Bolster Your Wine Knowledge With The Urban Grape’s New Book

The husband-and-wife team behind the South End shop released Drink Progressively this week.

Hadley and TJ Douglas at the Urban Grape. /Photo provided.

Wander into the Urban Grape, and it doesn’t take long to realize that the wine shop looks a little different than most. The South End vino boutique has long set itself apart by organizing bottles by body (light to full), rather than varietal or region.

Now the husband-and-wife proprietors behind the store, Hadley and TJ Douglas, have translated their wine classification system into book form. Released this week, their Drink Progressively (Spring House Press) guide breaks down their innovative methodology, and offers suggested bottles to try in each of their twenty wine categories.

“We felt so passionately about our ideas about how we sell wine that we wanted to have a tool to be able to spread that gospel beyond Boston,” says Hadley Douglas.

Chef Gabriel Frasca of Straight Wharf Restaurant on Nantucket contributed recipes for dishes that pair with each style, from the easy-drinking category 1W (white) “porch pounders,” to the “lusty fruit bombs” of 10R (red). The couple has had a personal and professional relationship with Frasca for many years, so he was a natural fit for the project, Hadley Douglas said.

“He and TJ have had lots of opportunities to do food and wine pairings together, so I knew they’d be able to speak the same language in terms of getting all of the recipes together,” she added.

The goal of the book, appropriate for all levels of knowledge, is to give readers more ways of understanding what they like in a wine, and how to ask for it at a shop or restaurant. “Saying things like, ‘I want something that’s not fruity and very dry’ are terms that are so general, they don’t really mean anything,” TJ Douglas says.

Instead, the book offers a primer on the “whys” behind flavor, specifically body and mouthfeel. TJ Douglas credits Kevin Zraly’s beloved Windows on the World Complete Wine Course for the inspiration behind his system. “It was the first book that made me feel like I really got it,” he says. “Looking at wine in terms of body and acid just made perfect sense to me.”

As a preview, the couple offers some advice on the hot-this-season topic of what to pair with Thanksgiving dinner:

  1. You kind of can’t go wrong. “Honestly, everything tastes great with turkey,” Hadley Douglas says. “If your entire family loves Sancerre, just open a bottle of Sancerre.”
  2. But it’s not the time to go way out of your comfort zone. “Don’t serve something you’re intimidated by and that your guests will be intimated by,” she adds.
  3. If you’re totally lost, look to fuller bodied whites, or at least 7ws on their Progressive Scale. “They have enough body to stand up to gravy and side dishes, so the wine isn’t overpowered,” she says. Bottles to try:
  4. And opt for lighter reds, such as those in their 3r and 4r range. These styles have enough acid to cut through the fattier dishes, and will still work with turkey. Bottles to try:
  5. If you’re bringing a bottle as a guest, you may want to talk over the selection with the host first. “Go ahead and call or email the person to ask what they’re serving, and say, ‘I’d like to bring a bottle we can all enjoy with dinner tonight.’ Most importantly, you’ve also laid the groundwork for the fact that you’d like to be drinking the wine you’re bringing,” she says.

Drink Progressively, $27, is available in bookstores and online. The Urban Grape, 303 Columbus Ave., Boston, 857-250-2509,