17 November, 2009

"Women Who Wine" Tasting #2: Women Winemakers

When "Cheese Mouse" and wino extraordinaire Sandy Cr. came up with the brilliant idea of a woman's only wine-tasting group in the South Bay/Peninsula, we knew she was on to something big. She wanted to avoid the oftentimes serious atmosphere of a male-centric wine-tasting and let the girls be girls as they enjoy their wine. I was excited to be invited to join this group and we came up with the name "Women Who Wine". Our inaugural tasting took place at Los Altos Bar and Grill where eight female oenophiles gathered to compare Old World vs. New World Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.

That night we decided that tasting #2 would be in honor of women winemakers and everyone was to bring a bottle of wine made by a woman. Jill invited us to her lovely home in Palo Alto and made us dinner to enjoy with the wines. We had 5 "Women Who Wine" in attendance: Anh Thu, Emily, Jill, Sandy and me, Xandria. The wines we brought covered a lot of territory from California to France to Italy, spanning from 1998 to 2008. Here is a wrap-up of this tasting including tasting notes, wine-pairings and a bit of info on the winemakers:

APPETIZER COURSE: Blue Cheese Squares with carmelized onions -
We decided to pair the lighter wines with the appetizers, soup and salad. Jill's contribution to the tasting was a lovely 2007 WesMar Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($40) Winemaker: Denise Mary Selyem (with her husband Kirk Wesley) - Yes, Selyem as in Williams Selyem and she is defintely carrying on the family tradition of crafting premium Pinot Noirs. Everyone agreed that this wine was well-done. The nose had notes of fruit and flowers and it filled our mouths with sweet cherries. The mouthfeel was silky and it had vibrant acidity making it a great food wine. Anh Thu compared it to a red Burgundy from Chambolle-Musigny which I think is quite a compliment.

SOUP COURSE: Pumpkin Mushroom Bisque
We paired this sweet and savory soup with the 2004 Domaine Weinbach Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg from the Alsace ($40) brought by Ahn Thu. Winemaker: Laurence Faller - Domaine Weinbach is located in Kayserberg, France and is bascially one of the largest Domaines in the Alsace and is run completely by the women of the Faller family. Laurence is known for her Rieslings, Gewurtraminers and Pinot Grigios and other whites.
This Riesling comes in a deep golden color and the strongly pleasant aroma of petrol came to the forefront of the nose. I would say this wine is dry with notes of sweetness, mineral notes and crisp acidity which were all very well balanced. There was also a little creaminess on the palate making it a nice match for the soup. It also paired well with the green salad with blue cheese, cranberries, oranges and nuts with honey mustard yogurt dressing.

The third wine we paired with the appetizer/soup/salad course was Emily's fine contribution. The 2008 Occhipinti SP68 Nero d'Avola Frappato blend from Sicily ($30). Winemaker: Ariana Occhipinti, a 25 year old winemaker from Sicily who has been making wine under her own label for the last 4 years. She is the niece of Giusto Occhipinti of the famous Sicilian label COS, so great winemaking runs in the family. Ariana uses natural winemaking practices such as using wild yeasts for fermentation. This wine comes in a light-garnet color that reminded me of a Pinot Noir. But the nose was so juicy and fruity it was like smelling a bowl of macerated strawberries, red raspberries and cherries. The taste was vibrant with a tart edge of cherry. This wine reminds me of summer. The interesting thing about this red wine is that fermentation takes place only in steel tanks which I think really allows the fruit to shine through.

MAIN COURSE: Braised short ribs and roasted red potatoes
Before I talk about the wines I just have to say that Jill makes the best short ribs! They were so tender and the sauce was so good. We paired the heavier reds with the main course. We started with the 2006 Josetta Saffirio Barbera d'Alba,($24) winemaker: Sara Saffirio. Again another winemaking family known for award-winning Barolos, in which the younger generation took over after the vineyards had been closed for about a decade.
Violet red with ruby undertones and a clear rim, bright, fruity nose of cherry cobbler with hints of cinnamon. More aromas appear the longer it stays in the glass including cherry leather and tobacco. Tannic and tangy yet starting to soften. Bright acidity with red fruit on the palate. The tannins of the wine paired perfectly with the proteins in the meat. I want to revisit this one in 3 years, 5 years and 10 years...But it is drinkeable now.

Next I want to tell you about the "Big Girl" of the evening, or rather the 1998 Domaine du Pegau Chateauneuf du Pape made by Laurence Feraud. Sandy actually bought her Pegau at the winery and she tasted the wines with Laurence. It is not often I get to drink aged wines and this one has aged nicely. This dark ruby cuvee had the funk going on and a lot of "barnyard" aromas. In fact Sandy described it as "brett heaven." I picked up on a lot of musty black pepper which covered floral notes of lavender, and red fruit notes. There was a lot of black pepper on the palate. This bottle was drinking very nicely and the acidity was still intact. The finish was long, rich, ripe and smooth. This wine was another great pairing with the short ribs.

Here is il Gnomo, or the mascot of Josetta Saffirio wines. The winemaker's mother actually designs the labels and the family believes that gnomes are watching over the vineyards and winery.

Ah, sweet endings. Ahn Thu brought this orange chocolate almond cake from Prolifc Oven in Palo Alto. So moist and delicious. Unfortunately we did not have a dessert wine to pair but the sweet notes of the Riesling were a good pairing.

IN SUMMARY: All of these wines were well-made and very drinkable. And they all paired with the dinner that Jill prepared which we did not even plan on. It was a magical night in which food, wine and women came together . As for women winemakers I am not really sure if the wines are different because they are made by women but I would love to hear any feedback about that. I also get the feeling that we will have more tastings such as this because there are so many talented women making wine. So tell us, who are your favorite female vintners?


winesleuth said...

What a fantastic idea!! I'm going to have to look into starting a London based branch of Women who Wine. BTW, Dom. Weinbach is one of my favourites, love those Alsatian wines! Dinner sounded and looked amazing, my mouth is watering! Looking forward to reading about the next WoW meeting.

Grape said...

The way grapes are turned into delicious wine has always fascinated me. It doesn't matter if you are a woman or a man, if you know the traditions, you will succeed in obtaining the tasteful wine you wish for.

Iron Chevsky said...

Thanks for the write-up, Xandria. Great theme!

I too did tasting with Laurence Feraud last December. Described here: http://www.chevsky.com/2009/02/answer-why-not-have-little-fun-at.html

Those Pegau wines are very strong and concentrated and definitely need many years to mellow out. When I tasted the Pegau's Cuvee Laurence '03, it was still way too young and potent. Thank goodness Sandy has those older gems! Laurence herself had just come back from Burgundy and said that her own wines were "wild and rustic" in comparison.

Hopefully Rona will join you guys one of these days when she is not in her Tuesday design class.

Best regards,

Xandria said...

Sleuthy, thanks for reading. This was my first D.Weinbach and I hope to drink more of Laurence's wines. Also, please keep us updated as to the status of the London branch of WoW! Hope you start one of your own.

IronC, thanks for the link to your post on Laurence Feraud. Yes, I can see that the CdP that Sandy brought was on the rustic side that had mellowed out. It was good. Also, I hope Rona can join us in the future because it is a fun group!

And, Grape, thanks for your comment. I am sure it is the knowledge and experience that the winemaker brings that is more important than gender!!

Wine of the month club said...

As for favorite female wine makers ... Merry Edwards comes to mind along with a few others.