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"Laugh-out-loud funny ... Terrific."
- Rex Pickett, author of Sideways

"Natalie MacLean is a new force in the wine writing world ... a feisty North American answer to Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson. She can write beautifully about wine."
- The Financial Times

Natalie's Book US

"Ms. MacLean is the disarming Everywoman ... She loves wine, loves drinking ... a winning formula."
- The New York Times


Wine Word

Bandol wine comes from Provence in southern France. It's most famous for its red wines that are full-bodied and made from the mourvèdre grape. This robust wine has aromas and flavors of spice and black fruit that marry well with beef and other hearty meat dishes.

You can find more definitions in my wine glossary.

Wine Tourism in Vaucluse in southern France offers dinners and tastings Sept 1-30 ...

Art of Wine & Food at Peller Estates in Niagara in September ...

Canadian Smooth Jazz Concert Series at Chateau des Charmes in Niagara Sept 14 ...

The 100-Mile Menu cooking class at the Urban Element in Ottawa Sept 16 ...

Food & Wine Tour of Provence in France with La Vie en Rosé Oct 4-10...

The Loose Goose Wine Festival in the Santa Clarita Valley, CA Oct 4-5...

Celebrate North Carolina Wines in Raleigh Nov 1 ...

Cornucopia in Whistler, BC Nov 6-10 ...

Culinary Getaway in Paris with Culinary Getaways April 27-May 1 ...

Dear Ann,

You're handed the wine list in a restaurant: now what? Here's a short piece to help you improve your odds of choosing a good bottle.

Coming up in the newsletter: wine and food matching, great wine scenes in the movies and the monthly wine picks.

If you're interested in reading more, here are some links to recent stories in which fellow journalists asked for my two cents worth: finding wine bargains (Wall Street Journal), matching beef and wine (Chicago Tribune) and wine auctions (Globe & Mail).

Please feel free to forward this newsletter to other wine lovers. You can also suggest friends and I'll send them an intro note on your behalf.



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September 13 Reviews

50 Wines Recommended

- Best value white wine: a zippy German Riesling with ripe peach notes for pork, chicken and vegetarian dishes $14.95

- Favorite white wine: another incredible Riesling with more deeply layered notes of tree fruit and minerality 91/100

- Best value red wine: a tasty Mexican Cabernet Sauvignon perfect with steak fajitas and chili $10.95

- Favorite red wine: a stunning Chateauneuf-du-Pape with great layered complexity and depth that will age for 20 years 95/100

- Favorite rosé: a mouth-watering, dry rosé bursting with ripe raspberries from Tavel, France that was made for paté, pork and light curries 91/100

- Favorite dessert wine: a gorgeous Australian port with succulent layers of almonds and toffee for your after-dinner sipping 91/100

- 18 wines under $20

- Special focus: Ontario Rieslings, Chardonnays, Pinots and Cabernets

Here's a sample of a full set of reviews.

You can also read what subscribers say about the reviews.

Here's the text-only, shopping list with winery names of the September 13 reviews.
September 27 Reviews

48 Wines Recommended

- Best value white wine: a Spanish Chardonnay loaded with aromas of pears and spices $15.95

- Favorite white wine: a complex Chassagne-Montrachet bursting with notes of pears and perfect with oysters 94/100

- Best value red wine: a spicy Syrah from South Africa with rich notes of ripe plums to drink with hamburgers and steak $14.95

- Favorite red wine: a beautifully brooding French Pinot Noir with succulent notes of violets and black raspberries for salmon 93 /100

- Favorite rosé: a bone-dry, pretty rosé with mouth-watering aromas of ripe strawberries from France for chicken and pork 90/100

- Favorite sparkling wine: a gorgeous Champagne with notes of green apples and toasty goodness 91/100

- Favorite dessert wine: a rich, round and smooth port to drink on its own after dinner or with biscotti and fruit crumble 95/100

- 17 wines under $20

- Special focus: Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from Burgundy, France

Here are some tips on finding these wines easily in your local wine stores.

Here's the text-only, shopping list with winery names of the September 27 reviews.

Wine & Food Match

October is National Pork Month. Two of my favorite dishes are pork chops with apple sauce and glazed ham. Both have a touch of sweetness that make bone-dry wines taste austere, almost bitter. Instead, look for wine with a touch of softening sweetness to dance with these dishes. I think your best bet is an off-dry Riesling from Germany, Canada, Washington or New York State.

If you're a red wine fan, try a wine loaded with lots of ripe red fruit such as as berry-ripe Gamay or a plummy Merlot. I've noted several of these in my wine reviews.

You can find thousands of food and wine matches with my interactive, easy-to-use matching tool that includes pairings for most dishes: beef, lamb, game, pork, poultry, seafood, pasta, vegetarian fare, ethnic dishes, curries, herbs, pizza, cheese and dessert.

Wine-Friendly Recipe

This month's delicious recipe for Cinnamon-Rubbed Chicken Stuffed with Rice, Pine Nuts and Grapes comes from the Australian chef and teacher Maria Benardis, founder of the Greekalicious Cooking School. Maria Benardis mixes ancient Greek and modern dishes with her passion for regional traditions, story-telling and lively music. Using certified organic ingredients all of her classes include a full sit-down meal with plenty of quality Australian wine. I've noted several wines to pair with this dish. Check out more of Maria's recipes, including BBQ Greek Style Lamb, Herbed Yoghurt Dip and Hellenic Filo Pizza with Lamb and Tzatziki by searching on her name in recipes.

You can also search for more recipes for hors d'oeuvres, appetizers, entrées, breads and desserts. If you'd like to submit recipes for this newsletter that goes to 90,274 subscribers, e-mail me.


This Month's Story
Reading Between the Vines

By Natalie MacLean

Note: If you're more audibly-oriented, you can also listen to this month's podcast of the story.

Some people have anxiety dreams about falling off a cliff—mine are about restaurant wine lists. In my nightmare, I'm handed a large leather-bound book that looks like a prop from Lord of the Rings. Within it, somewhere, lies the Secret of the Ideal Wine, the one perfect drink for my friends and me.

I know I'm not alone in this dark vision: Most people would rather peel a thousand grapes than choose wine from a restaurant list. Here are a few tips on choosing a good wine from a restaurant list—and how to avoid what I call the Vinous Fly Traps; aspects of ordering and drinking restaurant wine that make you feel like a bug drowning in icewine.

Ask for help. Find someone to help you, usually the sommelier, the bartender or "someone who knows the wine list well." Most of us will ask how a dish is prepared or what its ingredients are, even though choosing between salmon and lamb is much simpler than picking one of thirty merlots. Ask which wines the sommelier is most excited about or, "What can you tell me about this wine? Does it pair well with some of the dishes on the menu?" You can help the sommelier by mentioning wines you've enjoyed in the past to give her a sense both of your favorite style and price range. Or you can point to something suitably priced on the list and say something like, "Do you have anything like this that's full-bodied and not too oaky?" (or whatever your style preference is).

Expensive Doesn't Mean Better. I use the Wolf Blass Yellow Label Index: knowing the retail price (about $18) of this popular cabernet sauvignon from Australia, I can usually figure out the markups up the other wines. Higher up the scale, I use my Veuve Clicquot Non-Vintage Champagne (about $65) Barometer. Many diners actually mistrust a moderately priced wine, assuming it's no good. But if you know the markups (100% is considered reasonable to cover a restaurant's operating costs), you'll know if you're looking at plonk or a fairly priced wine.

Drink Local. Focus on the area of the list that seems best stocked, which often is wine that complements the restaurant's cuisine. An Italian trattoria usually offers lots of chiantis that are great with pasta; or those red velour-draped steak houses will likely be strong on full-bodied cabernets that pair with meat. If you're dining in a winemaking region, such as the Niagara and the Okanagan, local wines are often a good bet. They're usually cheaper (because there's no import tax and shipping costs); they'll complement the local cuisine; and the owner may know the producers personally, and be familiar with the wines.

Match Your Meal. Often you and your dining companion choose different dishes: You're having steak and she's having fish. If the restaurant offers the option, you can order half bottles or wines by the glass. Or you can try to find a wine that matches both dishes: Some wines such as riesling and pinot noir can pair with a wide range of dishes because they are neither too full-bodied, nor too light.

Go for the Best Values. Some of the best values are from lesser-known regions and grapes. Look for New Zealand and South African sauvignon blanc, German and Alsatian riesling and Chilean chardonnay. For reds, try South African and Australian shiraz; Oregonian, Canadian and New Zealand pinot noir; Chilean cabernet; Argentine malbec, Rhone grenache; Loire Valley cabernet franc and red blends from Portugal as well as the southern regions of France and Italy.

Beware of House Wines. That humble little house wine is often cheap and nasty stuff that you can use in a pinch instead of Liquid Draino. Not only are they bad to drink, they're also usually a bad buy—one of the biggest rip-offs on the list. Many restaurants price a glass at the full wholesale price of the entire bottle. With four to five glasses per bottle, that can be a 300% to 600% markup. Drinking most of them is like accidentally walking into a bad neighborhood: you're going to get roughed up and robbed—and you'll learn never to take that wrong turn again. Using the clues above, plus whether the list notes the wine's name, region and vintage, will tell you whether you can trust the house wine. Otherwise, stick to a bottle.

Choosing from a restaurant list doesn't have to be a high-wire circus act; rather it can be the start of an evening where the wine and food rise up to meet each other and bear you aloft on a cloud of sensual pleasure.

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