Why does Italy make such a fantastic wine destination to visit? Which underpriced wines for their quality should you try next? How can you successfully navigate the walls of bottles in a wine shop? Which simple technique can you use to improve your tasting skills and learn more about wine?
In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m being interviewed by Janina Doyle, host of the Eat Sleep Wine Repeat podcast.
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- How did a trip to Italy introduce me to the wonderful world of wine?
- What does a typical day look like for me?
- What’s it like to be live on TV on Canada’s biggest morning show, The Social and CTV News?
- Where will you be taken and what will you learn in my first book, Red, White, And Drunk All Over?
- Why do I believe that you are the reason I’ve been able to get great access when writing my books and in my other wine endeavours?
- Which discovery did I make about finding incredible wine value in my second book, Unquenchable?
- Which bargain wines should you try next?
- Why does Italy make such a fantastic wine destination to visit?
- What has been the most beautiful moment of my wine career so far?
- What strategies can you use as a consumer to navigate the overwhelming walls of bottles in a wine shop?
- Which simple technique can you use to improve your tasting skills and learn more about wine?
- What’s our favourite type of wine glass?
- How can you go beyond the basic red wine and cheese pairings?
- Which perfect wine pairings can you try with these famous books?
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I love the approach of the new journalists. You dig down deeper and get the insights and feelings of what it’s like to do the thing. - Natalie MacLean Click to tweet
It’s the readers and listeners that I bring with me to places like DRC that allow me that kind of entry. - Natalie MacLean Click to tweet
If you go geographically south of the brand-name wine regions you can get some incredible values. - Natalie MacLean Click to tweet
If you want to learn about wine, taste a flight of wines side by side. - Natalie MacLean Click to tweet
About Janina Doyle
Janina Doyle started her wine career in several top-notch restaurants in London, UK, rising from waitress to head sommelier as she completed her WSET diploma. She has spent the last six years creating Eat Sleep Wine Repeat where she offers wine tastings, events and services. She also created the Bromley Wine Society, a local monthly wine group, and her podcast, Eat Sleep Wine Repeat. She is also Brand Ambassador for Ventisquero Wine Estates in Chile.
- Connect with Janina Doyle
- Diary of a Book Launch: An Insider Peek from Idea to Publication
- My Books:
- My Mobile Wine App
- Unreserved Wine Talk | Episode 44: Pairing Spicy Food & Wine, Gen X versus Millennial Drinkers
- My new class The 5 Wine & Food Pairing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Dinner And How To Fix Them Forever
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Thirsty for more?
- Sign up for my free online wine video class where I’ll walk you through The 5 Wine & Food Pairing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Dinner (and how to fix them forever!)
- You’ll find my books here, including Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines and Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass.
- The new audio edition of Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass is now available on Amazon.ca, Amazon.com and other country-specific Amazon sites; iTunes.ca, iTunes.com and other country-specific iTunes sites; Audible.ca and Audible.com.
Natalie MacLean 0:00
So I went to Australia and Provence and all over the place looking for areas where the value of wine is just off the charts. In Italy, Tuscany, Piedmont, they’re very cachet brand name wine regions, but if you go south to Sicily, you can get some incredible values. Same thing in France from Bordeaux, Burgundy go down to the Languedoc. Even in California, Napa and Sonoma are the brand names but go down to Paso Robles, you’re going to get better value.
do you have a thirst to learn about wine? Do you love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places and amusingly awkward social situations? Well that’s the blend here on the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast. I’m your host, Natalie Maclean. And each week, I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now pass me that bottle please and let’s get started. Welcome to Episode 179. Why does Italy make such a fantastic wine destination to visit? Which underpriced wines for their quality should you try next? How can you successfully navigate walls of bottles in a liquor store? And which simple technique can you use to improve your tasting skills and learn more about wine. You’ll hear all those stories and tips in my chat with you Janina Doyle, host of the Eat Sleep Wine Repeat podcast. She’s interviewing me and we get into all sorts of fun stories and shenanigans. Now on a personal note, before we dive into the show with the continuing story of publishing my new wine memoir Wine Witch on Fire: Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Depression, and Drinking too Much. I recently attended my first online book club meeting to chat about my memoir. They had volunteered to be beta readers, and this was a live feedback session. So as their faces popped up on the screen, I felt the ball of panic rising in my throat. I’d set the view to gallery mode, so I could see all of them in their little individual squares. This was a group of women who love books and wine. My people, right. Still, my voice was shaky as I started leading them through a wine tasting before we delve into the book. I wished I had poured Scotch into my glass rather than Pinot Noir. Perhaps that’s because memoir is so personal. So when they talk about what they thought of the narrator, or what she should have done or shouldn’t have done, they’re talking about me. And similarly, the characters in my book or my family members. As they started asking questions, and as I drank more of my wine, I started to calm down. Though my cheeks had turned permanently beet red from my rosacea, which flares when I’m excited or stressed. My favourite moment though of the entire evening was when one woman said “The things you said, even the words you used sound exactly like my friend who’s going through divorce right now and dealing with depression. She really needs to hear this”. That is the point of my memoir. It’s not a self help book, but I think it can help those who have gone through similar situations. By putting words to those feelings and thoughts. I think when we can name the chaos we feel inside us it has less power over us. It is no longer a dark, tangled mess. As we named what happened to us and share our stories, we start to make sense of our lives. And that for me is the meaning of both my memoir and my life. Have you ever felt relief from finally finding the words to say how you feel? Let me know.
I’ve posted a link to a blog post called Diary of a Book Launch in the show notes at NatalieMacLean.com/179. This is where I share more behind the scenes story about the journey of taking this memoir from idea to publication. If you want a more intimate insider seat beside me on this journey, please let me know you’d like to become a beta reader and get a sneak peek at the manuscript. Email me at Natalie@NatalieMacLean.com. Okay, on with the show.
Janina Doyle 6:33
Natalie MacLean, I mean, she’s only won herself four James Beard Foundation journalism awards. So we will be talking to her about her two wine books that are out on the market. You get to listen to incredible stories of what it’s like to be down in cellars of DRC, Domaine de la Romanée Conti. And you’ll get a whole load of tips from organizing tastings with friends and great cheese and wine pairings., and what you should be doing when in a wine shop to make the right decision. I have to say my favourite part is right at the end when Natalie pairs famous books with wine so you must stay to the end to see what she picks and why. So grab a glass of wine and get ready to laugh along with us. Hello, Natalie, thank you for joining me today.
Natalie MacLean 7:30
So glad to be here with you, Janina.
Janina Doyle 7:32
In doing my research, I kind of feel like you’re Canadian wine royalty. What do you think of that title?
Natalie MacLean 7:41
Well as long as it doesn’t have any responsibility, I’d rather be like a rogue princess or something that doesn’t really have to do those formal duties. It’s like that’s no fun. Thank you. Thank you.
Janina Doyle 7:51
No, with all your wine knowledge comes a lot of responsibility.
Natalie MacLean 7:56
The crown is heavy.
Unknown Speaker 7:59
Put the crown down for a second, pick up a glass and let’s continue.
Janina Doyle 8:04
I want you to tell me a little of your story because you didn’t start drinking at a young young age or you know, at the dinner table with parents. This is your husband’s doing right?
Natalie MacLean 8:15
Yes. Well, I like to say I started drinking when I met my husband and I haven’t found a reason to stop.
Unknown Speaker 8:22
Did he make you drink? He drove you to drink?
Natalie MacLean 8:24
That’s right. He is my ex by the way, but that’s a whole other different story.
Unknown Speaker 8:28
Can we fit in another podcast?
Natalie MacLean 8:32
Get into the juicy, juicy bits?
Janina Doyle 8:33
Absolutely. Wine and relationships. Okay, right. So ex husband. Moving on. Carrying on.
Natalie MacLean 8:38
Moving on. Moving on. Right. So we attended graduate school together. We both did an MBA. So it wasn’t really till we got out of school and had some money to get fancy that we actually started drinking wine. I couldn’t cook, he didn’t like to, so we went out to restaurants a lot and started ordering wine. But I do remember the first trip we took, I wasn’t a wine writer. I was in high tech marketing. And we went to Italy and it was so beautiful. It’s a feast for the senses from those slanting amber rays of the sun to the tall cypress trees, the terra cotta buildings and of course the food and wine. It was just glorious and it was endless. And I just thought I want to live in this world. And so the only way I could take it back with me was pretty much through a bottle. So we took as many bottles as we could sneak away with clinking through customs. Going yup, just got one bottle.
Janina Doyle 9:34
Any thing to declare? No, no, definitely not.
Natalie MacLean 9:40
But those bottles, you know, when we opened them back home, even in our rainy apartment in Toronto, they did bring back the memories. And we weren’t quite at the Mediterranean, but I just loved the experience and it turned me on to wine literally because I grew up in a Scottish family from the East Coast, Nova Scotia. So it was beer and whisky. Wine wasn’t part of the family table. So this was really my introduction to wine.
Janina Doyle 10:04
And now I love this title. I feel like I should steal this title you have named yourself, which is probably better than wine royalty so the crown is off, the Chief of Wine Happiness. I mean, fabulous. No, thank you. Well, I’m stealing it. So you have written incredible wine books. They’ve got you awards. You are on television giving people advice, and running online wine courses. So you’re doing a whole load in the spectrum of delivering wine, excitement and knowledge. So what is a typical day? For you? Does that exist?
Natalie MacLean 10:38
Yeah, well probably like you Janina, you know, there is no typical day, but I can generalize. I’m good at that. So all Chardonnays taste like this. No, but I usually get up pretty early, like around five in the morning.
Janina Doyle 10:54
and circadian rhythm, I am with you on this.
Natalie MacLean 10:57
I’m an early riser. Then again, I go to bed at nine, you know, when everybody’s just getting going. But anyway, I find my best brain is in the morning. So that’s when I do writing. You know for magazine columns for my online food and wine pairing courses. I’m now working on a third book, a memoir. So I use my brain in the morning. And then afternoons are more for physical stuff like running errands, working out to keep off the calories because there’s a natural dip in my energy. And I think for a lot of people that sort of mid to late afternoon dip. I come out of it around four or five and that’s when I do my tasting. So anywhere between 10 and sometimes up to 30 wines. I’ll taste, enter reviews for the website. Those go on my mobile apps that have the barcode scanner and the front label optical reader. And, yeah, so you know, I’ve tried to keep up with the wines that I get. The number of samples I get. I get no pity about that.
Janina Doyle 12:03
Genuinely, sometimes it’s really stressful when you realize as well you’ve committed to specific deadlines where things need to be written about or tasted, and you’re like, Oh my God. And also from my perspective, I actually – unless I don’t like the bottle – I really want to drink the wine. Some winemaker put his heart and soul into that bottle. And for me just to when I get given a whole bottle to taste a sample and then be like, Oh, I’ve got 10 bottles open, and oh, well, I’ll just pour it down the sink. I’m like, I need to coordinate things to make sure I drink those bottles and have them with food as well and really get the most out of each one. So then for me, yes, sob story. It’s very stressful.
Natalie MacLean 12:46
It is. People just don’t know how much we suffer like our livers for the people. But when my partner of 10 years now post divorce, when he first saw me pouring wine down the drain, he thought it was a wine crime. It’s like what are you doing? What are you doing? So at first, you know, he made me cork them all and he would distribute them to friends. But subsequently, I now have a team of people who review on my website, so I just take the ounce or two and re-cork for them and they come pick them up. He’s very sad that things have turned out that way. But it’s like, you know what, you’ve got a lot of benefits. Let’s not be too moppy here. There’s enough wine around. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. We live in a castle of wine. So anyway.
Janina Doyle 13:29
I’ve already mentioned I touched on the point that you are on TV. So you’re on CTV which The Social it’s called. So for many of us in the UK who are listening to this podcast, it’s basically it’s not just any daytime television show. It’s like the largest daytime television show. You know, just go for the best. So you’re on there and the CTV News and on morning shows educating the world. I mean, this has got to be so much fun. Is this the peak? Or is this just one of the things you enjoy doing?
Natalie MacLean 13:59
Well, yes, I’m past peak. I’m on the decline now. But you’ve caught it before I’ve slid into the gutter. No, I just. The Social that was fun. Like, I’ve been on that show now for well since 2013. So that’s seven, eight years. The Social is modelled after The View, if anybody’s familiar with the show The View in the States in that they have four celebrity hosts who talk about like a variety of issues often quite controversial. They have guests and so on, and it’s filmed before a live studio audience. And it’s live aired out to 3.6 million viewers across the country. So there’s no taping. There’s no editing. You’re live. So I something go wrong ever? Well, yeah, for sure. So what happens with The Social, they’re more integrated with social media than The View so they used to have live Twitter comments and other comments from social media on the screen reacting to whatever was going on on this show. And so I just cold called the editor, pitched her on pairing wine with fast food. And she loved that idea for the first segment. And so I thought, well, you know, this could go really well or I could get shamed on national television because there had been more than a few people on social media, trolls and whatnot, who had told me that that was a ridiculous topic to write about, because I had written about it before. However, I love wine and food pairing. It’s the thing I focus on in my wine, food online pairing courses, because I think it makes wine more accessible. Anyway, so we’re on the set, it’s live, you know, there’s about a dozen cameras going in and out and there’s blinding lights, and there’s hosts on either side. It’s like, I could melt right now into a puddle of neuroses, or I can forget about all that focus on the audience and try to give them a good time. So it did go well, thank God. They were throwing me questions, you know, pizza, hamburgers, what goes with all of this, and we’re having fun. And as we walked off the stage and the set it was like, it felt like a deflated balloon, but in a good way. It was such a relief. But you know, there have been other times when things have gone wrong. Like on CTV News, which is also live, I was trying to sabre champagne. So you know, why not? Again, put yourself in a really stressful situation. And we had to go to break and the end part was me trying to sabre this thing. And I had already tried it twice, and it wasn’t working. And the host was saying, Well, we believe you. We believe you it can work. And it’s like oh no. And it was literally third time was a charm. The cork went flying. I nearly took out the weatherman. The wine went everywhere. It was like, everywhere, the host and I were sort of dancing and hugging in this spray. And then we just went to commercials like, oh my God. We’re out. We’re out.
Janina Doyle 16:47
I mean, the amount of videos of people trying to do sabrorage. And you know what, I know how to do it. I am aware. I know it’s all about the seam. I know at 45 degree angle. I know that of course the bottle needs to be very cold. I know that it’s better to go along that seam a few times. And then when you kind of feel it you know and back. But you know what, I’ve never done it. I have never done it. Because you know why? Because I don’t want to do it with my own champagne. Get a cheap bottle. Yeah, I know. I need to go and get some Cava or something that has enough pressure inside. I will say to people don’t do a Prosecco. It will be too low. You need the full bodied pressure. But yeah, I should just do it and have some fun with it. But I don’t want to embarrass myself. But yeah, I should practice.
Natalie MacLean 17:31
No, it is nerve racking even when you’re just trying it in the backyard. But on TV, it’s as live action as TV can get with wine, which is usually, you know, pretty calm. But the studio lights were so hot and my hands were shaking. I think that’s why it was not working. It was like, oh no, I did this in the backyard. It worked. But anyway, it all. Happy ending.
Janina Doyle 17:51
We like that good. Well, anyway, I aspire. I’m waiting for somebody to listen in the UK. In fact, we have Loose Women, which is a bunch of women who are generally a whole mix of different types of celebrities. And they sit normally with coffee unless they’ve got some spirits in there, but there’s no wine. But maybe I should just be brave, send them a message and be like do you know who I am?
Natalie MacLean 18:17
Do you know what I can do for you?
Janina Doyle 18:19
Actually, I can revolutionize your show. Why anyway have a look, check out these women. It’s basically all teams The View and The Social but actually without the wine.
Natalie MacLean 18:29
I like the name Loose Women. Sounds like they’d be a fun group of women.
Janina Doyle 18:33
Actually it is very fun. Now, let’s go to your book. So your first book that you’ve written is Red, White, and Drunk All Over: A Wine Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass. Love the name. Thank you. If people are going to read this book, where are they going to be taken? Quite clearly to Italy, to the spine, the mountains, the hills. I’m sure right. Yeah, obviously. But where are they gonna go? What are they going to learn?
Natalie MacLean 18:59
Well, you know, I love the approach of the new journalists. So Truman Capote, Joan Didion, George Plimpton. What they did was they did day in the life of. They tried to immerse themselves in their subject rather than just reporting on the sidelines. So George Plimpton wrote a book about football. But instead of interviewing all the players, he did play in the NFL for I don’t know if it was a full season or not. But you just dig down deeper and get those insights and feelings of what it’s like to do the thing. So I worked as a sommelier in a five diamond restaurant, a fancy French restaurant. Mistakes were made, but through that you know I learned and was able to write about what is good restaurant wine service. How do you decipher a restaurant list? So like my mother used to hide the peas and the mashed potatoes, so that learning was more palatable, and just straight up. Here’s 26 steps on you know what good restaurant wine services. So I did a lot of that. I worked in a wine store. I helped Randall Graham who is a great, witty wine maker in California. Bonny Doon. Worked with him at the harvest. But they also did all sorts of other things, you know, travelled to Burgundy and tasted Domain Romanée-Conti. And that’s not a brag, even though it sounds like it. I went down in the cellar with Aubert de Villanie, who’s the winemaker owner there, and he made me blind taste. He said turn around.
Janina Doyle 20:23
He made you. You were like, I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to taste your wine.
Natalie MacLean 20:25
I don’t know why forced. And he said, and he said, What if I left you down here? I said, just leave a corkscrew I’ll be fine. But he had this Wine Library. And they were all webby bottles. And so he said turnaround. Okay, and so he pulled a bottle from the shelf. I didn’t know where. And he made me guess which vintage as we tasted. So like I was trying to, you know, should I say well, the rains in ’46. Definitely not that year. But I kind of had a sense from the corner of my eye – not that I was peeking – but that he was going around the middle of the rack. And so when I turned around, I could see that was kind of the 1950s. So I just made a stab in the middle. You know, I think it’s the 50s. And he was looking really pleased, like oh I picked a good student. Anyway, I actually narrowed it down but only because of luck not for any sort of skill. But my point to that and the other things that I’ve done, you know, when I did book readings for this book, they’d say, Oh, my gosh, you got into, you know, Domaine Romanée Conti. And I explained to the group, I said it wasn’t me it was you. It’s my readers that I bring with me. That’s how I gained entry to all these places. I do not kid myself in terms of, oh it’s me and whatever. And to your point, not really royalty. I’m an elected member of the wine people. They voted with their confidence. And it’s who I bring with me to these experiences that allow me that kind of entry.
Janina Doyle 21:51
Yeah. Yeah. You’re the Chief of Wine Happiness. That’s the title. Yes. Yes. You can tell from my face. I’m just like, ah, can you imagine being locked in the cellars of Domaine Romanée Conti? Like oh no, what are we going to do whilst we wait?
Natalie MacLean 22:09
The perfect way to go and you’d be perfectly preserved. You’d be pickled, actually. By the time they got the door open, it’s like oh so sad. But happy ending.
Janina Doyle 22:19
Yeah that is amazing. So people are going to go all the way around, pick up some tips from your journeys and your discoveries and obviously, hopefully, kind of feel like they were there as well, which is the closest thing. Most people will not get into the cellar of DRC will they.
Natalie MacLean 22:35
So it’s true. It’s not an open winery. It doesn’t have a tasting room as do wineries in England, Canada in the US.
Janina Doyle 22:42
For obvious reasons. So tell me about the second book. So the second book, Unquenchable as we both are Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wine. So I like this one, because we’ve gone from DRC, which is only tasted by a few in the world these days. What are people gonna find in this book? I probably already ruined the surprise by the title right?
Natalie MacLean 23:03
No, no, it’s all good. Like, definitely, yeah, this is the antithesis of DRC. I just had enough of all these fine wines. It was like.
Unknown Speaker 23:11
Oh no, I can’t drink cult wines anymore and fine wines that have been aged for 50 years.
Natalie MacLean 23:18
You just need to be one with the people again. Yeah. So this was what the common theme is, again, between the two books, is I like to seek out really obsessive winemakers. That’s actually not a hard thing to do, as you know. Wine drinkers, makers, etc. we’re all kind of obsessive types. So I went to Australia and you know, Provence and all over the place looking for areas where the value of wine is just off the charts and often I found it was if you go south. So what I mean by that is you know in Italy, Tuscany, Piedmont. They’re very cachet, brand name wine regions, but if you go south to Sicily, you can get some incredible values. Same thing in France from Bordeaux, Burgundy go down to the Languedoc.
Janina Doyle 24:06
And Portugal. Yeah that’s exactly true, isn’t it?
Natalie MacLean 24:08
Even in California, Napa and Sonoma are the brand names but go down to you know, Paso Robles, you’re going to get better value. So I was looking for that sort of intersection between value and you know slightly unhinged winemakers who would tell me things off script and without close PR guardians.
Unknown Speaker 24:29
So no struggle I gotta imagine these days.
Natalie MacLean 24:31
Exactly. Yes. I found them. You know, Wolf Blass in Australia is just, he is a wild man with a lot of energy. And he has this one wine, his labels are pretty much colour coded. He was one of the first to do that and make wine a lot more accessible and easy to buy. But he has a red label. It’s just called the Wolf Blass red label. He goes oh I call that the leg opener. But okay I don’t think I need to probe that. But anyway, we just had a marvellous time and, you know, Charles Back in Fairview, South Africa. He also makes the line Goats do Roam.
Janina Doyle 25:10
Yes. Okay. I was like why is that name sound familiar?
Yeah exactly. So that’s a play off Côtes du Rhone. And he had a big standoff with the French wine authorities because they felt he was infringing on copyright. But what he did was he took a busload of his farm workers, vineyard workers, down to the French Embassy. And he has all these goats on his property. Made me milk a goat. He thought that would go viral on social media me kneeling down milking a goat, anyway, he’s full of fun. But he told me this story. And he said it took a busload of farmworkers down to the French Embassy and he goes “I don’t know how CNN found out about it. Wink wink”. They showed up and as did a lot of other media, and they sang freedom songs, but then they presented the ambassador of the French Embassy with a vacuum sealed package of goat droppings.
Janina Doyle 26:03
So you said as you do.
Natalie MacLean 26:07
The French authorities dropped the lawsuits. But he said to me “I’d appreciate anything you could do to stir up that controversy again. It was great PR”.
Janina Doyle 26:17
Wow. Yeah. Well you know, no, PR is worse than bad PR. Whatever that saying is. Exactly. Have you met Charles Smith from Washington?
Natalie MacLean 26:26
I have not. I’ve heard lots of things about him. Is he in Washington?
Janina Doyle 26:29
Yeah. And you would want him for another book. Like his hair is big and crazy and big. And you know, like Sideshow Bob kind of hair from The Simpsons. And he is literally wild. Apart from the fact the voluptuousness of his wines, the roundedness, the power. It is almost explosion of fruit. It sums him up. But I’ll always remember, I won’t name the place. But he came to a launch of one of his wines. We’re in this restaurant, and all of a sudden, we’re talking and he’s, he goes to run off, and he goes and hides behind a really long curtain by some windows. He’s behind this curtain. And I follow him. And I’m like, why are you behind this curtain? And he’s like, the owner of this specific restaurant. To give you an idea it’s a very cool, funky kind of restaurant is walking in. And he’s like, the last time I was with him I didn’t wake up for three days. And I leave it there. Let people use their imagination. What the hell they got up to? Well, wine must have been involved. For sure. So I don’t know how much he was exaggerating. But he’s definitely a little cray cray, but energetic and interesting. And just as you were saying going to Australia, you know. Stories that you can have with him, they’ll stick with you forever. So of these bargain wines, have you got a specific region that you really lean towards? Or just a few actual specific wines that people listening may want to go out and seek?
Sure. So I loved visiting Sicily, you know, anything with a volcano is just magical. It’s the power of the earth and that anytime you might die perhaps while you’re drinking. I don’t know. Nothing like a little bit of danger. Yeah, exactly. I don’t know. I think life death, eating, satiation, you know, sensory, anyway. But I loved visiting Sicily. Again, a sun drenched island in the South of Italy. And they have so many iconic dishes. I mean, Pistachios are everywhere, seafood is fresh, and just the wines. I’m not sure whether volcanic soil makes a huge difference or if it’s just a matter of drainage, but there’s something about those wines that is special and of the earth and powerful. I mean, the wines are such great value. I mean, they just, they’re a fraction of the cost of other more northern Italian wines. I mean the label that stands out is Cusumano. And the grape is Nero d’Avola, the black grape near Avola I believe the town but they’re just these luscious, full bodied, smooth reds. They’re gorgeous. So that would be one. Another would be closer to home. Well, actually, I’ll save that for later. Ontario wines. But yeah, the Italian wine standout. Of course, I loved Provence. I love Rosé I drink it year round. And again, it’s those sensory memories and I was fortunate to share glass with Peter May, Mayle, the author of A Year in Provence, and we sat down and had Rosé because that’s his absolute favourite. I visited him in his small little town village. And you know, we’re sitting out in the sun on a bistro deck and it’s like, this is just I want to stay. It is the associations. I mean the wine itself, I don’t know. wouldn’t score 97 but the experience sure would.
Janina Doyle 29:56
So do you think that being down in Provence maybe one of your favourite places to have visited? Or do you have specific winery that sticks in your head that’s just bought. That’s a 97 out of 100.
Natalie MacLean 30:08
Winery. Oh, yes, yes, yes, yes. Yeah, I’m trying to think because my mind goes to Ontario again, because some of my most favourite experiences are here. So do ask me about that again. But, you know, visiting the wineries in Italy was wonderful. I mean, Tomasi. And.
Janina Doyle 30:24
So you love being in Veneto. Yeah, exactly. Barbi dei Fattoria. Okay. Oh, well, you’re talking about all over the place, I think. Yeah, Peimonte for me being in la Mora in the Barolo region on the hill looking down. Mount of vineyards, it’s special. And certainly in Tuscany. It is so funny, I remember going from Florence to like, just down into the middle of Chanti and somewhere it’s probably a few kilometres like takes an hour because you don’t go in a straight line. You like know around and around and around a hill. Up and down and again. All those olive groves and cypress trees and little castles on top of every town. It’s special, isn’t it?
Natalie MacLean 31:04
It is. It does take a long time, especially when you get lost and you have a German bus driver on a one way road, who was swearing in German at the Italian drivers honking coming straight at us and trying to back up a busload of people down at tall hill. It was fun. We need to drink.
Unknown Speaker 31:25
But definitely a memory.
Janina Doyle 31:28
If they’d forgotten the wine on board that it’s not so fun. Anyway conclusion for everybody. You know what? One Italy, for sure of all the places I’ve been to actually in the world is like, I swear every region is just gonna blow your mind. But you’ll be fine. Most places where wine grows, there’s some beautiful view behind it. Isn’t there?
Natalie MacLean 31:46
There is. I’m so glad we don’t write about plumbing parts. We’d be touring dank, wet factories that don’t smell so good. We’re so privileged to go to the most beautiful places on Earth.
Janina Doyle 31:59
This is so true. Talking of beauty, then, what has been the highlight the most beautiful moment of your wine career so far? Because obviously, I’ve got a whole long list of all the awards you’ve won. And I’m wondering if that’s going to be… obviously after your son’s birth of course. That’s the highlight. But we’re talking wine.
Natalie MacLean 32:17
Right. Well. Yes. My mind actually didn’t go to my son’s birth.
Unknown Speaker 32:24
How not a highlight? We’ll edit that out.
Natalie MacLean 32:27
No, no, no. It’s all right. Perhaps my first glass of wine after he was born. That was pretty special. Because I had been totally off of it, of course. But yeah, so many memories come back to me, not because the wine was iconic, but because of who I was with. Like the friends, the family, you know, just sharing a wine, a quiet moment. I know, that’s not that sort of peak experience. I did feel like there were some special moments like being in New York for the James Beard Awards was pretty amazing. Because for here they’re kind of sort of food and wine Oscars because I had entered based on an article I posted on my own website. And I remember after I won, Jeffery Steingarden, who’s the I don’t know if he’s still writing, but he was the food columnist for Vogue magazine in New York. He came up to me and said, Who the hell are you? And where are you from? He’s very funny in a grouchy way.
Janina Doyle 33:23
He owns his grumpiness.
Natalie MacLean 33:24
He does, he’s very funny. But just New York’s magical, too. I love New York for the restaurants and for the fast pace. And it’s like, I always feel like a country mouse in New York. But I love being there because it’s like, oh, look at those tall buildings. Well, look at all these people anyway.
Janina Doyle 33:41
It’s all about just drinking with the right people. Exactly. Now talking about people, they can go to your website. Actually, you have quite a lot of free online courses. You have other courses. They can take things more seriously. But a lot of these courses they’re all about people building confidence in choosing wines by themselves, whether it be in a restaurant, whether it be in a wine shop. So have you got a tip or two that you can bring to this podcast right now for somebody who’s in a wine shop? How can they narrow down their choice?
Sure. I mean, there’s a few strategies when I worked in a wine shop, that’s exactly what I was looking for. How do you, as a consumer, not get overwhelmed with this wall of bottles? Because, you know, I think wine as you know, you need it’s unlike any other consumer product category. I mean, it just you can try on a dress. You can read the first chapter book, but generally you cannot taste the wine before you buy it. At least not legally. So all you’ve got is a fluffy squirrel or a castle in the middle distance on the label to go on. And that’s you know, 80% of people buy wine based on the label. So what can you do to narrow your odds or increase your odds, I should say? So the go south thing is always good for value in terms of the region’s but I also would suggest talking to the store staff. Usually they’re pretty passionate retail store staff in a wine store and asking them something like, you know, I generally like a full bodied Cabernet. And if you know the label or the wine name you’ve had before, can you recommend something similar? So maybe they’ll take you over to an Argentine Malbec instead. So it’s kind of like the Amazon book buying algorithm. If you like this book, maybe you’ll like that book. That’s one way to, I think can help. Another thing you can do is buy a case of wine to sort of de-risk the situation. And what I mean by that is, a lot of people go into a liquor store looking for the one perfect bottle to buy and instead of that, why not, again, tap into the store staff or if you’re too shy, download an app like mine, and say, okay, I generally like full bodied reds in this price range. Go for a variety and then experiment and say, okay, well, we’ll try this one. And if it doesn’t work, that’s fine. So maybe you’ll find two or three new favourites out of a case of 12. But I think it’s worth trying.
Janina Doyle 36:04
There’s so many grapes in the world, isn’t it? And for the typical consumer, they’re like, okay, I know my Cab Sauv, my Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. So I’ll stick with that. And you just think, what about the Gruner Veltliners of the world? You say, Sicily. What about the Nerello Mascaleses you know? All these kind of great varieties that people are like, what the hell? They’re wonderful, aren’t they? So and you get that when you get these discovery boxes, especially if you get them from a passionate, independent wine retailer where they want to bring you these random goodies that you may have never had before. Yeah, absolutely. So people are tasting wine, they’ve got their discovery box, and now they’re tasting a glass of Albariño whatever it is. Have you got a tip for them in terms of enhancing their tasting skills or how they would maybe identify that wine blind compared to a Sauvignon Blanc? Who knows?
Sure. I think that consumers or those who take courses from me have magical tasting abilities to describe each wine as it is. But the most powerful thing anyone can do, and you obviously don’t have to be a professional to do this is taste wine side by side, and the differences will leap out at you. So most consumers have a glass of wine at a time. But if you want to learn about wine, taste a flight of wines are like four or five, or however many side by side. Like get a flight of all different New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, or take Sauvignon Blanc from different countries, New Zealand and the Loire and Canada and so on. And you’ll be amazed at how much you’ll pick up just because you’re going side by side and going back and forth among them. And that’s what I do in my courses is and then people think, oh my gosh, I really can see the difference. I really do see that I’m getting more herbal notes there and this is one’s more floral, because they’re up against each other. And I think that’s one of the best things you can do. And I know that sometimes you think Well, how am I going to open four or five bottles, but there are devices that can preserve wine these days. On my podcast, you showed the Coravin which is an excellent device. There’s also like the re-pour thing you can put in just a little cap that will absorb all the oxygen out of a bottle or get together friends to do a potluck. Everybody brings a bottle and then you will taste together so that you can taste a variety of wines or take my course
Janina Doyle 38:28
Or take your course. Your course looks fantastic. And I think actually that is really interesting. Like I was thinking about, you know, what would you recommend for somebody who is planning maybe a wine tasting at home, but I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Doing these kinds of flights and funny enough, literally on Sunday, I am doing a little blind tasting for my mum. So she loves two grape varieties. One she loves surprise surprise Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. She loves the aromatics and the concentration and all that kind of passion fruit and all this intense, pungent exotic fruits and grassy notes. Now when we last spoke, I mentioned Bacchus, the great variety from England, and it is the closest thing to it could well be Marlborough New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. And so what I’ve decided to do because she loves the two is I bought two bottles of Bacchus and I bought a Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough and then I bought a Terrain Sauvignon Blanc. So we talked about very good value wines. For anyone who doesn’t know Terrain is quite a large region, but it’s in the Loire Valley slightly west from Sancerre Pouilly-Fumé, the places where they make the super premium Sauvignon Blancs. But Terrain itself tends to be the most exotic and pungent and aromatic of all the Sauvignon Blancs in the Loire Valley. So sometimes it can get mixed up in a blind tasting with Marlborough, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. So to play around with it all, I want them to guess which two are Bacchus, which one is the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, and which one is the French Sauvignon Blanc and of course, ideally be able to see them all different but at the same time actually realize that there are quite a few similarities. So it kind of brings them together because I think that’s quite fun as well.
Natalie MacLean 40:21
Oh, that’s brilliant. Great idea.
Janina Doyle 40:23
Yeah. So anyway, so there we go everyone. Either get a flight of one. Great Friday all around the world. Find two varieties that have maybe similarities like Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc could be another one, both with amazing acidity. And both can take a lot of oak but also be without oak. And for me, I’m always looking for a bit of quince or a bit of beeswax or honey note with the Chenin to try and differentiate it, but I muck it up all the time. I’m terrible at blind tasting.
Natalie MacLean 40:54
But those are great ideas to set them up. Yeah, you’ll learn a lot.
Janina Doyle 40:57
Absolutely. Well there you go, everyone. Now if we are tasting from wine glasses, I love Zalto. Obviously, here cost 40 pound glass. It’s not like you can buy too many of them. And of course, it’s tragic when you smash them. Do you have a favourite wineglass?
Natalie MacLean 41:13
Zalto. Sorry, I’d like to have a range. But you know, I do love them. I wish I were on commission. I’m not. But I’ve got the universal here. And I called the Big Ass glass for Pinot Noir. But I just love them because they’re so light. And just so I don’t know, there’s something about them. Why do you think so many of us love these glasses, as opposed to I mean, there’s many good brands, Riedel, Spiegelau, and so on.
Janina Doyle 41:39
I also have and I talk a lot with people about I’ve got Gabrielle glass, which is the handblown golden edition. I’ve got that and I really liked that as well. I think Zalto. It just it’s so light. So the feel of it on your mouth is just beautiful. And when you hold it, you feel like you’re holding nothing. I really think it probably is one of the lightest glasses out there. But at the same time, I’ve seen them kind of move it to show that it actually can bend and not break. I’m not that I really want to do that. Yeah, because they’re not as easy to break as you think.
Natalie MacLean 42:11
I’m not sure I believe that. I’ve been through so many.
Janina Doyle 42:14
But there are probably other, well you shouldn’t call them factories, hand made places that are producing these wonderful glasses, but Zalto has got it right. And it’s got the marketing behind it. Probably there’s got to be a few others, but you just know that you’re getting that quality every time aren’t you with Zalto.
Natalie MacLean 42:31
Ah, yeah, I love them.
Janina Doyle 42:34
Another thing. I love you talk about pairing because a lot of your education is pairing food and wine together. One of your courses is actually on cheeses. I think you’ve paired 25 cheeses with wine, which is just amazing. So for anyone who says, Oh, I’m just gonna get a bottle of red and cheese like that. No, it’s, it can be far, far more interesting than that. And have you got a favourite specific cheese and wine pairing that you have? I have a few. You are allowed a few.
Natalie MacLean 42:59
Yeah, I do. So I love experimenting with different types of rinds, the exterior of the cheese. So you get rinds that are edible. And one of my favourite is a Merlot washed rind. And, of course, it’s going to go beautifully with a Merlot but other reds too. It doesn’t have to be Merlot, could be a Malbec or Cabernet or something like that. Another classic that’s easy to find is like a oozy creamy Brie that’s warm and just lava flowing over like a crusty baguette. And then you could do two things. You can either cut through the fat so you can contrast with a Gruner Veltliner, or a zesty white, or Sauvignon Blanc it has lots of acidity or you can ooze into it and go like with like, like a buttery Chardonnay with that creamy brie. And then the last one, I always love to explore weird cheeses like Mimolette. I don’t know if you’ve had that one.
Janina Doyle 43:57
No, Mimolette. No.
Natalie MacLean 43:59
Well, it tastes somewhat like cheddar. It’s nuttier. But the backstory is gonna sound gross, but it’s actually good. Little mites eat away at the cheese and they produce the flavours in the cheese. So it’s got all of this sort of, you know, those little when you bite into mature cheddar, it’s got those little not rocks, but little bit crunchy almost. Yeah, it’s like the protein or the amino acids or whatever. And those are little tiny explosions of flavour. You’re not eating the mites, but it’s got these gorgeous flavours as it ages. And I just love like a Syrah that’s also aged and got the smoky flavour. So you wrap that smoke into these sort of nutty flavours of the cheese and it’s gorgeous. So people love exploring these different flavours but also with any food, including cheese, one really great thing to do and it’s simple, is take a taste of the wine first, always taste your wine first. Then take a bite of the cheese, then go back to the wine. And you’ll be amazed at how your perception of that wine changes.
Janina Doyle 45:07
I love that. Now to finish off on the pairing and book theme of this episode. As you of course are into writing, I’ve got three books for you, which actually I picked because they’re also films so people will actually understand what it is. So the three books and I want you to tell me the perfect wine that they should be drinking, in your opinion, to go with the book. So if somebody is reading Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin if he’ll ever finished the last book. But anyway, if you’re reading that book what would you drink with Game of Thrones?
Natalie MacLean 45:43
Well, they do have their own line of wines, but I would go for something more full bodied then what they produce the name brand wines, something like an Italian Amarone. Its full bodied.
Janina Doyle 45:54
Its really Intense.
Natalie MacLean 45:58
Intense like the show. It’s layered. It’s got lots of flavour. It also has a bitter finish. Now it’s a pleasant bitter finish, but for fans of good books. Yeah, for the fans of the books who do not like the ending. And Amarone is best because it kind of ends bitterly like we want a little bit of a remake there. But anyway, so yes, that’s what I would go with.
Unknown Speaker 46:19
I just love it.
Janina Doyle 46:20
This is why I wanted to ask you this. Okay, right. A slight change Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.
Natalie MacLean 46:26
I love that book. Oh, I love that book. And you know, my favourite part is when Alice sees that bottle and it says, drink me. Its like that’s my life too. Except I’m in wine land not in Wonderland anyway. So I would go with something much more light and playful and delightful. I would go with a Riesling, an off dry Riesling because it would pair beautifully with all of the crustless sandwiches and dainties at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
Janina Doyle 46:55
You know what Alice in Wonderland everything I should do like an Alice in Wonderland theme podcast, like an episode and see how I can
Natalie MacLean 47:03
And we could do all the food pairings to like, you know, take a look at what was served at that tea party
Janina Doyle 47:09
and delightful. I’ll just act as the Mad Hatter. I think that there is a role that would suit me well.
Natalie MacLean 47:14
Janina Doyle 47:16
Now, for the lovers. The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks.
Natalie MacLean 47:21
All right. I was gonna suggest something goofy but I’m not a romantic though. I’m kidding. I’ve been through a divorce. So I’m hardened. I would go with. I’m kidding. It’s all right. It’s all happy ever after. But of course we have to go with Pinot Noir, the heartbreak grape. Okay, yeah, yeah. Classic. Pinot Noir of course is called the heartbreak grape because it’s so difficult to make. It’s sensitive to everything. Rain, mildew, pests, voices above a whisper in the vineyard. It seems it’s just really sensitive and cranky. But when it works, it’s beautiful. It’s a sublime wine. It’s my go to wine to drink personally. And so I would definitely go with that.
Janina Doyle 48:04
It has beauty. Yeah. And it can be all different shades in a way depending on if you get it right or wrong. So
Natalie MacLean 48:11
Exactly. So 50 Shades of Grey or whatever.
Janina Doyle 48:13
No, no, did not bring that with me. Amazing. Right. To finish up on this, I just want you to tell everybody what your website is so they can go to that and they’ll also find your podcast, on their online wine courses, your blogs, your articles and where they can get the books from. So what is the website?
Natalie MacLean 48:33
Thank you so much. So it’s NatalieMacLean.com. It’s my name. N A T A L I E M A C L E A N Natalie MacLean.com. And yeah, you can get connected there to the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, my online food and wine pairing courses, the books and everything else.
Janina Doyle 48:50
Many, many more. Everything you’ve ever wanted, and more. Now, next week is Part Two with a very amusing and interesting Natalie, and we’re going to be taking things closer to home. Well, Natalie’s home. We are off to Canada with a big focus on the Ontario wine region and ice wine. Now to finish this episode and in dedication to our love of wine and books, I have the ideal quote to finish off with and it’s by Molière, who was a French playwright, and he said great is the fortune of he who possesses a good bottle, a good book, and a good friend.
Natalie MacLean 49:37
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my chat with Janina. In the shownotes, you’ll find my email contact, a full transcript of my conversation with Janina, links to her podcast and website, how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class, and where you can find the live stream video version of these conversations on Facebook and YouTube Live every Wednesday at 7pm. That’s all in the shownotes at NatalieMacLean.com/179. Email me if you have a sip, tip, question or would like to be a beta reader of my new memoir at Natalie@NatalieMaclean.com. You won’t want to miss next week when we continue our chat with Janina. In the meantime, if you missed episode 44 go back and take a listen. I chat about pairing spicy food and wine with some great tips if you’re celebrating Cinco de Mayo, the fifth of May with some spicy Mexican fare. I also discussed Gen X versus millennial drinkers. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite. The flavours that survive heat are sweet and sour. That’s why both crisp and slightly sweet wines can cool the palate after a fiery onslaught. So you think about wines like Riesling and Muscat, especially those from cool climates like Germany, Canada, Alsace, where the wine preserves its refreshing acidity. These wines are the equivalent of diving into the ocean after getting a sunburn, invigorating and soothing for your tongue. Long after you swallow, their silver thread of acidity lasts as long as that hotwire of spice in your mouth. We also have complementary aromas and flavours of spices, limes, lemons, green apples and flowers. Think about the garnishes that often tame the heat in spicy dishes. You’ll find those aromas in the wines that go best with them.
If you liked this episode, please tell one friend about it this week, especially someone you know who be interested in the wines and stories we discussed. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week. Perhaps a full bodied Italian wine.
You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret full bodied bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at NatalieMacLean.com/subscribe. Meet me here next week. Cheers.