The X-Factor

It’s World Women’s Day, an opportunity to celebrate the oft-overlooked contributions of women around the world. Whether it’s as simple as an extra hug for mom or taking the time to read up on a woman you may not have known much about, there’s plenty of strong, wonderful women who deserve a bit of recognition. (In fact, the New York Times has been writing long-overdue obituaries for women whose work had gone unnoticed by the press of the day including Sylvia Plath, Henrietta Lacks, Emily Roebling, Ada Lovelace….)

Turns out, women are a big part of the modern wine world. (And not just for their love of drinking wine.) That’s not to say that they rule the terroir. Roughly only four percent of California wineries are owned by women although much of that is attributed to the large number of small, family owned wineries that have been passed down father to son. Many of the wineries held by women are newcomers (relatively speaking) to the scene, picked up at sale rather than inherited. (Another one of those unacknowledged women deserving of a New York Times obituary – Hannah Weinberger, who became the first female winemaker in Napa in 1882.)

But there is a shift underway, ever so slowly, not just in California, but across the globe. Many critics attribute this in large part to a shift in taste. Big and oaky is no longer the most popular style of wine. Modern oenophiles also look for factors like mouthfeel and subtlety of flavors. It’s a shift that favors the palette of women, who have more taste buds than men and are usually more sensitive to bitter notes. Winemakers are responding and hiring more women to help design their wines, and a few have even made it to the top of their field. Argentina’s leading winemaker, for example, is Susana Balbo.

Wondering how to find a wine made by a woman? If you live in Chicago, you can head over to Cafe Spiaggia where the wine list is almost exclusively comprised of wines from either women-owned wineries or wines made by women. It’s an impressive list that includes wines from California, Oregon, Italy, France, Spain and South Africa, to name a few. It’s a list that will make you appreciate just how many women are working in the wine industry these days, even if it is still a male-dominated field.

If you can’t make it to Spiaggia and you’re looking for something to enjoy at home, take a look at these top wines:

  • Pride Mountain – a classic Napa winery, it’s top wine is a Viognier with all the peach and honeysuckle flavors you would expect from this grape. And it just feels good in your mouth.
  • OCD (“Otto’s Constant Dream”) – Popular New Zealand wine with a truly New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Think green grass with a hint of fruit and that mineral, almost salty, finish.
  • Antica Terra Botanica – a lovely little spot in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. The Pinot Noir is subtle and long and just begs you to sit back and roll it around your mouth a few times.
  • Corison – Cathy Corison was one of the first women to find success in California, starting her own vintage in 1987. Pick up a bottle of her Cabernet Sauvignon and you’ll discover that this grape doesn’t have to be big and overpowering. Corison’s version is toned and blended and perfectly happy to sit in the cellar for a few years.
  • Domaine Gramenon – one of the few French wineries on the list, this is a winery in the Cotes du Rhône region. It’s small with a near cult-like following so bottles are not always easy to come by, but if you can find a bottle of the Pourpre…It’s old-vine Grenache with plenty of dark raspberry and apple and a whiff of something smoky and mysterious.

Sometimes, it’s good to be the queen.

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