Women in Wine

Published to coincide with International Women’s Day 2022, a tasting of wines supplied by UK merchant Justerini & Brooks, all made by women. Though clearly that was the theme for this tasting, I didn’t honestly expect the wines to show any thematic consistency. Assuming wines made by women would fit a stereotype of femininity, is just as absurd as expecting those made by men to fit a stereotype of masculinity.

I have tasted many structured and muscular wines made by women, and many delicate and elegant examples made by men. That would break all the stereotypes and, if anything, is proof that good and sympathetic winemaking has nothing to do with gender.

So if not looking for, or expecting to find, wines that were stereotypically ‘feminine’, what did I look for? The same things I would look for in any selection of wines: honest expressions of their grapes and terroir, wines made sympathetically, and wines of high quality. None of that depends on the gender of the winemaker.

The selection of wines reviewed below is a diverse bunch, spanning Germany to Australia and Riesling to Grenache, so they really have nothing in common other than being made by women.

Would some unifying character emerge? Something I could definitely put down to the women behind these wines? Well, I found that as a group it was a lovely selection, showing elegance even in the more structured wines with beefier alcohol levels. But it would be a big stretch to imagine that has anything to do with the gender of their makers. I believe these are simply very good wines, made by very good winemakers. Full stop.

White Wines

(2022) Cathy Faller is in charge of winemaking at this famously female-led house in Alsace, Cathy, her sister and mother having taken over when their father Théo died in 1979. Farming organically, they use only estate fruit from vineyards that include top Grand Crus. This is a discreet and yet powerful wine, the nose showing yellow plum and a little confit lemon, even a touch of butteriness before the palate opens just enough to show an expansive sweet fruit profile (with a little residual sugar). It has a limpid texture and a finish where the acid gently insists rather than dominating.
(2022) Brigit and Gloria Eichinger are the mother-and-daughter team behind this lovely Kamptal Riesling, dry and made in stainless steel for both fermentation and ageing. What a delightful nose, floral with leafy green herb, dill-like notes, a hint of candle wax in the background. The palate has a nuance of lusciousness, with really ripe and vibrant fruit, before a shimmering, glacial-pure acidity that slices through the spangle-bright fruit.
(2022) Clémence Dubrulle is winemaker here, taking over her family’s Domaine in 2010. Giles Burke-Gaffney, buyer for Justerini and Brooke, says that having moved home from Paris she effectively rescued the estate after it had fallen on hard times. This wine comes from a monopole vineyard on clay and limestone. Vines are 40 years old, and the wine was made in stainless steel, with no oak. Pale yellow in colour, the nose if fairly muted, a little yellow apple and a hint of citrus. In the mouth the texture is creamy and the fruit ripeness comes through. There's a little grip to this food wine, that shows plenty of acid structure into the finish.
(2022) Jolandie Fouché Chenin Blanc comes from very old bush vines planted on granite and iron-rich soils, and is in a broadly natural style; fermented with ambient yeasts and matured in neutral 300-litre casks. Pale straw-green in colour, aromatics have a subtle dough edge to ripe and juicy apple with a firm, preserved lemon character too. In the mouth there's nothing difficult, as sweet and ripe fruit floods the mid-palate, but there is such a lovely, stony firmness and grapefruity tension running into a long, shimmering finish.

Red Wines

(2022) David & Nadia are Swartland stars, nurturing low yielding old vineyards to create some excellent wines. Nadia is a soil scientist who understands their vineyards intimately. This Grenache, with a modest 13% alcohol, has a pale and translucent colour, and a rather Pinot-like nose, gently mushroomy and gamy, but with such a lovely fragrance. Floral and small red berry fruit notes are to the fore. Juicy and buoyant on the palate, theres no shortage of sweet, pulpy red berries, a delicate coffeeish underpinning and refined, unagressive tannins and acids supporting rather than dominating the finish.  
(2022) Caitlin Brown is the winemaker for this estate, which the Brown family took over in 2005, the estate having been established by David Wynn in the 1960s, a pioneer of the elevated High Eden region of the Barossa. At 550m above sea level, Mountadam is the highest estate in South Australia with harvest up to a month later than in the lower Eden and Barossa Valleys. What an absolutely delightful wine this is - especially at £10 a bottle - with its pummeled mulberry, sweet, sweet fleshy dark fruit, crack of fresh black pepper and fleeting highlights of violet. The palate has that same glorious sweet fruit abundance with some cocoa supporting, and seamless tannin and acid integration. Watch the video for more information.
(2022) Sara Perez is the second generation winemaker for her family estate - one of five families that pioneered DO Priorat, created only in 1989. This certified organic wine is mostly Garnacha (Grenache) blended with Carignan and Syrah, and just a dash of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. I note the modest 13.5% abv here; many Priorat wines hit 14.5% or more. The nose has a herbal, olive and forest floor aspect, though suffused with a ripe black berry fruitiness that has some lighter aspects too; liquorice perhaps adding an edge to the profile. Loads of spicy, tannic character on the palate, with a frisson of bittersweet, roughening plum and cherry skins adding a lip-smacking tartness. Oak supplies a cedary layer too, but the energy and drive of the acid core streaks to the finish.
(2022) Justerini & Brooks has worked with the Scavino family for thirty years, the company run today by sisters Enrica and Elisa Scavino. This is one of the 'modernist' estates of Barolo, using smaller French oak barriques in the cellar, but also concentrated on improving vineyard practises. Pale to medium soft ruby in colour, there's a delicately and exotically spiced plum compote character here, the Barolo 'tar and roses' description fits well, but elegant and discreet. In the mouth it is fresh and direct. Oak is very under-played, this being driven by a lean, firm fruit focus and pert acids, the grip of tannins adding to the slightly austere feeling of the wine.

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