“There’s a very good reason there aren’t any orange juice critics out there,” says Natalie MacLean with a laugh. “Wine appeals to people on several levels: intellectually; at a sensory level; and then there’s the buzz. That very real, hedonistic pleasure that we get from drinking wine. You don’t get that from OJ.”
MacLean is calling from her hotel room in Calgary, her latest stop in a cross-country tour to promote her book Red, White, and Drunk All Over. It’s not a revealing tell-all detailing the Nova Scotia-born writer’s descent into wine-soaked alcoholism; rather, it follows the life cycle of wine, from the vine, through wineries and cellars, to red drips on a white linen tablecloth. In prose at once educational and highly personal, MacLean takes readers with her as she tastes wine in legendary French cellars, labours in a California vineyard, works in a San Francisco wine shop and spends an evening as an undercover sommelier in a fine-dining restaurant.
“I’m not an industry insider,” she says, “but I wanted to gain an insider perspective for this book. I wanted to truly get the taste of the experience, to allow the readers to live vicariously through me. That way it’s more fully sensory, which makes it more fun to learn.”
The sensory aspect of MacLean’s writing makes her stories come alive. The skills she has developed over eight years as a wine writer, publishing wine-related stories in dozens of magazines and developing a bi-weekly wine e-newsletter called Nat Decants, publications which have earned her several honours for excellence in food and drink writing, serve her equally well in the book. Mixed in with the lively prose, though, are very real, and realistic, answers to common—and uncommon—questions asked by her wine-drinking readership.
“Fifty-three thousand people from around the world subscribe to my newsletter,” she says. “Because it’s an email newsletter, and it’s so easy to hit reply, I get responses from hundreds of people. It’s like having a massive editorial board, there to keep me on my toes, keep me honest and keep me curious.”
The voracious curiosity of her subscribers is what drove MacLean to write her book, and it seems to resonate with other readers as well. Shortly after its mid-September release, Red, White, and Drunk All Over went to number two on Amazon.ca, and hit the bestseller list of the association of independent Canadian booksellers.
“I had no idea that it would take off like this,” says MacLean. “After all, it’s a wine book! But I think people are interested, they are able to identify with it and it’s much easier to read than a fusty old wine encyclopedia.”
The Halifax visit this weekend is a homecoming for MacLean, who grew up in Lower Sackville and whose prose often recalls happy childhood memories of the Maritimes.
“Well, taste and smell are directly linked to memory,” she says, “So it’s only natural that a pleasurable taste or aroma like wine would beget pleasurable memories. I had a great childhood in Nova Scotia, so that comes up quite often when I’m tasting wine.”
As part of her visit, she’ll celebrate Thanksgiving with her mum, who lives in Halifax. MacLean’s husband will cook the turkey, and she’s got the wine under control. She even has a few local suggestions.
“If you enjoy white wine, then I’d suggest a L’Acadie Blanc from Jost or Grand Pre, or perhaps a German reisling. You want something that’s off-dry with a touch of sweetness, something that won’t accentuate the dryness of the turkey. If you like red, try a fruity, vibrant pinot noir, which is a nice, light red that will work well with the cornucopia of side dishes on the table.”
And leave the OJ in the fridge.
Natalie Maclean will host a reading and tasting at chapters bayers lake, Thursday, October 5, 7pm. free. 450-1023 or nataliemaclean.com for more info.