I read Nat MacLean’s Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass before a brief trip, via cruise ship, to her native Canada. Chapters like compiled columns – one was working a single night as a sommelier – and I was smitten with her unassuming, easily approachable, style. When her publicist sent me her latest to review, Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines, I read it, ready with pen and paper in hand.
First of all the book is not just a list of bargain wines from her worldwide travels at all – Nat gives us a taste and more of pinot noir from Niagara, Portugal’s ports (For wine 101ers: real port only comes from Portugal) German riesling, Aussie shiraz, African pinotage, Sicily’s Nero d’avola, Argentinean malbec and rosé from Provence.
And, it’s not just a book about these varieties that she found bargain prices for. Nat gives us snapshots of the winemakers she meets, what their lives are like, even their animals as well as some fabulous homemade regional food for pairings.
Here are the tidbits I don’t want you to miss, but if you want her wine lists, and more, I highly recommend that you buy the book:
In giving us a mental picture of Aussie winemaker Wolf Blass, Nat writes, “He was one of the first to realize that the winemaker is integral to the marketing of the product, the human face of the wine.” Made me think of how pivotal Clos Pepe winemaker Wes Hagen has been with his social networking.
A good lesson: “When it’s cold outside drinks wines from warm region, and when it’s warm, go for those cooler climates.”
The word Kabinett, the lightest variety of riesling, she says, “…originally referred to the locked cabinets in which the most valuable wines are cellared.”
After enjoying wine with breakfast one morning, she later writes, “Low-alcohol wines are often your most versatile food-wise because they can go with many lighter dishes we enjoy today without overwhelming their flavors.”
There was a judgment in Montreal akin to the shakeup U.S. had with France! A ’05 Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Chardonnay from Niagara bested other wines from Burgundy and California in a blind taste test in 2009. Now that is one I’d like to try that Nat marked as a Best Value!
The shiraz being farmed in South Africa now encompasses 7 percent of their vineyards – and if you thought Australia was the stronghold, you’re right, but did you know that they got their first vine clippings from S. Africa? I didn’t.
In Sicily, Nat learns from winemaker Giuseppe Benanti, of Vinicola Benanti, that a person plagued with “cenosilicaphobia” has a “fear of an empty glass”. I think I’d like that on a T-Shirt to wear to my next wine tasting!
An insider tip from Nat, regarding high priced winemaking regions in Italy over lower priced ones like in Sicily: seek out the lesser known and you will be rewarded.
Did you know that handing port from one person to the next, only to the left, was called “port to port”? Nat asked winemaker George Thomas David Sandeman, the 7th generation of the family to run the House of Sandeman, if people still pass port this way and he replied, “The decanter still circles clockwise, symbolizing the passing of time.” (That exchange made me want to try “Porto Fizz”, a blend of Sandeman ruby port and sparkling wine, or the Sangria where the sparkling wine is replace with orange juice.)
Before Nat leaves Portugal and travels to Provence, she has an opportunity to taste port from 1893, which she finds both robust and rich. Later, when others arrive, she angles her body in a way to hide it. Have to say I’ve been guilty of actions like this, and when the tables are turned and someone else does it, I’m aghast. Yes, I give you free rein to call me a hypocrite.
And now, finally, we arrive on Sunday in Provence, the final chapter. I learn that Nat likes a little ice – quickly retrieved – to cool her rosé and she pairs pink food (think salmon) with pink wine.
In closing I’d have to say that I not only learned a lot, but I was thoroughly entertained by Nat’s book. And, as I’ve read a lot of wine books, I’m always searching for something new. Nat not only gives me the knowledge, but also makes me thirsty for more wines to try, more winemakers to learn from and more areas to search out.