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Bottle or book, wine lovers will thank you
Published on: 12/14/06
As I've said once and again, wine always makes a great holiday present. Then there's that other time-tested cliché: Variety is the spice of life. So, if you're bored or otherwise disinclined to buy that wine lover in your life a bottle of vino this holiday, why not try the gift of literacy?
While 2006 offered slim pickings in your book shop's wine section, one volume that stood out for me is Natalie MacLean's "Red, White, and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey From Grape to Glass" (Bloomsbury USA, $23.95). I've been a fan of MacLean since she first started publishing her online wine column Nat Decants in 2001 (www.nataliemaclean.com). She takes a self-effacing and real-world attitude toward wine and is anything but stuffy on the subject.
MacLean freely admits she likes the buzz and lightness of spirit that wine gives her as much as she enjoys the vast history and complex aromas and flavors of this ancient beverage. As she traipses through France, New York and California's wine regions, you get the feeling you'd just like to hang out with her and shoot the breeze over a bottle of wine.
MacLean only recently came to wine in a serious vein, which lets her view the topic with childlike wonderment as she visits with folks like Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Frédéric Drouhin of Maison Joseph Drouhin and the unpredictable Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon. Readers tired of frumpy, curmudgeonly wine writers, who require a set of reference books to comprehend, will find MacLean's approach refreshing.
In addition to trekking through the wine regions of Burgundy, Champagne and California, MacLean went undercover to see what life is like for those who sell wine for a living. She spent time working in wine shops in San Francisco and New York. She also worked a tense evening selecting wine for guests at Baccara, a five-star French restaurant in Quebec.
Her writing style is most definitely playful, but MacLean harbors an ulterior motive in "Red, White, and Drunk All Over." As she rambles through vineyards and occasionally stumbles tableside in the dining room, she subtly informs the reader on dense subjects like biodynamic farming, food-and-wine pairing, the effects of 2, 4, 6-trichloroanisole on wine and why wineglasses come in so many shapes.
If MacLean's musing doesn't swirl your chardonnay for you, a number of other authors have reissued classic books in 2006, the most important of which is Jancis Robinson's third edition of "The Oxford Companion to Wine" (Oxford University Press, $65). At more than 2,000 pages, containing more than 3,000 entries, it's not light reading. The third edition boasts 300 new entries and numerous revisions, rendering it the most up-to-date, end-all wine reference book. There are slimmer guidebooks out there; but if questions about the Bulgarian wine industry or similar topics come up from time to time in your life, this is a must-have tome.
Another gift idea for the geekiest wine lover on your list is Tom Stevenson's "Wine Report 2007" (DK Adult, $15). Stevenson enlists wine experts from around the world to report on recent developments, up-and-coming stars and detailed vintage reports. It's not for the novice; Stevenson has a reputation for brusque-but-fair evaluations on the state of wine, and he assumes you already know a great deal about the subject.
The polar opposite to the "Wine Report" is Karen MacNeil's "The Wine Lover's Page-a-Day Calendar" (Workman, $11.95). Overstuffed with a wide variety of information, from the arcane to the whimsical, MacNeil, author of "The Wine Bible" (Workman, $19.95), doles out daily educational nuggets to make you a happier — if not smarter — wine consumer.
We asked Natalie MacLean to name wines that have made an impression on her recently; her comments are below. The following are widely available in metro Atlanta. You can read more about what MacLean is drinking at her Web site, www.nataliemaclean.com, where you'll also find her just-launched food-and-wine matching database. We've suspended the thumbs up/thumbs down ratings for this week.
Note: These are suggested retail prices as provided by the winery, one of its agents or a local distributor.
2004 Mont Gras Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua Valley, Chile
Hot and alcoholic: packs a punch. Big black fruit. Drink with rare steak.
2003 Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino County, Calif.
A balanced, medium- to full-bodied red with aromas of black cherries and blackberries. The grapes for this wine are farmed organically.
2006 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand
A herbal and refreshing sauvignon blanc that I've recommended for years. Balanced and juicy.
2005 Folonari Pinot Grigio, Veneto, Italy
Made from grapes grown on hillside vineyards in Veneto and Trentino. Inviting aromas of lemon and lime zest and green apples. Not overly fruity or oaky. Very typical of the region and wine style. Pairs well with shellfish, antipasto and cream-sauce pasta.
2005 Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand
Classic Kiwi sauvignon blanc. Refreshing herbal, melon and grapefruit notes. A dependable producer year after year. Drink it with seafood, shellfish, salads, chicken and pork.
2004 Yalumba Shiraz-Viognier, Barossa, Australia
Aromas of ripe plums and spices, lifted by the high note of the viognier (a white grape that's a minor part of this blend). Supple, silky and full-bodied. Drink with meat dishes.
2003 Katnook Estate, Founder's Block Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, Australia
A spectacular wine with rich, jammy notes of plums and berries. Generous and full-bodied, with warm toasty oak notes. Drink with stew, lamb and steak.
Gil Kulers, a certified wine educator with the Society of Wine Educators, is beverages instructor for the culinary arts program at Chattahoochee Technical College.
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