Celebrating Women Winemakers!

This week I had tickets to a brunch and structured wine tasting at George Restaurant, a lovely historic spot on Toronto’s Queen Street East.

The event featured some of the world’s most accomplished women winemakers pouring and talking about their wines. Not only that,
the tasting was led by Jennifer Huether, Canada’s first female Master Sommelier (there are only about 270 of them in the world…btw, if you haven’t seen the Netflix documentary Somm yet – what are you waiting for)!

To say I was excited about this event is an understatement!! Here’s who we were lucky enough to meet:

  • Ann Sperling, winemaker at Southbrook Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Ann is a local trailblazer in the production of organic and biodynamic wine!
  • Valentina Abbona, sixth-generation owner and winemaker at Marchesi di Barolo (psst: Barolo is a region in northern Italy where red wine is made from the Nebbiolo grape – this wine was so loved by the Savoyard kings of Italy in the 19th century that it became known as the “wine of kings”)
  • Jill DelaRiva Russell, winemaker at Cambria Estate in Santa Maria, California (a special spot because the Santa Maria Valley runs east to west, unlike a lot of other California growing regions that run north-south, so fog and ocean air can roll through and leave their mark on the grapes)
  • Laura Catena, fourth-generation winemaker at Bodega Catena Zapata, one of the leading estates in Argentina – she also owns a second winery and (as if that wasn’t enough) is a practicing physician in San Francisco and a published author!
  • Maria Lerrea, winemaker at Companiá Vinícola del Norte de España (CVNE) in Spain’s famed Rioja region (where red wine is typically blended from among certain “authorized” grapes, most prominently Tempranillo, but also others like Garnacha and Graciano).
Ann Sperling, Valentina Abbona, and Laura Catena

We started with a structured tasting where each winemaker talked a bit about herself and the wine she’d chosen to present. FYI – all the wines mentioned in this post will be available through Vintages after May 25, so start planning!

  • Wine 1: Cambria Barbara’s Signature Clone 667 Pinot Noir 2015. This wine got my attention! Here in Ontario we see our fair share of Pinot Noir, but this was Pinot Noir, elevated. It was full of pepper, spice, and round earthy notes with bold tannins. This is Cambria’s flagship wine named after the owner Barbara Benke, but at $99.95 a bottle, it’ll remain a pleasant memory for now.
  • Wine 2: CVNE Imperial Gran Reserva 2008. Did you know? Rioja has its own aging classification for wine: generic Rioja (no requirement), Crianza (aged for two years with one in barrel), Reserva (three years with at least one in barrel), and Gran Reserva (five years with at least two in barrel and two in bottle). This Gran Reserva had a pleasant balance of fruit and oak with a bit of spice on the finish. Will be $69.95 at LCBO.
  • Wine 3: Southbrook Witness Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2016. A classically made Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine spent 18 months in French oak barrels. Bright green pepper, cherry, and chocolate notes with a hint of spice and black fruit. Well structured with good aging potential. $45.00 at LCBO.
  • Wine 4: Marchesi di Barolo La Tradizione Barolo 2014. Apparently, the winery still has some barrels from ~200 years ago and used them to make this wine. Aged for 2 years in barrel and one year in bottle before release. Typical for Nebbiolo, it’s a wild ride of high acid-high alcohol-high tannin with bright red berries and floral hints. Would be a great food wine! $42.95 at LCBO.
  • Wine 5: Catena Zapata Argentino Malbec 2015. Laura Catena told us some great stories while describing her wine. Like how history’s first mention of Malbec is attributed to Roman legions in the Cahors region of (now) France about 2,000 years ago. Closer to home, we heard about her dad as a kid hearing the story of his own grandfather’s six children. Each of the three sons were given some of the family vineyards. When Laura’s father asked what about the daughters, the response was “They got husbands!”. When Laura heard this story she told her dad, “I already found a husband – I’ll take the vineyards!”. Anyway, this wine is a warm and complex expression of Malbec, with black fruit, vanilla, chocolate, and smooth tannins. $123.00 to take a bottle home.

The day was just getting started! Brunch was a far cry from mimosas and scrambled eggs: this was a three-course meal of duck rillette, cornish hen, and beef tenderloin – each paired with wines from the featured wineries.

My personal favourites were the Cambria Clone 4 Chardonnay ($34.95) and Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir ($34.95) that we tried with the cornish hen. At much more reasonable prices than the first Cambria wine, these still impressed. The Chardonnay in particular was a fun surprise – made from old vines planted in 1971, the wine was a fun burst of tropical fruit and butter popcorn Jelly Bellies!

Cambria’s wines that I cannot stop yelling about
Unsurprisingly, I needed a nap after this.

Bottom line: events like these are a great way to taste your way through new wines, new regions, and discover some new producers. Wine can be intimidating and confusing at the best of times. Seeing these incredibly accomplished women come together to talk about their shared passion for producing excellent wine was inspiring! Cheers!

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