And here’s the next installment on the Women Winemakers of Chablis. Today, we’re featuring Nathalie Oudin, of Domain Oudin, in the Chablis region of France. Chablis is also the delicious white wine made from the chardonnay grape (remember, European wines are usually named after where they’re made, rather than by what they’re made of). This series is from a group of email interviews with six women winemakers from the Chablis region, translated from the original French by someone else because Anne’s French is in terrible shape. We asked each woman the same three questions.
1)What makes Chablis different from other wines made from chardonnay?
Nathalie: The northern climate and the calcareous soil of the Chablis region tend to make very unique and subtle wines, with delicate aromas.
2) If my reader sees Chablis on the label of a bottle of wine, what should she expect to taste in the wine?
Nathalie: A dry and beautifully tensed chardonnay: the freshness of the aromas brought by the Chablis terroir makes it a unique wine. This wine is very light and whets your appetite.
3) Finally, how are things changing for women winemakers in France? In the U.S., making wine is still very dominated by men. Are there more women becoming winemakers? Do women make wine differently than men, and if they do, what do they do that’s different?
Nathalie: People are evolving and opening up. Men who have taken over the domains are now less hard to work with than with previous generations. They have improved the work place by making work relations less intimidating. Although there are still a few big mouthed machos. 🙂
We love Chablis. Real Chablis. The gorgeous white wine made from the chardonnay grape in Chablis, France. (Wines in much of Europe are named for where they’re made, as opposed to what they’re made from mostly because there are rules in the various regions that define what wine will be made there.) So when Anne got a press release last spring celebrating the Women of Chablis, she jumped on it.
The result is a series of email interviews with six women winemakers from the Chablis region, translated from the original French by someone else because Anne’s French is in terrible shape. We asked each woman the same three questions.
First up is Nathalie Fèvre, who with her husband Gilles, own Domaine Nathalie et Gilles Fèvre.
1.) What makes Chablis different from other wines made from chardonnay?
Nathalie: The unique terroir we have in Chablis – soils and subsoils composed of clay and limestone marl and which contain a multitude of marine fossils – explains why Chablis wines always feature briny and mineral notes, so pure and unique to Chablis, regardless of the vintage. I always say that Chablis is like a memory of the sea.
2.) If someone sees Chablis on the label of a bottle of wine, what should she expect to taste in the wine?
Nathalie: Notes of fruit and white flowers + mineral notes: a mix of spices (tending towards minty when young and towards curry-style spices when aged) combined with salinity. An English client once use this term : seabreeze, which is spot on to describe the sensation felt when you are by the sea and lick your lips.
3.) Finally, how are things changing for women winemakers in France? In the U.S., making wine is still very dominated by men. Are there more women becoming winemakers? Do women make wine differently than men, and if they do, what do they do that’s different?
Nathalie: I started as an oenologist in 1998. Back then, there were very few women at technical levels holding positions of responsibilities in the wine industry. Today, it’s a different story, the world of wine is more open and there’s a lot more women who are winegrowers, oenologists, cellar-masters, vineyard managers, etc.
For example, our Domain is called Nathalie & Gilles FEVRE; both my husband and I work together, we have two children (a boy and a girl) and our daughter, who is an agriculture engineer and oenologist, will take over the family business. Our case is absolutely not unique! It’s just a matter of being open minded: women can be just as successful as men. Our job is our life. It’s all about passion: you need to be passionate to do the right thing and succeed in doing it, but I think that is true for a lot of jobs, right? Finally, the difference between women and men is that women might tend to produce more elegant and complex wines than men? Maybe it is related to women’s own, complex nature? Sometimes, I hear people talk about “women sensitivity,” but I don’t buy it! However, I realize that when I drink a wine, there is a deep personal signature and I would say that the wine has a soul. I can feel the passion the winemaker (man or woman) that went into its making…Again, it’s all about passion.
If you’ve ever opened a bottle of wine only to discover it wasn’t anything you thought it would be based on the label, then you can appreciate what Sommelier Cassandra Brown, CS, CSW, does.
“We are looked to be the authorities on wine,” Brown said. “When people come into a restaurant, the sommelier is to be an authority on wine.”
And when Brown says authority, she’s not talking about the snooty kind of sommelier who curls his lip when you ask for the “wrong” wine. She wants you to be happy with the wine you choose.
“We want to make sure that you guys get a quality product,” she said. “We have the knowledge to determine whether it’s a quality product. That’s all.”
We met Brown at the Los Angeles County Fair last September, where she led us through a tasting of classic wine varieties. The idea was to learn about what a typical sauvignon blanc, or cabernet sauvignon, etc., are “supposed” to taste like. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing for, say, a chardonnay to have a bit of the citrusy character normally associated with a sauv blanc. But it can be a downer when you plunk down $30 for a pinot noir, hoping for a rich, balanced but somewhat lighter red wine, only to find that the winemaker went for a heavier cab sauv style.
We were at the fair that day for the fun of it and weren’t expecting to do any interviewing. But Brown was such a great teacher, we couldn’t resist. So we asked her, why do all that finicky wine analysis of the color, smell and taste?
“The thing about it is, it’s that it’s part of our profession. But it’s a learning experience for us,” Brown said about herself and her sommelier colleagues. “The way we become an authority on wine is to learn everything about it, to break it down. We do it for us. We don’t necessarily do it for the masses. It’s an education exercise to heighten our awareness, to heighten our knowledge about wine. That’s how we learn. And that’s really what it’s about. It’s a learning tool so that we can be that authority, we can answer that question, so we can justify why this wine tastes that way based on where it was grown or how it was produced.”
And that’s basically what it’s about. A good sommelier (wine server) will ask you what you like and will be able to make a good recommendation based on her knowledge of what the restaurant has and what the chef is making. Because it really is about making sure the customer has a good experience, and being looked down on is anything but.
One of the truly fun things we get to do, here at OddBallGrape, is trying some amazing wines at events such as Slow Wine, this past February. And as we promised in that post, we’re finally bringing you the lesson on dolcetto wine, in particular from Cà ed Balos winery from the southern end of Piedmont. Renata Bonacina is the owner and winemaker there, and she was gracious enough to give us a short lesson on dolectto and the wine she makes.
“It’s a challenge,” Bonacina told us about her work in her vineyard. “It’s a challenge every year, every day. But, of course, technology helps to assist you. But the vineyards where we work are steep places which you need to have chain tractors. And we do have lots of manual work to be done, not only during the harvest time, but during… All the canopy management during the summer. So it’s hard work, especially when you have a very hot summer, like last summer. You have to wake up at five thirty in the morning.”
She makes some lovely Moscato d’Asti, but it was her dolcettos that sold us.
“First of all, you have different wines called dolcetto. Our dolcetto is Dolcetto D’Alba,” she explained. “It’s a wine that has a very soft tannin, is usually very fruity. It has alcohol by volume not very high. It’s usually 12.5 [percent]. In some cases you can have higher, considering that it is a different kind of dolcetto compared to mine. Because there are some that can reach 13 [percent alcohol]. But generally speaking, they don’t have a very high volume of alcohol. Usually, dolcetto, traditionally in my region, was the meal wine for all the people. So it’s a quite simple wine, which you pair with many different foods, which I mentioned before. I mean pasta, rice, cheese or meat, because of the fact of having the tannins very soft. It’s not so strong and very easy to pair.”
Bonacina’s dolcettos were gorgeous, full and rich and still pretty dry. She said that she ferments her grapes in steel tanks, then puts them in barrels for five or more months, usually the summer after they’ve been harvested.
Getting the wines, here in the U.S. may be a bit of a stretch, but check out the website for the winery. If you email them, it’s possible they’ll be able to tell you where in the States you can buy the wines. Or if you’re in Northern Italy, you can go to the winery.
In the meantime, if you see dolcetto on a label, think a soft, fruity wine that’s perfect with food. And if you see Dolcetto d’Alba, buy it.
It has been a long while since we did a Celebrity Wine FAQ, mostly because Anne got out of the TV critic biz a couple years ago. However, when she recently got a press release about Mayim Bialik joining the new show FabLab (weekend mornings, check your local listings), it reminded us that Anne had done an interview with Ms. Bialik a few years ago and we’d never run it.
FabLab, by the way, sounds pretty awesome. It’s a news show for teens and tween girls looking at how science makes the world better. The idea is to encourage girls to get into science, technology, engineering and math (aka STEM) and, hopefully, even out the numbers in these male-dominated fields. Which does have a connection with wine, since it does take a certain amount of science to make wine.
What Mayim Bialik asked us
For those of you new to this blog, a Celebrity Wine FAQ is where the celeb gets to ask us a question about wine. We’re posting Ms. Bialik’s question because it’s pretty relevant this week, thanks to the start of Passover.
“It’s one of the thing we always ask,” she told us. “It’s one of the Urban Myths about Manischewitz. So why is Jewish wine so darned sweet? I’ve been told that there’s some history to the vineyards where the Jews moved in this country.”
And, as it turns out, there is a bit of history. With most of the immigrant Jews arriving and staying on the East Coast in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, that’s where they planted vines. And because it grows so well there, those vines tended to be Concord grapes, which produce a very bitter wine that must be sweetened to make it palatable (and we may be using that last term a little loosely).
But wait, there’s more to this.
We also checked in with our blogging friend and colleague Alleigh of A Glass After Work, who not only posted this cool explanation of how kosher wine is generally made, she explained that a lot of kosher wine is meshuval. For a wine to be kosher, either it has to be produced completely by Jews, from the grape growing to the bottling and transporting to stores. Or it can go through the meshuval process, in which the wine is heated just enough to make it kosher without inducing a full, rolling boil, which would evaporate the alcohol. But this boiling process also makes the wine sweeter.
Alleigh also pointed out that because people have come to know Manischewitz and similar labels as the very sweet wine it is, they haven’t changed that.
“Some kosher wine makers go for that sweetness factor simply because people expect kosher wines to be sweet,” Alleigh wrote in a message.
By the way, there are a lot of very good dry kosher wines out there both from France and Israel, and we’ve heard there are even some kosher wineries in California, but we haven’t been able to find them. Yet.
It was a simple question. Anne’s daughter saw a recipe that called out dry white wine and wondered what makes a dry cooking wine? Or dry wine for cooking?
And as with most simple questions, the answer is… Well, not so simple. We could post a list of types of white wines, but then, with our luck, you’ll stumble into the rare one that’s made in a sweet style.
So let’s start with the basics. Fermentation in wine is what happens when yeast consumes sugar in a juice and spits out alcohol. In most cases, we’re talking about grape juice, but wine can be made from any number of juices, including some stuff you don’t even want to think about as juice, such as parsnip and bell pepper (trust us, don’t go there). In dry wine, the yeast consumes all of the sugar in the wine before dying of alcohol poisoning. In sweet wines, either the fermentation is stopped or the alcohol is so high it kills off the remaining yeasts before it can consume all the sugar.
As Anne wrote in her mini-blog, From the Dark Side of the Fridge, earlier this week, dry wine has more acid in it, so it brightens flavors up. Which is why you generally use dry wine in cooking, as opposed to sweet wine. Sometimes, it will be a dry red wine, which usually goes with stronger flavored foods, such as beef. Often it will be a dry white wine, which is not only more acidic, it’s going to have a lighter flavor that won’t overwhelm other flavors in the dish.
So Which Dry Cooking Wine do I Buy?
All of the above is interesting, but admittedly not a lot of help when you’re at the grocery store staring at row upon row of wines, mostly grouped by grape variety or country of origin, and there’s no friendly shopkeeper within miles to help.
Wine snobs will tell you that you don’t want to buy any wine for cooking that you wouldn’t drink. But while the vast majority of what a wine snob will tell you is, indeed, a veritable load of horse manure, they’re sort of right on this one. Only sort of right.
You don’t want really, really horrible wine. Most jug wines fall into this category (though not all). That makes sense – anything that tends to be overly fruity or oxidized is not going to add the best flavor to your meal.
That being said, you don’t want really good wine, either. All the things that make really good wines good – the subtle layers of flavor, the interplay between tannins, acid and fruit – that’s all lost when you’ve added the meat and/or veggies, the herbs and other flavors and cooked it all together. So there’s no point in spending $30 for a bottle, then cooking out all of the reasons the bottle is worth $30 (assuming, of course, that you got one that really is worth $30, which is another post all together).
What you want is a basic bottle in the $5 to $7 range. The infamous Charles Shaw label from Trader Joe’s is perfectly acceptable for cooking and won’t set you back much more than $3.50 in most parts of the country ($2.50 in California). Red wines cabernet sauvignon and merlot are generally fermented dry. On the white side, you can generally count on chardonnay and sauvignon blanc to be dry. In fact, these are so commonly fermented dry that if they do happen to be made as sweet wines, it will say so on the label. Or should. Alas, nothing is absolute in the wine world. But it’s a pretty safe bet that something labeled cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay or sauvignon blanc will be a dry wine.
Beware of anything that says “late harvest” on the label. That means the grapes were harvested well after most of their pals that became dry wine, which in turn means that there was more sugar in the grapes and it’s probably a sweet wine. The other thing to be aware of (although it’s an older thing that you see don’t too often in grocery stores anymore) is anything actually labeled “cooking wine.” It usually has salt added and is pretty nasty.
There are lots of other wines, both red and white, that are dry, and if you have a particular fave that’s generally on the wine rack or in the fridge, then there is absolutely no reason not to use it when the recipe or whatever you’re making calls for a dry red or white. As long as it tastes dry to you.
Theodora Lee Talks about how she came to farm and make wine for her Theopolis Vineyards.
We had a grand time talking with Theodora Lee, owner and winemaker for Theopolis Vineyards at last summer’s Garagiste Festival. (By the way, if you get a chance to go to one, it’s well worth it and a lot of fun). We also loved Theodora’s wines. In fact, she talks about our two faves in the above video – transcription below.
I am Theadora Lee, I am the owner of Theopolis Vineyard, also known as a nickname, Theopatra, Queen of the Vineyards.
Q – How did you get into wines?
Well I moved to California in 1987 to practice law at Littler Mendelson. I’m a girl from Texas. I grew up driving a tractor. I bought a sheep farm in order to plant grapes because I wanted to do farming – grape farming as we would say it in Texas. And in 2012, my buyer – I’d been selling grapes to award-winning wineries since 2006. But in 2012, my buyer rejected my grapes because I had to pull at 24 brix instead of 27 brix
Q – So what did you do with the grapes?
I bottled my first wine in September of 2014 and it’s my petite syrah.
Q – Wow. That’s exciting.
And I got a gold from Sunset Magazine’s International Wine Competition.
Q – That’s impressive. Do you enjoy the experience of farming?
I wanted to be out in the country, getting my hands dirty. So I took a couple courses and U.C. Davis viticulture about the four seasons of growing. So I do the pruning. You know, I do bud break. I do all of the aspects of the farming and that’s what got me into the wine business. Now that I’m bottling the wine, I love the pleasure on folks’ face when they taste the wine. I’ve been specializing in the pleasure of the bottle since I was in high school making Wanda Punch.
Q – Tell us about your rose of petite syrah.
It’s a hundred percent petite syrah. It is rare that any fool would try to make a rose out of petite syrah. Because pettie syrah is one of the darkest, inkiest red grapes around. So, in order to make a rose, you basically have to take the skins off of the grapes early, early in the fermentation process and even after doing that, the rose is not pink. It is a ruby color. It has all the refreshing flavors of a rose. But it drinks like a red wine. It is a very aromatic, refreshingly brilliant rose. But it is extremely dry.
Q – You also make a Symphony wine. Tell us about that.
Symphony was created by Professor Olmo at Davis Viticulture School, and it’s a cross between muscat and grenache gris. And it is a dry version. Most people who make a symphony wine make an off-dry version. But I make all my wines dry. Bone dry. And let me tell you why. I grew up in Texas. If you’ve ever heard of muscadine wine. Muscadine is a grape that grows wild in the South. It is sweet and it tastes like cough syrup, it’s so sweet. And my daddy used to pick it wild on his farm. And he would make bootleg wine. As a little girl, you know, you’d sneak into your father’s cabinet and try to taste it. I tasted that wine and swore I would never drink wine again, ever in my life. Until I came to California and learned about dry wines
Ah, Champagne. We’re talking the real stuff, from Champagne, France. Everything else is sparkling wine, perfectly lovely in most cases. But there’s just something about the original.
So when we got an invitation to party in Beverly Hills with Vitalie Taittinger, whose family owns the famous high end label, heck, yes, we jumped at it. Who better to explain the mystique? The romance? And with Valentine’s Day almost upon us, why not?
The party was hosted by Jordane Andrieu, of Héritage Wines, in Beverly Hills, and was very chi-chi, which was kind of scary because we’re anything but chi-chi. Still, with the bubbly flowing like a fountain (and in the video, rather literally), who cared? Ms. Taittinger was a little late, so we got antsy and started asking anyone and everyone what is about Champagne that we associate it so firmly with romance?
Champagne is sophisticated and light
Kendra Walker thought it was about the bubbles,
“Bubbly is romantic because it’s effervescent and light,” White said.
Her friend, Dana Prieto, agreed.
“Bubbly is just fancy,” Prieto said. “That’s why it’s so great.”
“I think it’s just the fact that it literally looks beautiful in a glass,” said Annie Trevino. “You feel so sophisticated when you’re drinking it. And the way you feel after you’ve had a glass or two is kind of different compared to any other kind of spirit, rather beer or hard liquor. It makes you feel light. And I think that’s a beautiful thing.”
Publicist Dana Bruneau pointed out that it’s very easy to write copy about Champagne.
“Honestly, it’s so fluid,” she said. “You don’t even have to think about it. I mean, the craziest stuff can come to your mind, like seduction and sultry and creamy and silky. So many adjectives to describe champagne.”
And Renita White came up with yet another
“It’s velvety,” she said.
Yep. Good Champagne does feel a little like velvet going down.
Ms. Taittinger has her say
But then Ms. Taittinger showed up and here’s what she had to say about the connection between Champagne and romance.
“I think that Champagne is special because of the terroir and the minerality and everything, but at the end it’s also special because it’s not only a wine, it’s also a symbol. A symbol of celebration, a symbol of joy, happiness,” Taittinger said, adding that it can be hard to pin down why it’s so romantic. “I think you just have to drink a glass of it to understand that. Because the effect of champagne on people is just that it gives you so much energy, power, love, freedom, that you’re happy.”
Ah, but some folks we know have gotten very sick drinking Champagne.
“But that’s a good point because you can drink a lot of good champagne without to be sick,” Taittinger said. “I think when you have a good champagne, you are never sick.”
At least, we weren’t sick the next morning. Still, even with as good a thing as really good bubbly, it doesn’t hurt to moderate it a bit.
At last year’s Slow Wine event, we were expecting more about the movement. This year,knowing full well that the event is about introducing Americans to the best of Italian wines, we came ready to get our taste buds dazzled. And, indeed, they were.
The fun of attending tasting events is discovering and tasting wines that you probably won’t get a chance to under normal circumstances. Not every wine shop is going to carry the Montepulciano Rosé from Torre Dei Beati, in Abruzzo, Italy. Or Cà ed Balos’ amazing dolcettos out of the Piedmont region (more on those later, we promise). There’s also the joy of tasting something you’d never be able to afford otherwise.
Almost extinct Italian wines
Then there are the truly rare goodies, such as the three wines brought by enologist Stefano Coppola, from Tenute Ferrocinto, in the Calabria region.The white was made from a grape called Montonico, and the two reds from Magliocco grapes. Both grapes are almost extinct, partly because they take a lot more work to get good fruit than other varieties. In fact, only a few very tiny producers make the wine. But Signor Coppola’s company is trying to bring the varieties back. The vineyards are in a national park in Italy, with the intent that they will keep everything as it was
The kicker? The wines aren’t available in the United States because the company hasn’t found a distributor yet. Well, we hope they found one at the event. Because wine from historical varieties that are dying out? It’s pretty awesome.
Unfortunately, we can’t cover all the wonderful goodies we found at the tasting – and we didn’t even get to all of the 50-odd producers who were there. Just remember there’s a lot more to Italian wines than chianti, prosecco and pinot grigio. And if you get a chance to go to a tasting event, dress in dark clothes, be ready to spit and have fun checking out all of the different wines. You never know when you’re going to come across something rare or even a new fave.
If you want to learn about zinfandel, or casually known as zin, you definitely want to talk to winemaker Katie Madigan, of St. Francis Winery & Vineyards. She’s in charge of the zinfandel program at the winery, where she’s been working from the ground up, you might say, since 2002.
“I started in 2002 as an intern,” she said, “working the harvest and one of my main jobs was sampling the vineyards for winemakers and getting accustomed to the land. So I sampled all the grapes and I updated the winemakers on the maturity level, and I just really became impassioned with working in vineyards, working in the winery. So then I went to UC Davis and finished my studies in enology/viticulture in 2005. St. Francis asked me to be assistant winemaker. I was Tom Mackie’s assistant for eight years and when he retired in 2011, he asked me to step in and be winemaker.”
Madigan, who also makes the winery’s chardonnay, called zin California’s signature grape.
History of Zin
“Zinfandel has a very complex history, first of all,” Madigan said. “I think we tend to see it as California’s grape varietal because it has been here since about – they think – 1830s is when they think it really came to California. We’re still working out the kinks on where we think the origin is. We think it’s Croatia. It could be Italy, as well. It’s very, very close, what the records say. But for me, zinfandel is a fresh variety. It has lots of fresh fruit, but also some pretty good spice. It should be a complex wine. It shouldn’t be too soft. It should be very enjoyable with or without food.
She added that zin can also show off where it’s grown by its flavor.
“It’s a very aromatic varietal, that’s what I love about it. It’s very representative of where it’s grown. So if it’s in a cool area, you’ll get more light red, raspberry. If it’s in a warmer area, you get more of that blackberry, blueberry aroma. And that’s very interesting,” she said.
Zinfandel styles and food
Now, some of us (like, say, Anne) have not been big fans of zinfandel because back in the 1990s, winemakers focused on a very, very fruity wines with lots of alcohol that tasted like jam in glass (and Anne firmly believes jam belongs on toast, instead). Madigan said that it seems like that style of zinfandel is going away.
“I hope that we’re going back. The zinfandel… What I call Old World zinfandel, does have a very distinct pepper spice note complexity. I think there was definitely a decade that saw a very soft, supple zinfandels and I’m hoping that what we’re seeing these days is kind of a fusion of both,” she said. “To me, the texture of the wine and the mouthfeel is what I find most fascinating. I’m like you. I’m hoping we’re seeing more complexity and length and spice on those wines.”
As for what to eat with zinfandel, Madigan is pretty open.
“Honestly, I do believe that zinfandel is one of those wines where I call it an all-weather wine,” she said. “Here in California, it’s our go-to barbecue wine. Anything that’s put on the barbecue is going to pair with zinfandel. But also, Thanksgiving. Usually the Thanksgiving feast pairs very well with it. I think it can transition from season to season. That’s what’s so great about it.”
The Dreaded White Zin
Alas, no discussion about zinfandel would be complete without talking about white zin – usually a sweet, medicine-like wine that was quite the fad some years ago. But for the fun of it, we asked Madigan if one could make a nice dry rose out of zin.
“We do one that’s for our wine club only,” Madigan said. “We only make 300 cases of it. And it’s a hundred percent zinfandel. It’s made in the Provence style. I think white zinfandel was a trend and it was a style of wine. Rose is also a style of wine, and I’m very inspired by Provence, and so even though it’s made of zinfandel, which is not traditional, it tastes very similar to what you’ll find in traditional French roses.”
And while that’s not everything you need to know about zinfandel, what’s left is tasting it yourself.
What’s your favorite zinfandel and why do you like it?