Friday, November 25, 2011

Grano Ristorante: Great Wine, Food & Natalie MacLean

Ben McNally and Roberto Martella have a beautiful relationship. Every Autumn, Ben McNally Books and Grano Ristorante host a wildly popular author series that features many well celebrated writers — events that combine great food, great wine and lively conversation. Natalie MacLean, an accredited sommelier, wine writer and journalist, was in Toronto this week for one of Ben McNally's wine and food pairing events at Grano, which featured a lovely multi-course meal with matching wines and a personally signed copy of MacLean's latest book, Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines, which has just hit bookstores.

Natalie McLean and her family, son Rian and husband Andrew

MacLean, a charming and vivacious sommelier - and Canadian - is the only person to have won both the M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award from the James Beard Foundation and the M.F.K. Fisher Award for excellence in Culinary Writing from Les Dames d’Escoffier. She has also written for Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Wine Enthusiast, The National Post, President's Choice magazine and many other publications. Her first book, Red, White and Drunk All Over won numerous awards and sold 50,000 copies in Canada alone, a book that has been described as 'A Year in Provence' meets 'Kitchen Confidential' then goes 'Sideways'. And now her second book, Unquenchable, has just been released in time to be gift-wrapped for any oenophiles on your Christmas list. 

Natalie MacLean's new wine book - 'Unquenchable'

The author evening was well attended, a sell-out event on a Wednesday night. After a brief introduction by Ben McNally, MacLean read entertaining excerpts from her new book, in between food courses and wine pairings, that included a delightfully fresh and surprisingly good Santa Margherita Prosecco that started the evening. Standing firm against wine snobbery, MacLean insists that good wine doesn't have to be expensive, and the selection of wines served during the meal illustrated her point well, with none of the bottles exceeding the twenty dollar mark.

Natalie reading selected excerpts from her new book, 'Unquenchable'.

A 2010 Henry of Pelham Riesling from Niagara was served with the antipasto - generous rings of flash fried calamari - followed by a selection of reds that were paired with Grano's second course, a simple pasta Farfalle Tricolore al Pomodoro followed by the secondo, Angelo Bean Berkshire Sausages served witha side of Italian black lentils. The reds included a 2008 Fontanafredda Barbera Bricco Tondo, a 2009 Casa Planeta Syrah, and 2008 Masi Campofiorin. 

Natalie took time to chat with guests and oblige this humble blogger with a photo

MacLean's travels have taken her around the globe on a quest to find fabulous wine bargains, but in the meantime, have also provided great fodder for her popular books, which feature character sketches of obsessive personalities, stories of well known winemakers, and her own experiences travelling through eight countries, visiting 312 wineries and imbibing 15,267 wines. Even though she has sipped, spat and slogged her way through the international wine scene, she never takes wine, or herself, too seriously. In fact, tongue in cheek, MacLean credits a long line of hard drinkers, from whom she descends, for her stamina and ability to drink like a fish! 

Grano's ever charming Roberto Martella and my friend Ben McNally, 
owner of Ben McNally Books

It's thanks to the warm relationship between Ben McNally and Roberto Martella that author events like this take place over a meal and glass or two of wine, enriching this city with opportunities to get up close and personal with celebrated writers. Ben McNally Books sponsors many events during the year, from 'Author Brunches' at the King Eddy, 'Readings' by selected writers at Ben McNally Books at 366 Bay Street, as well as entertaining 'Author Evenings' like this Natalie MacLean event at Grano. It was a lovely treat, and one that I have to thank my friend Barb and her brother Greg Symons of The Symons Group, for inviting me to join their illustrious table of fellow foodies, wine connoisseurs and celebrity hounds!

2035 Yonge Street,