Raise a glass to the world’s female wine experts

reportage au Domaine Ferret ˆ Pouilly-FuissŽ

The wine trade is often mistaken as a male domain, its big beasts crusty old red-nosed codgers in tweed suits.

But, as the world celebrates International Women’s Day on March 8, it’s worth remembering the female contribution to the industry.

There are prominent women who make the stuff or are sommeliers guiding us towards great bottles to choose.

Here, four prominent women tell of their passion for wine and choose their favourite bottles.

The Italian connection.

International Women's Day

Melissa Tofani grew up in Piedmont in north-west Italy,  surrounded by wines and beautiful landscapes.

She said: “My love for wines started to grow at a very young age when I used to observe and admire my mum’s friends who were sommeliers.

“Unfortunately, I was not in the legal age for drinking, but I loved the attention when I used to smell the wines pretending to be one of them.

“I remember saying ‘Mum, this is who I want to be when I grow up’.”

Melissa graduated in business management at the University College of Birmingham.

While studying, she also travelled to London to achieve sommelier qualifications and, at the same time, worked with chef Andy Waters.

She later moved to Simpsons as part of their sommelier team, then became sommelier at Purnells restaurant.

She’s returned to Simpsons as assistant manager and takes care of the wines and wine list alongside the head sommelier.

Melissa added: “There is one wine that has a special place in my heart.

“It’s called Lessona. Lessona is one of smallest DOC areas, located north of Turin and it’s Piedmont’s most forgotten wine.

“It is Nebbiolo-based wine and has more ageing potential than Barolo or Barbaresco.

“Lighter in style compared to the previous two, it’s aromatic, full of wild berries and violets, silky and mineral.”

A woman upholding a family tradition.

International Women's Day

Another Birmingham woman with wine running through her veins – in the nicest possible way – is Abigail Connolly

Abigail explained: “Wine’s a bit of a big deal in my life.

“I’m the daughter of wine merchants, Birmingham’s only female certified sommelier and full-time wine drinker.

“I was bought up on the good stuff and now I’m somehow making a living from fermented grapes.”

She said that choosing a wine to spotlight was a hard task.

“I’m all about wines that push people just a little out their comfort zones, but I’m a huge lover of classic burgundies and the Rhone Valley,” she added.

“But I’ve settled on the ever wonderful Fat of the Land by the guys at First Drop.

“It’s a big, fat Australian Shiraz from the Barossa Valley that has a beautiful expression of chocolate and liquorice – a proper winter warmer.

“It’s not a cheap wine, but this will lie down for a good 10-15 years, just as I feel I must after drinking it.”

A champion winemaker.

International Women's Day

Maria Larrea is chief winemaker at at the Spanish producer CVNE and has this advice for women embarking on a similar career: “It is important to surround yourself with a good work team, observe the vineyard, study about other viticultural areas of the world.

“In short, always learn, enjoy work and always try to make the best wine.”

The highlight of her career so far?

“Undoubtedly the best moment was the award we received with Imperial Gran Reserva vintage 2004 as the best wine in the world for the Wine Spectator.

“It really was a prize for the long history of Imperial, more than 100 years as a wine of great quality.”

The wine she’s chosen to highlight in CVNE’s Imperial Reserva 2012.

This regarded as one of the best Rioja Reservas, with a deep red hue tinged with terracotta.

You’ll get subtle notes of vanilla and lots of dark rich fruit, a lingering finish finish.

Winning the respect of fellow winemakers.

International Women's Day

Meanwhile, Audrey Braccini, winemaker at Domaine Ferret in the Maconnais area of Burgundy, says the highlight of her career so far came two or three years ago.

“When I started working in Fuissé a decade ago, the welcome from the other producers was a little bit cold and this continued for some years after,” she said.

“You can imagine my joy when some of them came to me and said, with kindness in their eyes, ‘good job, great wines, it is a good thing you came’.”

One of the great wines Audrey helps make is Domaine Ferret Pouilly Fuissé 2016.

This is an astonishingly complex white.

Expect crisp minerality, soft summer fruits peaches and floral notes.

But whatever wine you’re cracking open today, remember to raise a toast to the world’s female wine experts.

Tchin tchin!