You can lead a horse to water, the saying goes, but you can’t teach it how to confidently pair wine with food—until now. Hadley and TJ Douglas, the wife and husband team behind The Urban Grape, have condensed all the best bits of their South End wine shop into a book perfect for everyone on your holiday shopping list — Drink Progressively: From White to Red, Light to Heavy, A Bold New Way to Pair Wine with Food.
If wine is a puzzle (and, let’s be honest, it can be), Drink Progressively intends to be the picture on the front of the box. A helpful guide, a boozy beacon of hope, and a reminder that amidst that big confusing pile of choices there lies delicious order. And order has always been The Urban Grape’s specialty.
With the help of their unique and revolutionary Progressive Shelving system (more on that later), they’ve been demystifying the wine game for Boston imbibers for years. A friendly and knowledgable staff (their hiring policy is “no wine snobs”), frequent and fun tasting events, and the UG blog, “From the Vine,” have all helped make buying and drinking wine locally more approachable, convivial, and fun.
We sat down with Hadley — UG owner, communications guru, and the voice behind the blog and social media content (follow them on Instagram for the inside scoop on tastings, new products, and pictures of the family golden retriever, Zeus Douglas) — to get the lowdown on her new book: what inspired her to write it, what’s inside, and what she’d drink while thumbing through the pages.
BostonChefs: The title of your book is the mantra of your store. What does it mean to ‘Drink Progressively,’ and why should we all be doing it?
Drink Progressively really has two meanings. The first, and most obvious, refers back to The Urban Grape Progressive Scale – our unique system of categorizing wine by its body, as opposed to its varietal or region. The scale runs from 1-10, with 1 being the most light-bodied wines and 10 being the most full-bodied. The easiest way to relate to it is to think of milk. On our scale, skim milk would be a 1, whole milk would be a 5, and heavy cream would be a 10. The Progressive Scale makes it easier for our customers to shop and learn about wine, it encourages exploration into new regions and varietals, and it makes it much easier to pair wine to food. It’s a truly revolutionary way to think about wine and one that hasn’t been used in a retail setting before.
Additionally, as you learn more about wine, your palate changes and progresses. So to us, Drink Progressively means just that – allow your wine journey to progress through exploration and trying new things. We aren’t big fans of finding a wine you like and sticking with it for years. There are too many exciting bottles out there to discover!
BostonChefs: Anyone not reading your ‘From the Vine’ blog is missing out on some seriously approachable food, booze, and home-entertainment knowhow. What inspired you to make the leap from digital to print with the book?
It was truly a leap of faith. We knew we had a good readership on the blog and Instagram, and that people appreciated what we had to say. Our customers love seeing how we weave wine into our every day lives and around our family dinner table – it’s relatable and strips away the mystique around wine — so we had an inkling that a book would do well with our customer base. But beyond that, we really wanted people in other parts of the country to be able to apply this way of thinking about wine to their own retail experience. Using the ideas laid out in our book, you can find a good bottle of wine no matter where you live or where you’re shopping. We truly believe in our Progressive Scale, and we wanted to get it down on paper and spread the word in a way our blog couldn’t.
BostonChefs: Why write about pairing wine with food instead of, say, a book just about wine?
In Europe, wine exists to help express the nuances of their food, and vice versa. The two go hand-in-hand. That connection between food and wine is not as important in the States, but it’s one that we believe in passionately. I love to cook, and TJ loves to pair wine to what I’m making. It’s such an important ritual in our day to have that moment, and to sit around the dinner table with our kids. When you pair wine to food, it becomes less about the alcoholic beverage and more an ingredient in the meal itself. Pairing wine to food remains a mystery to a lot of our customers, so we wanted to write a book that gave them some basic food pairing parameters, some wonderful, slamdunk recipes from our culinary collaborator Gabriel Frasca of Nantucket’s Straight Wharf Restaurant, and a whole lot of inspiration to think of wine in an exciting new way.
BostonChefs: Speak more about your Progressive Shelving system (i.e., why should people buy this book as opposed to others on the market?)
We released our book at the same time as two very well known wine writers – Jon Bonne and Alice Feiring. They’ve received all the national press, but somehow our book is competing and sales are higher than we ever could have expected. I think that says a lot about what Drink Progressively means to people. It’s approachable. It’s fun. You’ll learn so much, but you’ll never feel like you’re reading some boring wine tome. I mean, we compare California Chardonnay to Beyonce, for goodness sake. This is about learning while having a good time. But most importantly, I think our heart and soul shines through. This is a book written by small business owners who sell wine to actual customers all day long — we have a completely different perspective on this subject than someone who writes about wine for a living but isn’t on the front lines like we are.
BostonChefs: So we’ve paired our dinner with a delicious bottle: what else is in the book?
SO MUCH! Rosé, Sparkling wine, climate change, wine allergies, fermentation, wine making, up-and-coming regions, funky grapes, entertaining advice, wine storage tips, natural wine, decanting, wine terms, a surprising amount of WWII history, the aforementioned reference to Beyoncé, and the story of how TJ and I met! We pack a lot into 240 pages.
BostonChefs: Ok, we’re sold. Copies in all the stockings (Do they make book-sized stockings? Is that a million dollar idea?) Where can we get our hands on this thing?
You can buy it at our store, with the added bonus that we will sign it for you, or personalize it as a gift. You can buy it on our website, with the added bonus that we will sign and mail it to you. You can buy it on Amazon and all other online book retailers. If you love the book, we just ask that you review it on Amazon for us – it really helps our book stay relevant on searches.
BostonChefs: What wine would you drink while reading this book?
A Negroni for me; a Manhattan for TJ—never underestimate the power of a good cocktail!
BostonChefs: Bits of wisdom, tips, tricks, trivia, a perplexing koan: anything you’d like to add.
You can read a million wine books, but at the end of the day the most important piece of advice is this: drink what you like. After all, the wine in your glass should make you happy. Just promise us that you won’t mindlessly grab the same bottle day after day. Life is too short not to explore the vast world of wine!
For more info on how to drink progressively or to order a copy of the book, check out the The Urban Grape’s website at www.theurbangrape.com.