Lucky for me, Red, White and Drunk All Over by Natalie MacLean was one of the first books I picked up when I started thinking about doing a wine blog.
For MacLean, writing about wine is not an academic exercise, a parsing of the chemical responses upon the tongue, a conjugation of fruit groups or a diagram of geographical factors. Important though they are to figuring out how and why certain flavors and aromas play out on the senses, those elements alone are a flat description of a particular wine’s character.
As MacLean explains in the chapter “The Making of a Wine Lover,” what really counts — what adds depth to the description — is “the way a glass of wine makes me feel.” Like the liveliness that infuses a thirst-quenching vintage, the book’s sensual dimension makes the act of learning and writing about wine seem like great fun to a would-be blogger.
The book was encouraging in a couple other ways, too.
First of all, there’s MacLean’s confidence-enhancing personal story — how one of today’s superstars in the field stumbled her way through an introductory tasting course but would eventually learn enough to securely hold her own in the presence of the fiercely opinionated French wine figure Lalou Bize-Leroy, known as “La Tigresse,” who makes it a point to openly scoff at wine writers.
Last but not least is the example MacLean set in launching her own website, Nat Decants, and thereby demonstrating what a perfect match wine and the Internet make. The site features regularly updated wine picks, instructive articles, access to a monthly free electronic newsletter (with 87,000 subscribers) and a Wine & Food Matcher boasting a database of 360,000 wine-food pairings.
Thanks to the Web, it has never been easier to become knowledgeable about wine and to connect with others who share an interest in it, as MacLean notes in her book.
This article itself is proof of the Web’s connection-building power. Imagine my surprise when, out of the blue, I got an e-mail message from MacLean thanking me for quoting her review of a Babich sauvignon blanc in one of my posts. Like any self-respecting blogger, I immediately asked her for an interview, to help flesh out some of the thoughts from her book about the relationship between the Web and the world of wine.
Here’s our e-mail Q&A:
VTK: What’s been the Web’s main impact on the wine consumer and producer?
NM: The web has helped to democratize wine: There’s so much information online that anyone anywhere can learn about it. It’s also helped wine lovers who share a passion to “meet” through chat groups, forums and blogs.
VTK: How has it affected your work and personal discoveries about wine?
NM: The Internet helps tremendously when I’m researching an obscure subject. As well, I often ask the subscribers to my free e-newsletter for their help.
VTK: With so many brands, varieties and vintages available through the Internet, it may at times feel a little bewildering for the average consumer. What should they do to make the best choices and take full advantage of all the information out there?
NM: I think that consumers still need to find someone to trust as their guide. Just as they might follow a particular columnist in their local paper, they might also try finding a website or blogger whose taste they share.
VTK: Why did you decide to create a website?
NM: To connect more immediately with my readers in a way I can’t do through print. They hit reply and instantly let me know what they think of what I’ve written.
VTK: What’s been your experience so far, in terms of audience engagement, personal satisfaction and other return for the time and effort? Any anecdotes you can share?
NM: There’s nothing more satisfying than being connected online with my readers. Writing is a lonely job and they often sustain me through their comments and e-mails. One particular note stands out: A gentleman who is blind in Chicago subscribes to my newsletter. His computer reads it aloud to him. He’s hoping to become a sommelier.
VTK: What wine-related sites are your favorites?
NM: I like wine-searcher.com for finding wines and their prices. I also enjoy following the stories and blog of the New York Times columnist Eric Asimov at nytimes.com.