New book advices on finding the best selections to please both palate and wallet
There is no question that Natalie MacLean has a great job: she makes her living writing about wine.
As an award-winning wine journalist and columnist, her work has appeared in more than 60 magazines and newspapers.
She maintains a popular website that deals with all aspects of wine and has helped develop wine-related mobile apps for smart phones.
She has also written two books, including the recently-published "Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World's Best Bargain Wines."
MacLean spent five years researching and writing the book — a process that included traveling around the world visiting vineyards and tasting their wares.
She knows her stuff. She's an accredited sommelier — or professional wine steward. She's also on a mission to break down the long-entrenched class and cost stereotypes associated with wine.
She says shopping for wine should be a fun and engaging experience, rather than something that is stressful and intimidating.
"There are stereotypes and a snobbishness associated with the price of wines," MacLean says. "But it's also an insecurity — a feeling of 'This won't be any good, so I can't serve it to anyone.' That is what I am trying to get away from."
"Unquenchable" offers recommendations for the best tasting wines that will fit almost any budget —including several priced at under $20.
"I think everybody, from students to working folks, all drink on a budget. But they don't want to give up good taste. That was why I went with this angle," MacLean says.
But the book isn't a dry, stuffy guidebook to wines. It also offers what MacLean calls "armchair travel" and gives readers an up-close and unique look at the winemakers who create the wines she recommends.
"I tried to seek out the most passionate, colourful and provocative winemakers I could and in telling their stories, tell the story of the wine.
"Rather than giving you a book full of tasting notes, which would put you to sleep, I thought this would be more fun.
"A wine book first has to entertain before it can even hope to educate. So if you're not getting carried along on the stories, and I hope laughing occasionally, then I haven't done my job," MacLean says.
In addition to offering suggestions on the best bargain wines out there, MacLean also includes tips on the types of food to pair with each wine.
MacLean has become involved in creating mobile apps related to wine. She says wine is a "natural fit" for apps designed for smartphones.
"Where do we make decisions about wine? The liquor store.
"People often will go into a wine store and they are too intimidated to ask for help. But they will scan a code or look up the information on their smartphone."I think everybody, from students to working folks, all drink on a budget. But they don't want to give up good taste. So that was why I went with this angle."
-Natalie MacLean, author of "Unquenchable."
"I wanted to mobilize the content and make it easy," she says. "It's a natural fit for wine."
MacLean's free app allows users to scan a wine's UPC code with the device's camera, giving instant access to tasting notes and other information about the wine.
"There are 150,000 wines listed in the app," MacLean says.
While in Calgary to promote her book, MacLean hosted a wine tasting at Pages bookstore in Kensington. She suggests that attending wine-tastings is another way to make wine less intimidating.
"I think wine tastings have changed," she says. "They used to be solemn occasions. But these days it has become more entertainment because if you are going to drag yourself out for the night, it better be fun."
Damian Espinase, a sommelier who completed his training in Banff and Calgary and now works in Ontario, agrees with MacLean that wine tastings provide a great opportunity to learn about wine.
Espinase says Calgary has "a great wine culture" and notes that several of the city's wine markets have sommeliers on staff that is more than happy to answer questions.
"They have people who are super educated and try to help out by having wine tastings.
"I think Calgary is the best place where if you ask questions, people will answer them," Espinase says.
Phil Vaive of Calgary has attended wine tastings in Calgary and elsewhere. He says they are fun. Vaive also says he enjoys the opportunity to learn about wines he has never heard of.
"I love going to wine tastings. My family and I go out to the Okanagan every summer, and going to the different wineries is a great way to spend an afternoon.
"It gives us a chance to try out new wines we never would have tasted before, with the added benefit of getting a bit drunk by the end of the day," Vaive says.