable read is a sure pick for your wine-loving friends and family this holiday season. Find out more at MacLean’s interactive website, where you can also get great recipes, a pairing download for your smartphone, and the latest tidbits on inexpensive wines on the market today.

You can read more reviews of my new wine book Unquenchable here.