Book Review: Drink Progressively, by Hadley and TJ Douglas

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 11-13-2017

Drink Progressively CoverIt’s difficult to put a new spin on wine, but TJ and Hadley Douglas have done it with Drink Progressively, a gorgeously printed volume capturing the rhyme and reason of their award-winning wine shop, the Urban Grape, in Boston’s South End.

I met with TJ on a recent trip to Boston. Over a few glasses of Pinot, picked right off one of the store’s wall-to-wall racks, he got down to telling me about his Progressive Scale, a 0-10 ranking for white and red wines that enables average and seasoned drinkers alike to make informed buying decisions.

For whites, it starts with the 1Ws. These are oakless, steel-fermented whites with lip-smacking acidity (“lemonade,” says TJ), like Alvarinho from Portugal. It ends with the 10Ws, which see full oak and ML, like the butteriest of California Chardonnays. For reds, 1Rs have bright acidity and low tannins, like Trousseau from the Jura, and 10Rs are jammy with tons of new oak aging, like Syrah from Walla Walla.

The scale moves from light to heavy—or skim to whole milk, as TJ puts it, paying homage to Zraly’s Windows on the World, the book that launched a thousand wine careers.

It’s all meant to minimize the stress of wine selection. For those of us who hate relying on the name-tagged folks walking the aisles at Total Wine, the Urban Grape is a sanctuary. The wines are grouped by their similarities, from light to heavy, and not by region or varietal. It makes everything easy, fun, and actually encourages experimentation, which is one of TJ and Hadley’s ultimate goals.

The scale helps with food pairing too. As the subtitle (A Bold New Way to Pair Wine with Food) suggests, the book is filled with recipes. Each chapter contains a summary of a progressive category (2W, 7W, 6R, etc.), regions where the wines can be found, an example bottle, and two recipes, one from the Douglases and one from award-winning chef Gabriel Frasca. TJ and Hadley’s recipes come right from their family table, simple yet lovingly crafted amidst the hustle and bustle of raising two children. Gabriel’s, on the other hand, are fancier and require a bit more time and effort, but from the pictures they appear well worth it.

The Urban Grape is a labor of love, and that shines through in Drink Progressively. TJ and Hadley’s relationship was forged around wine—special bottles shared, tasting trips to famous regions. TJ provides the vision and content, based on his years of experience in food and wine, and Hadley brings it to life in writing. And because I’m such an appreciator of killer descriptions, I have to call out Hadley’s equating tannin to “a dragging sensation like corduroy pants on a velvet couch.” Nice!

If you’re fortunate enough to live within a reasonable distance of the Urban Grape, visit! If you’re not, Drink Progressively is the next best thing and a truly helpful guide for everyday drinking and pairing.

My Recommendation
Drink Progressively isn’t just a reshuffling of existing information, like many wine “How To” books out there. It’s unique, it’s something special, and it’s an important step, in line with so many others of late, toward making wine more accessible. If you’re interested in experimenting beyond your standard drinking wine, or concerned with learning how to match your meals with a perfect bottle, this book should be on your kitchen shelf—it’s on mine!

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