Are Women Better Winemakers?

School's in session, on your terms: We're asking the Valley's top wine gurus to answer all your wine-related queries, tackling them one at a time each Wednesday, so we can all stress less and pour more. Today's teacher: Richard Betts of AZ Wine Co.

UNCORK THE ISSUE: "Are women better winemakers than men?" was our question of the night during AZ Wine Co.'s Winemaking Ladies tasting last Thursday. On the tasting menu at the South store were wines crafted by famed female winemakers Heidi Peterson Barrett, Celia Welch and Kathryn Hall.

SPILL THE JUICE: "Women have superior palettes," says Richard Betts, the manager and wine buyer at the Carefree store who's made his way south for a sampling of the ladies' wines, but won't commit to a stereotype. "Women's palettes are anecdotally superior in recognizing flavors and reportedly have a greater number of taste buds."

Robert Lindeman manager and the wine buyer at the AZ Wine South store weighs in saying, "Yes, there's truth to that. Celia Welch is by far my favorite female winemaker, and I think stylistically she hits a broader range of wines." And lists her accolades: More 00-point wines than anyone in the business and not one but two Best Winemaker of the year awards from Food & Wine Magazine. "One of the best and by far my favorite," Lindeman reiterates.

NOTE THE COMPLEXITIES: "There are definitely more men than women in the industry, but that does not mean women are not superb winemakers," says Betts.

Heidi Barrett is the woman behind wines with huge cult followings like Screaming Eagle, Paradigm Winery, and Amuse Bouche as well as her own wine label La Sirena.

The tasting starts on a semi-sweet note with Barrett's La Sirena Moscato Azul and ends with her superbly complex Pirate TreasuRed blend that comes in a nifty rum-like bottle complete with a burned out treasure map label. The wine is tasty enough for Betts to have a second tasting, but the $60 price tag seems a bit steep.

Kathryn Hall's Hall Sauvignon Blanc and Hall Merlot are varietally true standouts at value price points; however, we learned the true head winemaker at Hall is not truly a woman: it's Steve Leveque. Hall, who got great reviews throughout the evening, keeps a hand in the process, we're told.

The Hall Merlot, which is velvety with layered stone fruit flavors, would be our more wallet-friendly pick over the Pirate TreasuRed (at nearly half the price).

Welch's Hollywood Vine Cellars 2480 Chardonnay is surprisingly toasty as opposed to the heavily buttered oakiness that has come to be synonymous with Napa Chards. The well-balance acidity makes this wine our pick of the night, for which would gladly pony up $34.

"Celia Welch is a prolific winemaker," says Betts, "She's a terrific person and a great winemaker."

The story behind the wine is equally compelling: Actor Doug Barr bought U.C. Davis viticulture and enology "rockstar" Maynard Amerine's wine country home, discovered all of his research in the house's cellar, grabbed a business partner, hired Welch and launched Hollywood Vine. Their Short End Cabernet was also quite intriguing.

GET THE GOODS: "Step outside of your comfort zone and try something new," Betts says when asked his advice for those with favorite winemakers. "We live in a country with the largest international selection of wine. You're missing out big time on what's out there if you stick to one winemaker and one winemaking style."

Betts cautions against getting stuck in a wine rut, be it one winemaker or one wine style. Swing by AZ Wine Co.'s south store, pick up a bottle of one of these ladies' wines and head over to Atlas Bistro to experience it with food.

"The greater your involvement, the greater your perception and the greater the experience," he says when it comes to wine tasting. "Trust your palette to grow and change."

Lindeman recommends checking out one of the geekiest wines in the country as he gets in bottles of The Scholium Project wines this week. "Half of what the winemaker does is based on Isaac Newton," Lindeman says. "And they're amazing wines."

SWALLOW THIS: Men versus women aside: "The best winemakers are also viticulturists," says Betts. "They spend as much time in the vineyards as they do in the wineries."

Come back for class next Wednesday and leave your questions for our wine gurus in the comments below, no hand-raising necessary.