REVIEW: Red, White, and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass by Natalie MacLean

I read French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano almost four years ago, and it changed my life. And I’m not just saying that – it really did. 20 pounds lighter and a couple years later, I read Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Again, it opened my eyes to a whole new way of experiencing and thinking about food. I argue that if I had read them in reverse order, Omnivore’s Dilemma would have meant very little to me; I would not have experienced the same level of connection, and there certainly would not have been the lightning-bolt moment of clarity and epiphany that I felt reading these two books the way I did.

Well, this is what happened when I read Red, White, and Drunk All Over by Natalie MacLean*. Natalie MacLean is my Mireille Guiliano of wine. Unfortunately, I read this after I read The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization (my review, which I just re-read and didn't realize I made a Michael Pollan comparison there as well) by Alice Feiring. Alice Feiring is the Michael Pollan of wine (though not on quite the same scholarly level as Pollan). I read these books in the complete wrong order. Now that I have finished Red, White, and Drunk All Over (I love typing that title), I should go back and read Battle for Wine and Love again. But I don’t know if I can undo my mistake…

I’m going to make a bold statement: Red, White, and Drunk All Over is a universally accessible book about wine. Anyone can read it and they’ll understand what the heck MacLean is talking about. You’ll walk away with a better of understanding of wine merchants, of the Champagne region, of wine writers and critics, of how to host a wine tasting party. Will you walk away with a better understanding of wine itself? Perhaps not. If anything, this book is the precursor to bigger, bolder books about wine because this one opens you up to everything you don’t know. It whets your appetite, if you will, so that you want to take it further. You want to read more and learn more. In other words, it’s the perfect introductory book.

MacLean has an incredibly accessible writing style: she is Everywoman. She writes in a way that makes you say, “I want to go winetasting with this woman! She’d be a blast!” She doesn’t come off as a wine snob in any way, and she’s the only wine writer I’ve come across that has basically said, “Yeah, I like to drink, to actually swallow wine, and feel that warmth from a second (or third) glass.”** Thank god someone finally said it! Additionally, I appreciated that while MacLean is teaching you something, she is also rolling her eyes at the pretensions and established hoo-haw of the wine world. For instance, she attends a demonstration by Georg Reidel, of the Reidel Glass company. While she is in the midst of arguing that the wine glass you use really does matter, she is also poking good-natured fun at Reidel for referring to the wine glass as his “precision tool” and describing “the velocity of the wine entering the mouth.” Again, though, while you’re sniggering and giggling with MacLean (and ogling Reidel’s handsome good looks), you’re also learning about what it is that makes wine glasses important.

I don’t want to make you think you won’t learn about wine itself while reading this – don’t worry, you will. I highlighted the heck out of my copy. I liked this passage: “The color tells us how old the wine is. Young whites are usually green at the edges and become a deeper yellow or gold with time; reds are usually purple or ruby in youth and turn to garnet or brick in age.” That’s knowledge you can use tonight at dinner: pour yourself that glass of cabernet franc and take a look at the color. MacLean also says it’s not beneficial to hold your glass up to the light (guilty!); better to hold it up against a white tablecloth or white piece of paper to gauge the color correctly. See, this is all useful, practical information you can use now. However, as I mentioned before, this book does make you long for more info, which is in no way a fault of the book; in fact, I consider this a compliment. For instance, “deeper yellow or gold with time”…well, my glass of chardonnay already exhibits those colors (whereas my sauvignon blanc is the palest gold). But my chardonnay is only a 2005 bottle. So what’s up? This is where you’ll really want to delve into further reading and research, which any good introductory book on a subject will make you want to do.

On a side note, MacLean folds in some amusing supplementary information. For instance, she says that “corks flying out of champagne bottles have been clocked at fifty miles an hour.” Additionally, she has a lovely bit about the history and lost art of the toast. She shares that in ancient Greece, “toasts usually involved kissing up to the gods first. You looked up to the sky, then spilled some wine on the ground as an offering.” I love that, especially since we do a toast every single night at our dinner table. We’re a secular family so say no prayers, but we do a toast. Sometimes we toast “To the end of the week!” or sometimes we’ll have a pork roast and toast “To the pig!” as a way of honoring the animal that lost its life so that we could receive nourishment. Anyway, I’m digressing… I really enjoyed this information that, while not providing deeper knowledge of wine, served to increase our appreciation of the ceremonies behind drinking it.

Red, White, and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass is recommended highly for the novice wine drinker. A thoroughly enjoyable, amusing read!

* Check out her website - it's professional and informative

** My words, not MacLean’s.


Natalie MacLean said...

Thanks so much Laura! Your observations are thoughtful and, of course, accurate (!) I'm delighted that you liked the book.

I'm already a regular visitor to your blog ... I love your zest for life. Hope you'll join my e-newsletter. Let's raise a virtual glass together!



Nicole said...

I just purchased some of these books. I have been meaning to read them... Life and kids has been getting in my way... I am determined!!!

Unknown said...

I highly encourage you to pick up any (or all) of the titles I mentioned, Nicole. Definitely start with MacLean & Guiliano and go from there. Omnivore's Dilemma is an incredibly dense read (at least it was for me), but I'm such an evangelist for it. And Feiring's book really isn't for everyone - she can be a bit militant...

I want to add to my post: When I say that French Women Don't Get Fat changed my life, I am certainly not referring only to the lost 20 pounds. Guiliano gave me the key (the permission, even) to derive enormous pleasure from food. To accept nothing but the best I can afford. To experiment with flavors and textures. Most importantly, I feel like I learned that if I pass on the chance to try some new food, I'm missing out on LIFE. Food and hunger is the backbone of our existence (so says MFK Fisher) and I've learned to treat it with endless respect and importance (at least, that's what I strive to do - I don't always succeed).

I suppose I get hung up on the weight thing because it's the physical manifestation of my journey...but that's just the symptom of something much more soulful and energetic going on.

Nicole said...

Laura, it is funny that you say to start with MacLean & Guiliano as those are the two I purchased! I know what you mean about food and life changing etc... I understand it is NOT just the physical change for you. I mean I am sure for each person it is different but in HS I was just a couple pounds over the rest of the girls (not fat just short and a little bit of pudge) then college came and it didn't help... couple extra added.

Fall of my senior year in college, I spent a semester in Europe (London, Florence and mostly Paris). I ate bread, cheese, chocolate and wine almost daily and came back about 10+ lbs. lighter!!! Just the right size!

Flash forward many years.... I was very thin in my early 30's as I worked out and ate WELL on dates butt light the rest of the time. I was really getting into food and wine and buying the GOOD stuff once a week in small portions. Then dates treated me to the rest! I started learning wine.

Then went back to school for a teaching credential, got married and had 2 kids and started a new business. All in about 4/5 years!!! Now .. just past 40 (as much as I hate to admit it)... I lost what I was learning about wine and the lbs. seem to be creeping back again. I have so little time for me. I need to go back to my loves. Food, wine, books.... While not forgetting the kids, my little business and (unfortunately) keeping the house somewhat straight!

Weight is a true issue. It changes how you feel about yourself! Not everyone looks as fabulous as Queen Latifah with a few extra pounds. I know I feel less energetic and less positive about my physical appearance. Plus clothes do not seem as comfortable.

Thanks for the great reviews!!! I really do enjoy your blog.