Women Winemakers of Chablis, Part Two

women winemakers of chablis, white wine
Nathalie and Isabelle Oudin

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. 🙂

Women Winemakers of Chablis, Part One

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.

Women of Chablis
Nathalie & Gilles FEVRE
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.

Sommelier Cassandra Brown Breaks It Down

sommelier, wine
Sommelier Cassandra Brown, CS, CSW

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.

 

What’s Dry Cooking Wine?

It was a simple question. Anne’s daughter saw a recipe that called out dry white wine and dry cooking wine, dry white wines, dry red wines, cooking with winewondered 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.

 

It’s the Release Day for Beaujolais Nouveau!

IMG_20131124_131011This post originally ran in 2012, but we’re going to do a #ThrowbackThursday because the information is still good. And enjoy this year’s release.

Let’s be real – most of the time, wine pairing isn’t that tough. You have your basic rule of thumb: white wines with white meat/protein, red wines with red meats/sauces. The idea is that you (generally) want to match the more delicate flavors of a white wine with the more delicate flavors of chicken or fish, while you want a heartier red wine to go with the heartier flavors of a beef roast or steak. And while that is a pretty basic assessment, it will get you through 80 to 90 percent of the time.

Thanksgiving Dinner, however, is one of those 10 to 20 percent times when the old rule of thumb gets a little tricky. Turkey has a much stronger flavor than chicken, but it’s not quite as strong as steak, so a light white wine will be overwhelmed by the turkey and the turkey will be overwhelmed by the heavier red wine. Then there are all the sweet dishes that can throw even the best wine off.

Why? Well, think about what an orange tastes like after you’ve just brushed your teeth or taken a big bite of maple-syrup drenched pancake. Even the sweetest orange or orange juice will taste sour and icky. That’s the citric acid in the orange taking over on your tongue after matching out all the sweet flavors. The same thing happens with wine. Any good wine has several different acids playing out against the fruit flavors and the alcohol. So Aunt Mabel’s sweet potatoes and marshmallows are going to match out those fruit flavors in the expensive, perfectly balanced pinot noir that you bought to go with the turkey, and leave the wine tasting sour and yucky. Not the effect you want when you’ve coughed up $40 for a bottle. And let’s not even get into what the cranberries are going to do.

Which is why our favorite Thanksgiving Dinner wine is the annual Beaujolais Nouveau. The Nouveau is the brand new wine out of the Beaujolais region of France. Basically, all the winemakers who made Beaujolais Villages would hold a little grape juice back from the newly-picked grapes and make a new wine with it to celebrate the end of the harvest. Well, a man named Georges DuBoeuf realized that this was pretty tasty stuff and that if he bought up a bunch of the new wines, mixed them together, then created this big party in Paris, he could sell a boatload of it and make everyone happy.

So nowadays, the wine is released every year on the second Thursday of November to great fanfare and some sniping by the wine snobs, who love looking down their long, bony noses at it. It’s wine that was grapes, like, three months ago, and it’s very light and fruity with good acids, and it can stand up to the turkey and gravy and is fruity enough not to get too sour with the sweet potatoes. Plus, if you have any wine novices at your table who are terrified of red wines, it’s a great introduction to red wines, in general. The best part? Beaujolais Nouveaus rarely cost more that $15 a bottle. Just one thing to be aware of – the vintage year should be the current year. As in, if you find a Nouveau on the shelf from 2014 or later, walk the other way. This wine does not age well and gets rather blah or tart even as soon as Christmas.

So get a bottle of this year’s release and let us know in the comments what you think.

Cabernet Sauvignon, by Kimberlee Nicholls of Markham Vineyards

We met Kimberlee Nicholls, winemaker at Markham Vineyards, at a tasting put on by local KIMdoorpublic TV station KCET to celebrate the short TV series Vintage: Napa Valley 2012, which features Nicholls and fellow winemakers Marisa Taylor and Elizabeth Vianna (and, yes, Ms. Vianna, we will get to you). Nicholls was pouring the Markham cabernet sauvignon. We know, we make fun of all the snootiness surrounding Napa cabs. We didn’t know how much the Markham wines went for, so the price was definitely not influencing us. We were blown away – enough to cough up the $35-plus to buy another bottle. So who better to talk about the cabernet saubvignon grape than the woman who makes the one we love?

We did have to do this via email, however, which means that Nicholls pretty much wrote the post for us (thank you, Kimberlee)

1.) Cabernet sauvignon is everywhere! Why is that?

Cabernet Sauvignon is a very adaptable grape.  Budbreak is later than other varietals in the spring making it a better suited for locations with cold winters, frost concerns or high elevations.  With its thick skins and small berries set on loose clusters, Cabernet is more resistant to an occasional bit of unfavorable weather throughout the growing season.  It is a huge benefit that Cabernet is grown everywhere allowing us to further our knowledge of wines made from this fantastic grape.  There are more clonal selections (clones are individual variations of the grape, just like the different types of apples) of Cab than any other varietal, making for unlimited amounts of research available in practically every region of the world.  Ultimately this has helped all of us make informed vineyard planting decisions by being able to match soil type with specific weather conditions to successfully achieve our winemaking goals.

Markham Vineyards, St. Helena, Napa Valley
Markham Vineyards, St. Helena, Napa Valley

2.) Why is there such a range in prices on cab sauv?

As with any grape varietal, land value is always going to dictate a large part of the bottle price.  At Markham Vineyards, we produce our estate grown Cabernet Sauvignon from vineyards purchased in the mid-70’s.  As you can imagine, land in Napa Valley was a bit less expensive than what you might find if you were looking to purchase a vineyard today.  Then you need to add in the planting, difficulty of farming, especially on hillsides, and the price continues to climb on that bottle of wine.  With its small clusters, Cabernet is not known for producing high yields and vineyard diligence is necessary to grow the best fruit.  In order to get Cab truly ripe, care must be taken in the vineyard to allow filtered light to each cluster which helps burn off the bell pepper character inherit to the varietal.

Cabernet Sauvignon is a grape/wine with a proven track record for age-ability.  When grown in the best locations, the tannins extracted from its skins require more aging than most other varietals.  It is why such great care is taken from the vineyard all the way along to the bottle.  Hand picking in the field and additional sorting as the fruit arrives at the winery must make the grape feel like a rock star, not to mention that it is the last thing to be picked demanding full attention as the closing act during harvest.  Cold soaking, specialized yeast treatment and extended maceration only further enhance the terroir or ‘sense of place’ that truly great Cabernet embodies.  Barrel aging layers more nuance (and cost, of course) to enhance the your wine as you patiently wait upwards of two years before finally blending and bottling your masterpiece.  But wait… there is still another several months up to an entire year as the wine rests in the bottle before it is ready to be released.  Cabernet is truly an investment in time that people rarely understand.  A winery may have as many as 3-4 entire Cabernet vintages in tank, barrel and bottle at any given time.

3.) If I see cab sauv on a label, what should I expect to find inside? (Flavors, colors – how do I know it’s a good one?)

Cabernet Sauvignon typically has a deep, garnet color.  Color is your first indication on any wine and the color will let you gauge the concentration and/or age of the Cab in your glass.  Cabernet an expressive wine, it allows you to taste the place where it was grown, exactly how it was made and even to guess at its age.  An older wine may have a bit of crystal on both the cork and shoulder of the bottle.  These tartrates occur naturally as wines ages, tannins and acid soften and fall out of the wine, allowing for delicate floral and caramel aromas to dance in your glass.  Young Cab tends to be chewy, full of intensity and often makes your teeth black.  Many prefer to age Cabernet, giving it time to settle down and drinking around 8 years from the vintage shown on the bottle. mrkkimnicholls300dpi

When you open your bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, spend time to focus on the clues it is providing.  Can you smell and taste mineral notes from the chalky soil in which it was grown?  Was it from an especially warm vintage and overflowing with jammy, blackberry fruit?  Or maybe it was grown in a colder climate, full of earth and brooding darkness throughout.  Was there a eucalyptus tree in the vineyard where the Cabernet was grown because you taste mint?  Is it dark and chewy or supple, like a velvet glove on your palate?  What type of barrels did the winemaker use, does it have more vanilla, toasty oak or was it smoky with mocha and roasted coffee character?  Can you smell hint of violets from the Petit Verdot or the Cabernet Franc that was blended in?  By sharing the experience with a friend, you can not only enhance your experience but develop your vocabulary.  Wine should make you relax, add friends and a bit of food to magically transform all your wines into lasting memories!

And there you have it. Yum!

Neeta Mittal On Wine and Indian Food

We met Neeta Mittal, co-owner with her husband of LXV Wine in Paso Robles, at last fall’s Garagiste Festival. Mittal is the driving force behind the winery, although the wines are made by Amy Butler. Mittal is also very eloquent on wine with food from her native India, something you might not think goes together. But she proves that it does. In fact, we took her up on her offer to visit the tasting room after the festival to try her spice experiment. What they do is pair spice mixes on bland cheese with their wines and the result is freaking amazing. But we’ll let Ms. Mittal tell you about it.

 

A Quick Look at Slow Wine

Jonathan Gebser of Slow Wine Magazine
Jonathan Gebser of Slow Wine Magazine

Most of the wine trade who show up at a tasting event are there to answer one question and one question only: “What do I want to buy for my [shop, restaurant, wine bar]?” We media folk are looking for stories. Which is probably why Anne was a little disappointed by the Slow Wine tasting event in Los Angeles.

Not by the wine, mind you. These were some of the best buys Italy has to offer. They were fabulous across the board, although Michael found one that really stirred his heart strings.

But the event was more about selling Italian wines than it was about Slow Wine or the Slow Food Movement, which we are very interested in. Fortunately, we did get a quick chat with one of the editors of the Slow Wine Magazine, an online magazine featuring Italian wines.

“Slow Wine is a part of Slow Food, actually,” said Jonathab Gebser, Assistant Editor at the magazine. “It was just a little later that Slow Food started applying their philosophy of quality food to wine.”

Slow Food is the international organization founded in 1989 in Italy that encourages and supports food that is Good, Clean and Fair, in terms of high quality food, cleanly produced and socially just across the board.

“We look for this quality… The three principles of good, clean and fair,” Gebser said about the magazine’s focus. “Clean agriculture, sustainable agriculture, good quality products, good taste and healthy products, and fair, which regards fair payment for the producers, but also fair prices for the consumer.”

Social justice is a big issue for many wineries and vineyards, especially here in California, where farm workers are frequently underpaid for some of the most miserably hard work ever done.

We did not get to talk to the producers about the Slow Food/Wine thing. They were too busy pouring for potential customers. But we did get to hear some great stories that we hope we’ll get to share with you in the future. As for the wine that so impressed Michael? It was the La Gironda Barbera D’Asti Nizza 2011 – which is made from a special harvest. Michael thought it was the best wine of the day. “Nice balance of fruit, acidity and flavors that were not overly rustic,” he wrote in his notes. “A nice sipper that really sings with a bit of fat on the palate.” You can bet he is going to track down the importer and get some more of it.

And it was tagged as a particularly good example of a Slow Wine. Hey, we’re down with that.

 

What Are Tannins? Rick Longoria Explains

Winemaker Rick Longoria
Winemaker Rick Longoria

If folks tend to refer to Rick Longoria with a certain reverence, it’s not just that he produces some truly awesome wines. He is also one of the pioneers of the Santa Ynez wine country. He started working in the area in 1976, and founded his Longoria winery in 1982. We just happened to catch Mr. Longoria in his Lompoc tasting room, so, like, we’re going to turn down an opportunity to ask the man about something wine-related? Of course not! And since Mr. Longoria is all about longevity and structure, then what better question to ask him than “What are tannins?”

If you’ve ever sipped some red wine and felt a sharp, almost drying sensation in your mouth, then what you’re noticing are the tannins in the wine. But what are they? Where do they come from? And why is some tannin good, but too much is bad?

“Tannins are a natural compound found in the skins of all grapes,” Longoria said.

But, he explained, since white grapes are pressed immediately after they are crushed, the juice doesn’t pick up the tannin compounds. Red grapes, on the other hand, are crushed but the juice is left with the fruit skins while it is being fermented, which gives red wines their color and also tannins.

“Red wines pick up the tannins from the skins of red grapes,” Longoria said. “And every variety, characteristically, has different levels of tannin. Pinot noir, for example, is one of the varieties that has the least amount of tannin. And going up the spectrum, some of the syrahs, cabernet sauvignon, the Bordeaux varietals, have higher levels of tannin.”

Longoria also pointed out that tannins are not tannic acid. They’re actually poly-phenols and not acid components. In addition, how much tannin ends up in a wine is something that the winemaker can adjust by prolonging or shortening the contact the juice has with the crushed grapes.

“Tannins help in the ageability of red wines,” Longoria said. “They act as a kind of shield that – layers of shields – that as the years progress, they get bound up.”

So as a red wine gets older, it gets softer, and hopefully the amount of tannin ends up balancing out the flavor of the fruit.

“The ideal thing would be to have just the exact number of tannin levels, let’s say tannin layers, so that when the fruit of a wine finally gets to a point of ultimate maturation, let’s say 15 years, that last layer of tannin has been resolved. So then you have this perfect, harmonious integration of the fruit flavor, maturation and there’s not more tannin to interfere with it.”

Longoria also noted that some winemakers will miss the mark and allow too much tannin into a wine, with the result that the fruit is gone, but the tannin is still there. And that is why some older wines are beyond marvelous and others just make your teeth feel dry.

Amy Butler Talks about Carignan

This is another new venture for us at OddBallGrape.com – video!

We went to the 2014 Garagiste Festival in Pasa Robles and caught up with some amazing women in wine, not least of all was Amy Butler. We first ran across her at an Hospice du Rhone, back when she was working at Edward Sellars. Now, she’s the consulting winemaker at LXV (a post that will be coming soon) and has her own label, Ranchero Cellars.

Amy’s big thing is the carignan grape (also spelled carignane). We’ll let you look at the video to tell you why. We’ve tasted the wine and it was awesome!