Have you ever struggled to pick out wine? If you answered yes, you’re not alone. The good news is that choosing wine doesn’t have to be an intimidating ordeal.
TJ and Hadley Douglas, owners of Boston’s Urban Grape, an award-winning wine, craft beer and spirits store, created a unique system called Progressive Shelving, which makes buying wine easy and fun. They explain how it works it their new book, Drink Progressively.
We recently interviewed Hadley about the book and here’s what she had to say…
Can you explain the Progressive Scale System?
The Progressive Scale takes the enormous world of wine – all the varied varietals and regions around the world – and breaks it into five basic principles. Light – medium – full bodied, lemonade, and hot chocolate. At the end of the day, that’s really all you need to know to pick a bottle of wine.
We use a system that we created, called the Progressive Scale, that rates the body of the wine from 1-10, one being the most light-bodied (think skim milk), five being medium-bodied (think whole milk), and ten being the most full-bodied (think heavy cream). From there, think about lemonade and hot chocolate. You wouldn’t drink hot chocolate on a scorching hot summer day, and you wouldn’t pair lemonade with a rich meal.
Light-bodied, brightly acidic wines have a time and a place, as do rich and full-bodied wines. Drink Progressively not only explains these concepts, but demonstrates why certain grapes and regions cluster together on the Progressive Scale, and how to pair food to each grouping of wine.
What made you decide to write your new book, Drink Progressively?
We could see that our way of selling wine – by its body instead of by varietal or region – was really making sense to our customers. Instead of feeling stressed about wine buying, they were embracing the Progressive Scale system and feeling empowered by it.
By helping our customers understand their comfort zone, we were also allowing them to find ways to break out of their wine buying rut. We wanted to be able to bring that excitement to people outside of the Boston area and give them the tools to Drink Progressively. This is the start of a movement to put the fun back into buying and drinking wine!
Why do you think choosing wine is intimidating for some people?
I think the wine world is perceived as a place of “haves” and “have nots” for a lot of people – you either have the formal education and/or the money to experience the world’s most famous wines, or you do not.
Every day we hear “I know a lot about wine” or “I know nothing about wine.” People don’t talk about their wine knowledge with any kind of middle ground.
The fact is, most people know WAY more about wine than they think they do. They know what they like and don’t like, they know that they enjoy including it as part of their day, they seek out interesting wines, and want to try new things.
All we’re missing is an easy way to talk about wine – Drink Progressively seeks to change that. Anyone can learn about wine, and you don’t need formal training or to spend a ton of money buying expensive bottles to do so.
Can you talk a bit about quality vs. cost? Does a good wine have to be expensive?
Good wines definitely do not have to be expensive. Quality comes at all price points and should always be the most important criteria when picking wine.
Don’t reach for a bottle of mass-produced Yellowtail just because it’s cheap. Instead, go to a store like The Urban Grape that specializes in finding the best quality wines at every price point and find yourself something made with great quality for a comparable price.
Once you know what your palate is looking for in a wine, it’s easy to find all sorts of options that are made with lesser-known grapes or from an up and coming region.
Can you how Chef Gabriel Frasca got involved in creating such incredible recipes for the book?
We’ve known Gabriel, the chef at Straight Wharf Restaurant, for a long time – ever since he was a chef here in Boston. TJ used to be his wine rep, and they’ve always gotten along incredibly well and think about food and wine in the same way.
I love Gabriel’s food (his white gazpacho is still my favorite soup recipe, and I’m still sad we couldn’t find a spot for it in the book), and knew that he would create exceptional recipes for us to pair with wine throughout the book.
I texted him one day and said, “I have a crazy idea…” and he basically was like, “Let’s do it!”
What are the biggest mistakes people make when pairing wine with food?
Thinking that there are strict and formal rules to pairing! The easiest way to pair wine to food is to think about it in terms of body – pair light-bodied wines with lighter dishes, and vice versa – or regionally.
Regional wines and foods, especially in Europe, grew up together and make sense together. You can almost never go wrong when you pair this way – it’s like the easiest wine hack there is!
The mechanics of pairing wine and food in terms of our five elements – light, medium, and full body, lemonade, and hot chocolate – are laid out in great detail in Drink Progressively. After reading the book and practicing a little, you’ll be an expert in no time!
Can you offer us any tips for choosing wine this holiday season?
Holiday wine shopping really stresses people out! It can be really hard to pair wine with people’s varied palates, likes, and dislikes. We always say the holiday table is not the time to serve something super funky and esoteric. Go for the crowd-pleasers.
If you stick with medium-bodied wines, the chances are good that most of the people at your table will be happy, and that the wine will pair fine with the food, no matter what you are serving.
Don’t over think it, and go to a good bottle shop to get yourself some help!
What are your go-to choices when you’re invited to dinner and want to bring wine for the host?
Our big rule is to reach out to the host(s) and ask what they are serving for dinner. That way, you can make an educated selection.
It’s also nice to be able to say, “I went to my local shop and they said this would pair nicely with what you’ve made for dinner.” That way, you’ve indicated that your hosts should open the wine and pour you a glass!
There is nothing worse than bringing a cool bottle of wine to a dinner party and never seeing it again.
For cocktail parties, we suggest NOT bringing the obligatory bottle of bubbly. First, it’s a cliché; secondly, bubbly tends to sit on people’s shelves waiting for the next big occasion. Only bring the bubbles when you know that you can enjoy the bottle with your host in that celebratory moment.
Otherwise, bring something they are more likely to open, with a note that indicates a good food pairing or time to drink it (“Pairs perfectly with charcuterie and a picnic!”). That makes it easier for your host to pop that bottle and think of you at a later date!
One thing is clear, Drink Progressively was a labor of love. It tells the story of our relationship to wine, and each other. Mostly, the book makes wine fun. We have no doubt you’ll enjoy reading it, and learning how to Drink Progressively!
You can order Drink Progressively by clicking here.
You can visit the Urban Grape website by clicking here.