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The Effervescent Nicole Walsh Dishes On Ser And Being a Woman (in Wine) & Sparkling Rosé of Nebbiolo + Fusion Street Tacos #WinePW

This month, led by Gwendolyn of Wine Predator, the Wine Pairing Weekend bloggers are turning their focus to women in wine. Her invitation post is here. If you're reading this early enough, as in before 8am on Saturday, February 10th, you can hop over to Twitter and follow the hashtag #WinePW. I love this focus on female winemakers and plan to carry this theme into March when I write about other women in wine. For this month, though, enjoy the other #WinePW offerings...

Wine Pairing Weekend Toasts Women in Wine

Nicole Walsh
Years ago I met Nicole Walsh at Randal Grahm's Popelouchum vineyard. Popelouchum, the Mutsan word for 'paradise', is Bonny Doon Vineyard's 400-acre vineyard and farm just outside of San Juan Bautista. While continuing to manage Popelouchum and make wine at Bonny Doon's Santa Cruz winery, Nicole was inspired to launch her own wine brand, Ser.

Freedom and Feminity
Last month we met at a local cafe and chatted about Ser. For nearly two decades, Nicole has held virtually every single possible position in wine production including associate winemaker, vineyard manager, and grower relations manager. Additionally, in 2013, she attained her level 4 diploma from WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) which is universally considered the stepping stone to the Master of Wine qualification.
What she doesn't have is a vineyard. And she likes it like that. "With no vineyard, I have flexibility to source interesting grapes. I'm not limited to one or two varietals that I'm growing myself," she says.

With her grower contacts throughout the tri-county area, she started experimenting with several varieties such as Riesling, Chardonnay, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and a more unknown grape, Cabernet Pfeffer. Nicole selected interesting vineyards with distinct soils and microclimates. And, through her natural wine making process, she is committed to preserving the unique character of the varietals and their terroir in her wines.

Since this Wine Pairing Weekend event is focusing on women in wine, I did ask her about any struggles she might have faced as a female winemaker. She shook her head, "No, I haven't encountered any more challenges than any other winemaker." In fact, she admits that there are people out there who might support her business simply because of her gender. "I'll take it!" she jokes.

But she did admit that women, in general, take on the lion's share of life management - chores, childcare, etc. - so that on top of a full-time job and a side wine business might make her more busy than male counterparts. As we were meeting between me dropping my son off at his all-day robotics meeting and before she was running to see her son play in an indoor soccer game, I couldn't help but agree.

She added that people have commented on her wines having a feminine quality to them, being delicate and elegant. She can't point to the cause, but readily admits, "Using the same grapes, my wines are different than those made by men. That quality might be described as feminine. I don’t know what it is, but it’s certainly there."

After we met, I tracked down five bottles of her wines at a local market. Over email, she shared her thoughts on my picks and recommended possible pairings.

Her Thoughts on Her Wines + My Pairings

2015 Chardonnay "I sourced this from the Coastview Vineyard, the highest vineyard in Monterey County at 2,300 ft elevation in the Gabilan Mountains. [With] decomposed granite and limestone soils, the resulting wine is very mineral, savory, old world style.  [It's] barrel fermented in neutral french oak puncheons, completed ML [that's malolactic], but non-existent butter character.  The wine pairs superbly with roasted poultry or fowl. Potatoes, cheese, and seafood as well."

I poured Ser's Chardonnay with Pan-Seared Black Cod with a Lime-Ginger Beurre Blanc. While I am not typically a fan of Chardonnay - well, I'm not a fan of the usual buttery character of California Chards - hers is crisp and clean. As she said - non-existent butter. I'm a fan.

2014 Cabernet Pfeffer "[These grapes were] sourced from almost 100-year-old, head-trained, dry-farmed vineyard in the Cienega Valley of the Gabilan Mountain with decomposed granite and limestone soil.  Recent DNA testing by FPS (Foundation Plant Services of UC Davis) informed us that Cabernet Pfeffer is its own unique variety.  Synonyms are Gros Verdot and Mourtaou. In France the grape was known as Pfeffer, but later changed to Cabernet Pfeffer when it was brought to California.  It has a lovely white pepper aroma and palate of its namesake - pfeffer means pepper in German.  The 2014 is my favorite red wine I have made thus far." She suggested that its balanced, delicate tannins had enough structure to pair with lamb and other red meats. 

I actually picked up a couple bottles of the Cabernet Pfeffer because I had had it before and knew it was incredibly food-friendly. For this event, I poured it with Roasted Monkfish over Mole Negro... well as crisped chanterelles and cheese...and Za'atar-Encrusted Hamachi. I was stunned by the clear, vivid red of the wine. It's gorgeous and delicious.

I haven't had a chance to open her Syrah or her Dry Orange Muscat, but I will. Soon. Stay tuned for her thoughts on those wines and my posts with pairings. But the recipe and pairing I'm sharing - officially - for this #WinePW event is my Fusion Street Tacos with her 2015 Sparkling Rosé of Nebbiolo.

Sparkling Rosé of Nebbiolo + Fusion Street Tacos

2015 Sparkling Rosé of Nebbiolo "Nebbiolo is my favorite grape. I was inspired by an Italian version of both still and sparkling Rosé of Nebbiolo I have tasted and I thought, 'I am going to make my own!' Nebbiolo is hard to find in California. I knew if I wasn't working closely with the grower I was reluctant to make a red wine.  I found some Nebbiolo up in Lake County in very volcanic, iron rich soil.  I picked early to retain the natural acidity and I was very pleased the fruit had a lot of flavor at low brix."

"In 2015 I produced both a still and a sparkling version of the Rosé of Nebbiolo from the same wine. Nebbiolo has a very tannic skin, but is also low in anthocyanin, so I opted to destem to press. I pressed giving enough time to extract some color, but needed to minimize the phenolics. The result was still fairly phenolic, but I really enjoy that dry finish in the wine.  I think it gives the wine more complexity and interest. The sparkling was made by traditional bottle (Champenoise) method.  Twelve month tirage. Brut, dry style." 

Because Nicole suggested it was a very versatile wine to pair with food from light cheeses to bold, spicy flavors, I decided to try it with bulgogi beef soft tacos topped with kimchi. Even before I tried it, I was entranced with its quince-hue and persistent bubbles. It was lovely.

Ingredients serves 4
Beef Bulgogi
  • 1-1/2 to 2 pounds thinly sliced sirloin (here's a secret: I get the butcher to slice it for me!)
  • 1 T cooking oil for the grill (I used peanut oil)
  • 6 T soy sauce or tamari
  • 3 T organic dark brown sugar
  • 2 T rice wine (mirin)
  • 1 T toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 organic onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed
  • 1 organic apple, peeled and grated (I think that traditionally it's made with pears)
  • 1 t fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1/8 t ground black pepper
Soft Tacos

Beef Bulgogi
Whisk together all of the ingredients for the marinade. Place the meat in a container (I used a flat, lidded glass container) and pour the sauce over the top. Hopefully the meat is completely submerged. If not, you'll need to turn the meat every couple of hours. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for, at least, 4 hours.

To cook, heat a grill - or grill pan on the stove - and swab with peanut oil so the meat doesn't stick. Cook the meat on high heat for 4 to 5 minutes per side, until meat is browned. Slice thinly to place in the tacos.

Soft Tacos
Melt cheese onto the tacos. Let diners serve themselves with the beef and kimchi.

Oh, my stars! I need to get my hands on another bottle soon! And because I was so impressed with Nicole and all the wines I tried, I signed up for her wine club. So, stay tuned for many, many more meals with Ser wines as my pairing. Cheers!

You may find Ser...
on the web


  1. Wasn't this a fun project Cam? I can't believe you managed to get in so many pairings in such a small amount of time.

  2. I need to check out Nicole's wine club - all of the bottles you've described sound unique and delicious. And, as usual, paired with the perfect dishes. Cheers Cam!

  3. This is such a fascinating post - a keep-it-bookmarked resource for some fun pairings.

    I need to try the Pfeffer - always ready to taste something new.

  4. Wow I have never heard of Cabernet Pfeffer. Thanks for the information. I love how DNA analysis is filling in the gaps for us!

  5. I was just writing "Wow, I have never heard of Cabernet Pfeffer" and realized Lori wrote the exact same thing above-- all the same, very cool. I'm going to have search one out!

  6. Great interview! And thanks for the introduction to these wines and winemaker!

  7. sounds like you had a great conversation! I like the sounds of that restrained Chardonnay with the cod.


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