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

by Natalie MacLean

Though Natalie MacLean has a fondness for tippling and doesn’t always spit out the many samples she encounters as an award-winning wine writer and accredited sommelier, she makes it clear in Red, White, and Drunk All Over that in order to properly understand and appreciate wine – from the budget plonk at the grocery store to the 1787 Chateau Lafite Bordeaux – you have to keep your head about you.

MacLean’s book is a quirky ride – with notes of self-deprecation and an often humorous finish – through the Champagne region of France and some of the family-owned wineries of California. With patience and lightness, MacLean explains terroir and tannins, acidity and fruit, oak and smoke as she tries to demystify wine.

Readers looking for the ultimate wine to go with chicken cordon bleu or The Big Date will be disappointed – MacLean’s democratic approach to wine means that there are virtually no rules, only guidelines. Want red wine with your chicken? Go ahead. Feel like chardonnay with your beef stew? There’s no law against it. Expensive wines aren’t always good, and budget wines are far from all bad. MacLean’s done her homework and encourages all of us to do the same.

Over the course of nine compact chapters, MacLean discovers eccentric wine store owners in San Francisco, wades into the fierce debate between wine writing giants Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson, discusses the merits of corks versus screwcaps, interviews a purveyor of some of the world’s most expensive stemware, goes undercover as a sommelier at a Quebec restaurant, and, finally, ends by sharing wine stories with New York novelist and wine enthusiast Jay McInerney.

Despite the unwieldy title, the book is like a dry champagne, a sparkling aperitif that whets the appetite for more vinous knowledge. MacLean raises as many questions as she answers, but this, she hopes, will spur readers to discover on their own if there really is veritas in vino.