Tips from top women pros on festive holiday wine pairings
In the U.S., according to a Nielsen statistic, 55 percent of wine drinkers are women. So it might be surprising to learn that as of last year, women make up just 14 percent of master sommeliers worldwide.
Though women have long been involved in vineyard and wine label ownership (thanks in large part to the multi-generational, familial aspect of the business), they have been glaringly under-represented in the more visible areas of the industry—the same way most “master chefs” are still men.
Happily, though, things are changing. Today, more women are interacting with consumers as sommeliers, determining wine lists as buyers and beverage directors, and crafting the taste of the blends themselves as winemakers. Here, we profile three wine-savvy women who are making their palates work for them—and helping to elevate ours along the way.
The Wine Director
Emily Wines, Master Sommelier and Senior Director of National Beverage Programs; kimptonhotels.com
I oversee wine education and wine programs, create educational programs to inspire our budding sommeliers and work with a team of talented bar people to create great spirits and cocktail programs for all our hotels. We also write all the opening wine and cocktail lists for our restaurants, and I am a part of the team that looks at designing new and refreshed concepts for our restaurants.
There is something so social about wine—everyone enjoys it, which makes my job easy! I have always been attracted to the history, culture and rituals, too.
At the end of the day, we aren’t saving lives—we are just putting a glass of wine in your hand, and that is a nice thing! I also like that the trade of sommelier is one of the last few left where mentorship really is everything.
Organic or not?
I have long been a champion of the sustainable and organic movement. Kimpton has a mandate that all of our wine lists be made up of a minimum of 30 percent organic or sustainable wines. In addition, in our monthly Wines That Care wine hour program, we highlight wineries that demonstrate a measurable way of being good stewards of their community or the planet.
How can the beginner learn more?
This is the fun part: drink more! Start with simple books like Wine for Dummies (I’m serious!), and read about the wine regions of the world. Then go shopping. Start to build your palate and learn about what you like to drink. Ask salespeople to make recommendations, too. You can then go to the store or a restaurant armed with knowledge of what grapes and regions make the wines that fit your taste.
Holiday Pairing Tip
I love drinking Oregon Pinot Noir with Thanksgiving dinner; the herbal, bright cherry flavors are my cranberry replacement, and a perfect complement to the holiday dishes.
Mariette Bolitiski, Wine Director, American Cut, New York City; americancutsteakhouse.com
Your Job? As wine director, I’m responsible for curating the wine list for the restaurant, training our staff, maintaining the cellar, the daily reprinting of the list and—of course—assisting our guests with selecting wine.
In culinary school, part of our training included in-depth wine studies and pairings. I fell in love with the way food and wine has a way to transform and elevate an experience by leaving an everlasting impression.
Sharing the stories of the winemakers and farmers is now also a special part of the experience for me, as is having the opportunity to connect guests in a dining room with wine that’s made in another part of the world.
Is there an advantage to being a woman in the wine business?
I don’t think being a woman in the wine industry is either an advantage or disadvantage, but I do think we have a different perspective.
Scientifically, women have more palate receptors than men, and also the ability to taste and recall more flavors (as women were the ones “pre-screening” food for the children to make sure that it was safe). That evolutionary process enabled women to recall thousands of flavors—which, I suppose, could be called an advantage!
Organic or Not? We’ve seen a drastic increase in organic, biodynamic and sustainable wines, due to both increasing concern for the environment and more conscious consumers. It is not uncommon for guests to ask which wines on our list are organic or biodynamic. For me, environmental sustainability is probably the most important thing to focus on. We must take care of the soil before the soil can take care of the grapes.
What are some emerging wine regions?
I’ve tasted some fun and interesting Pinot Noirs from Patagonia recently. And Napa Valley isn’t just about Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc anymore—there are international varietals like Albariño, Vermentino and Ribolla Gialla being produced there that have definitely piqued my interest.
Holiday Pairing Tip
Champagne with everything! Far too little champagne is consumed in the U.S. and there are so many different styles that work with food. Try bone-dry Blanc des Blancs with party bites like caviar, crème fraiche and blinis, and softer, floral rosé champagnes with salmon or roast pork.
As the winemaker and one of the owners, I am responsible for all aspects of the business. I design and farm the vineyards, make and sell the wines, design the labels, host our guests and clean things, incessantly.
I was attracted to the wine business because I have a curious nature. I was falling in love with wine, but didn’t want to just drink it or sell it—I wanted to dig as deeply as possible. I had to see where it really came from.
I’ve since learned that winemaking, especially in the Pacific Northwest, requires a great deal of flexibility, tolerance of unpredictability and the enjoyment of things heretofore unknown. It’s a creative act in the truest sense of the word, because in order to thrive, one must be able to view things in new ways, and use what is learned to generate new possibilities and alternatives.
Orga nic or Not?
All of our vineyards are farmed organically or biodynamically, not only because I sense a growing demand from our guests, but because I believe it’s the only truly noble and responsible way to care for a piece of land.
Holiday Wine Tip
Temperature is so important. Red wines are often served far too warm, and white wines too cold. The difference between the two is actually not that great: most wines show best right around cellar temperature (55 degrees Farenheit), with whites just a bit cooler (50 degrees Farenheit) and full bodied red wines handling temperatures up to about 60 degrees Farenheit. If you can remember to take your white wines out of the refrigerator, and pop your red wines in, about a half an hour before serving, you’ll be rewarded by how much better they reveal themselves.
...and in Spirits
Women are crushing it—or is that “muddling?”—in the spirits world, too. Here, award-winning cocktail creator Charlotte Voisey, portfolio ambassador for William Grant & Sons, and mastermind behind several top cocktail programs around the world, shares a recipe for one of her party favorites.
“When paired with earthy, wintry flavors such as cinnamon, chai tea and ginger, the bright, vibrant flavor profile of Solerno blood orange liqueur takes on a complex and delicious taste,” she explains. “The punch is easy to make in a flash for a holiday get-together, but much more interesting than eggnog!”
Solerno Celebration Punch
Serves 20-25 people
1 bottle Solerno
1 bottle Lillet Rouge
1 bottle dry, sparkling white wine
16 parts freshly brewed, strong, chai spiced black tea (no cream or sugar added)
8 parts Fever Tree Ginger Beer
8 parts fresh squeezed lemon juice
16 dashes Angostura Bitters
Over a large block of ice in a punch bowl, pour in all ingredients and stir to combine. Garnish with thinly sliced orange wheels. Serve in punch cups with a cinnamon stick and a small wedge of orange.