Women and wine – part two
‘Women and wine‘ said the headline of the email. KP perked up. “It’s a wine event for women,” I explained and he looked a little crestfallen. Men have usually been at the helm when I’ve ventured out for a wine tasting but this looks like it could be changing if the last few events I attended are anything to go by. From visiting wine makers to wine professionals (top restaurants Table 9 and La Petite Maison both have female sommeliers) to a ‘Champagne socialist’ (more of that later), women are making their mark and grasping the bottle, in all parts of the world including Dubai.
Women and wine lunch – Mango Tree Dubai
There was a thrill of excitement and a lot of nattering as about twenty ladies filed into the private dining room of the Mango Tree. Isabelle Beau de Lomenie introduced herself. “I fell into a vat of Sauternes when I was a child and nearly drowned.” she explained in a thick French accent “I haven’t been able to stop drinking good wine since.” A new face on the wine scene in Dubai, she has experience of sharing her knowledge of wine, and flair for entertaining in some unlikely corners of the world including organising the first black tie event on the Great Wall of China. Isabelle who grew up in Bordeaux, manages her family owned vineyards in Graves and Sauternes from afar (her grapes contribute to the renowned Doisy Daene and Chateau Liot) while adapting to various international postings. Her experience in wine led to her involvement in the launch of Grace Vineyard in Shanghai province. She is also an expert in Thai cuisine after living in Thailand for many years.
The wines to match the modern Thai food menu had been sponsored and chosen by MMI who organised the event, so Isabelle shared her opinions of them as she tasted them with the food. She declared that the wines were extremely well-chosen to go with the spicy Thai food.
Riesling from two different parts of the world were first up together with a platter of mixed appetisers. We tasted a Tesch Unplugged Riesling from vineyards in Nahe, Germany which were transformed into “the Punk Rock winery” to quote Martin Tesch, owner and winemaker. This is a bone dry wine with concentrated green apple peel and lime on the nose, a hint of peach flavour mingled with citrus with refreshing acidity and good length. The intense minerals on the palate (they are still finding fossilised sharks’ teeth in the vineyard) meant this wine was particularly good with the seafood and the citrus complemented the Thai flavours well. Minerals dominated the second wine too, an Eden Valley Riesling by Peter Lehmann from Australia with crisp notes of citrus, lime peel and petrol on the nose. This was not quite as good with the food but perfect as an aperitif (or by the pool as Isabelle suggested), or to help with late night blog writing. Ahem.
Strong flavours were offered up in the main courses, chicken fillet with red curry sauce (Gaeng Ped Gai) steamed sea bass with garlic, fresh chilli and lime (Pia Kra Pong Nung), stir-fried mixed vegetables and two types of rice. We tested the mettle of three different wines to see how well they matched these spice-laden dishes.
I’ve met Louis Boutinet of Waterkloof a couple of times and there’s a romantic story behind setting up the vineyard along with a lot of passion in the winemaking particularly their dedication to bio dynamic agriculture. False Bay is their affordable range made by the same winemaking team supplied with fruit from neighbouring vineyards in the Cape, South Africa. Isabelle informed us that rosé has the ability to go with all sorts of foods especially spicy ones. There was the tiniest hint of spice, due to the Rhone grape varieties used, along with summer berry fruits in the False Bay Rosé.
I would never normally order red wine with Thai food so this was a good opportunity to sample two very different styles of Pinot Noir and I was already a fan of both the wines served.
Laforêt from Joseph Drouhin, is a well made and affordable way to sample the pleasures of Burgundy at an entry-level. Summer berry fruits as you would expect, raspberry, red currant and strawberry aromas with lots of fruit on the palate.
I spent a very pleasant evening with Ben Glover, the head winemaker of Wither Hills for fifteen years, who has helped to shape the style of the vineyard (he’s recently joined the Mud House wine group). Ben is down to earth, in the both metaphorical and literal sense; by this I mean he seems intensely in touch with the vineyard, its seasons and cycles. He also took time to talk to every single person in the room that night, crouching down by the side of their tables to speak to them directly. Anyway the end result of all that care and attention is a Pinot Noir that’s bright with cherries and bramble fruits, layered with some very subtle spice and vanilla notes.
Both wines worked well with the Thai flavours because of the fullness of the fruit without being heavy – so not to overwhelm the food – good balance and acidity. Choosing a favourite to drink with the Thai food was difficult but on balance the Wither Hills worked for me. I can’t find it in my notes but I’m pretty sure Isabelle preferred the French wine (in fact would stake money on it).
Things were getting lively and it was only early afternoon. I hate to compound stereotypes about female tastes in wine but there was an absolutely rapturous approval of the Stella Bella Pink Muscat which came with the fresh fruit dessert. I detected notes of Turkish Delight, Isabelle compared it to Kir Royale (to which there was a very loud ‘ooh la la’ from the other end of the table) and she explained that the low levels of 8.5% alcohol meant that you could drink more of it. Many took her at her word and there was soon a round of applause, quite rightly as she had done a fantastic job of guiding the tasting, and a suggestion that there should be a regular ladies wine tasting lunch i.e. weekly! Great Thai food and well matched wines – I could be persuaded.
After living in Saudi Arabia for a couple of years, one of the highlights of a holiday in South Africa in 1997 was sitting in the beautiful grounds of the Boschendal Estate gazing at the surrounding mountain range and stunning scenery. I wasn’t drinking then (a newish baby in tow) so was glad to be able to taste some of the Boschendal wines at the Radisson Blu with wine maker Lizelle Gerber. Lizelle started with a bit about her background and sounded quite quiet and polite but she warmed up when she got to the wine where her wide knowledge was impressive and attention to detail with wine making evident. We sat at long tables, Dubai dwellers and some visitors interspersed which meant that the atmosphere was buzzing pretty quickly.
Wines from South Africa can vary enormously and I’ve learned to steer well clear of the lower priced, mass-produced Chenin Blancs, South Africa’s favourite white grape variety and Pinotages (a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault) its signature red. Exciting, well-made wines are coming out of South Africa however and I was interested to see where Boschendal fitted in. Lizelle guided us through six wines (retail price per bottle from MMI before tax indicated):
- Boschendal Classics Chenin Blanc (AED 41) A well-balanced, nuanced Chenin with slight floral and sweet melon on the nose, and tropical fruits tempered with nutty oatmeal on the palate. This would be a great match for Asian food and proved to me that all bottles of budget Chenin Blanc from South Africa are not created equal.
- Boschendal 1685 Sauvignon Blanc (AED 59) – This will keep SB fans happy; a spritz of lime and minerals with a whiff of the tropics.
- Boschendal Blanc De Noirs Rosé (AED 41) A refreshing acidity balances juicy berry fruits on the nose and palate. I tasted this again recently at a dinner the other night where it was paired brilliantly with a wagyu beef and black truffle tartare. A really versatile wine which I’m going to stock up on – perfect for Dubai drinking.
- Boschendal Lanoy Cabernet-Merlot (AED 41) Well structured and plummy this would be great mid-week with a beef casserole.
- Boschendal 1685 Shiraz-Cabernet (AED 74) The most complex of all the wines which might actually benefit from decanting to reveal all its fruit.
- Boschendal 1685 Shiraz (AED 74) A basket of black fruits with some tobacco and spice. Maybe a little too jammy. I’d like to taste this again.
During questions someone asked, “What should wine taste like?”. You can listen to Lizelle’s reply here:
The lighting was very poor which is what gives these pictures their liveliness – that’s all I’m saying! More about Boschendal wines here.
I haven’t met a single woman (who drinks alcohol) who doesn’t like Champagne, but I’ve never met a single woman who likes Champagne as much as Champagne Jayne. I first met Jayne Powell when she kick-started Food Blogger Connect 2012 with a toast and a guided tasting of Moët Brut Imperial, Lanson Gold 2002 and Tarlant Rosé Brut Zero. She stopped in Dubai for a whirlwind visit including an opening toast for the Time Out Young Chef of the Year Awards with Piper Heidsieck. Jayne has been awarded the honour of “Dame Chevalier de L’Ordre des Coteaux”, named Champagne Educator of the Year 2012 by Harpers magazine and Winner of the Gourmand 2011 Best French Wine Book (Australia) Award for her book “Champagnes – Behind The Bubbles”; she spends her time between London and Sydney spreading her own brand of Champagne edutainment. Also an authority on James Bond, she is a self-styled Champagne socialist (a nickname given by the Financial Times) and believes that everyone should drink it. Hear hear. More about Champagne Jayne here.
On the topic of premium French sparkling, the Champagne house Duval-Leroy is female-owned and boasts a 42% female staff. According to Frances Bentley (a former employee) there is a deliberate policy to employ women in key positions such as chief finance officer, head winemaker and head of quality control. Carol Duval-Leroy believes that not only do women have the necessary experience and competencies, but that it makes for a very productive working environment where there is impeccable attention to detail.
Understanding wine can seem difficult and many people still feel daunted or apologetic when choosing, tasting or giving their opinion on wine. I certainly think there has been a gentler, more relaxed and intuitive feel to the tasting sessions I attended led by women. What do you think?
- Women and wine (part one) – what to drink in 2013 (mycustardpie.com)
- Britain loves…. Mango Tree visit and Coronation chicken recipe (mycustardpie.com)
- Pinot-ish ramblings from the wrong side of the world (winekat.com)
Disclosure: I booked for women and wine but was then invited as a guest. I was a guest of Radisson Blu to the Boschendal event. All opinions are my own and I was under no obligation to either host.