Monday, February 8, 2010

Are wines made by women different?

Wine Entre Femme: an international think tank of women in wine

That was the title of an event I more or less crashed last week, because Brigitte Rulier-Loussert, proprietor/winemaker of Chateau Dalem -- who makes, IMHO, the best wines I've tasted from Fronsac -- told me about it.

Are her wines "feminine"? Only if you consider ripe fruit and rich tannins "feminine." Not only are Brigitte's wines good, they're also on the New World side of the equation (which, considering the fierce tannins in old-style Fronsac, is not a bad thing.) I don't think they're overdone; not at all. But tasting them, I don't think I would guess a woman made them.

It's a popular media myth that women make more well-balanced, food-friendly wines than men. I can debunk that with two words: "Helen Turley." I also think fine winemakers of full-bodied wines -- like Heidi Peterson Barrett and Carol Shelton -- would be a little insulted if you told them they made "women's wines."

However, that doesn't mean there's not a place for this event, and it's because of something Brigitte said to me. Looking around the room at a dozen female American winemakers, another dozen female winery proprietors and a bunch of sales reps (many were daughters of women winery owners or winemakers), Brigitte said, "We don't have this in France. There I am unusual. To see this many women who make wine together, it is a great thing."

I looked for some unifying theme to the event, other than the gender of the people behind the table, but didn't find one. Some white wines were crisp and refreshing; others were blowsy and overoaked. I tasted some beautifully elegant red wines (most are listed below) and some clumsy ones, and some that were so tannic they were almost painful.

Then I went straight to my dentist's office, where I expected to get chastised for coming in with gums full of Sauternes. Unexpectedly, she didn't mind; I guess my breath was sweeter than usual.

Here are the stars from the tasting:

Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($70): Cathy Corison (in the photo above) has never adapted her style to the ultra-rich Cabs favored by Robert Parker, which has kept her price from going stratospheric. Given the dead market for $150 cult Cabs these days, that's probably a good thing. This beautifully restrained wine reminds you of how delicious and food-friendly Cab can be: Black cherry and raspberry fruit, some fresh herbs, solid acidity, elegant structure. You could drink it now, but the 2000 she was pouring beside it showed that it will reward waiting. I'm not an anti-Parker guy, but if you are, you really need to try this, it's what you're looking for. 95

Chateau Dalem Fronsac 2005 (NA): Pretty cherry and black currant fruit with lovely floral notes, well-managed tannins and great balance. This is as good as Fronsac gets, from an excellent vintage. 93

Chateau Dalem Fronsac 2007 (NA): Ripe blackberry with well-managed tannins. Should cellar a little while to develop its secondary characteristics, but a very well-made wine. 91

Dalla Valle Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($150): Nice cherry and raspberry fruit with excellent acidity. An elegant wine that should age well. 92

Grace Wine Hishiyama Vineyard Koshu 2008 (NA): Koshu is a large, thick-skinned, bland-tasting grape that is well-adapted to Japan's challenging weather, which includes nearly a month of muggy rain in the middle of summer. This might be the best Koshu wine I've ever had: crisp, fresh and refreshing lime with some apricot. A good food wine. From Yamanashi prefecture, the home of Japan's wine industry, where most wineries stubbornly grow Bordeaux varietals even though they can't handle the weather. Let this wine be a lesson as to what they should try. 90

Haskell Vineyards Aeon Stellenbosch Shiraz 2007 ($40): Ripe and wild wine that makes you think of the jungle, even though this part of South Africa is as European as Africa gets. Blackberry, black cherry and raw meat. 91

Haskell Vineyards Pillars Stellenbosch Shiraz 2007 ($60): Winemaker Rianie Strydom says that after winning a 3-way wine competition with Australia and New Zealand, this wine will all be allocated soon, and I believe her. This is even gamier than the Aeon, with nice cherry fruit, good structure and fine acidity. Might be a wild ride for Americans, but I saw a few French women -- accustomed to Syrah from Hermitage -- go gaga for it, and I'm on their side. 91

Lail Vineyards J. Daniel Cuvee Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($125): After corporations bought out the historic Inglenook estate and destroyed the name's reputation, Robin Lail wound up with one of the original vineyards, and has been proving ever since that it's one of the great pieces of terroir in California. This was the best wine I tasted all day: potent black cherry initially, with some cocoa and dried herbs and coffee on the long finish. Great balance and elegance. Yum. 97

La Sirena Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($150): Heidi Peterson Barrett is starting to get a little cynical with her marketing. She's making a red blend called Pirate Treasured, in a squat rum-like bottle with a cool case, that I think is a nice version of Red Truck at $50 a bottle. I prefer her wines when she's serious, as she is here: Black cherry and cocoa with noticeable tannins that give it an edge and some violet on the finish. 92

La Sirena Barrett Vineyards Calistoga Syrah 2005 ($80): An elegant wine with blackberry fruit, ripe tannins and notes of cocoa and coffee. 91

Chateau Sigalas Rabaud Sauternes Premier Cru Classe 2001 (NA): Rich honeycomb and apricot. Great mouthfeel. Though very rich, only moderate sweetness and good acidity keep it from being cloying. 92

Spottswoode Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($130): A tannic wine with good dark cherry fruit, some leafy fresh herb and a hint of dark chocolate on the finish. This is an old-school Cab that will take at least 5 years to approach, and more likely 10. I'd like to be able to taste it then, when riper Napa Cabs have fallen apart. 92

Tierra Roja Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($115): Named for the red dirt in the vineyard, this is a well-balanced wine with black cherry fruit and a distinctive black olive note. 91


Khelsy said...
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winebookgirl said...

did a post on this one as well.

Grant Dodd said...

Interested in your thoughts on the Haskell's. Is this point of difference that you perceive stylistically an angle that can work in the U.S. market for SA wines, or is it a bridge too far at the moment?


W. Blake Gray said...

Hi Grant, I personally think the Haskell Syrahs will find more appreciative audiences in other countries. Syrah is already a hard sell here and these, while genuine expressions of the grape, don't have the taste profile Americans seem to prefer when spending $40 and up for a wine. One can rant against Parker, but I think he's successful because he knows what wines big-spending Americans like.