Celebrating Women In Wine: Cecile Levee


Celebrating Women In Wine: Cecile Levee

Bar None

with Debbian Spence-Minott

Thursday, November 07, 2019

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I t's November, and the Jamaica Observer's Salut is almost here! This year, the company celebrates wines, champagnes and spirits. For the month of November, however, we will celebrate all the fabulous women in wine. The very first on this list is none other than Cecile Levee. I took such pleasure in travelling to Negril where I met Levee at her Wine With Me restaurant and wine bar – and the journey was worth it as Levee, in my estimation, is the grande dame of all things wine.

An Encounter With Wine

Levee explained that, growing up, she was never a wine consumer. However, while living in New York, attending college and modelling, she would attend events and at that time, it was all about the champagnes. Later, Levee worked at a restaurant owned by Danny Myers of the Union Square Café Group, and described how service was a major focus of the operations. As employees of the restaurant, it was an operational practice that the wines served were tasted and all the employees would discuss them.

“Danny's approach made wines very appealing, sensual, exquisite and glamorous, and as a result of his style, I approached wines from the outside in. First glamour, then taste, and long after came the sophisticated experiences,” recalled Levee. Thirty years later, her wine experiences are now a way of life.

The Wine Romance

Thursday Food (TF): What is it about wines that captured you?

Cecile Levee (CL): I love the ceremonial nature of wine, in terms of presentation and tasting. The wines tend to speak for themselves from opening, aerating, and decanting.


TF: So what about wines in screw-caps, certainly the ceremonial aspect would not be as appealing?

CL: Most times, when I select wines for my personal consumption, I will select the ones with cork. I like ceremony, tradition and elegance. However, from a business purview, I totally understand the decision of these wineries to choose screw-cap wine closures. The quality of the wine is not determined by its closures. However, my preference will always be the bottle that requires a wine opener.


TF: Do you have any favourite varietals?

CL: No. Each time I select a particular varietal, another one impresses me. I like heavy, meaty, full-bodied wines. In this business of wine, however, you cannot lock yourself into a variety, as you will be limited and will not be able to experience the wine adventures that await. Even though I prefer full-bodied wines, I also like a good Pinot Noir or Beaujolais. During summer, I enjoyed rosé and white wines; at nights, I chose reds. I believe I am seasonal, more so, time of day versus varietal.


TF: What about favourite regions?

CL: I would respond in a similar way. I tend to travel quite often, and my trips are centred on wines. I seek out wines from that particular country or region I am visiting. I am always searching for something new. I try to never order a wine that I have tasted before.


TF: Is there a wine that you would call amazing?

CL: When I was younger, I tried Chassagne Montrachet (white) and all I could say was, Wow! Then at Vino Maipo in Chile, the winemaker Max Weinlauber had created a dinner in my honour, and he opened all his wines that received 90+ scores for me to try. That to me was mind-blowing. So, for me, wine consumption has a lot to do with the experience. However, when I had the 100 Acre Cabernet Sauvignon, that also blew my mind. There was no fanfare or wine experience as I tried the wine in an office, but the wine was excellent. The wine received at least five 100-points scoring.


TF: What was so special about the 100 Acre Cabernet Sauvignon?

CL: On opening a bottle of wine, you are looking for balance, harmony, softness, mouthfeel – it was everything! Absolutely all elements were in harmony; you did not have to wait for the wine to breathe, everything was aligned in perfect harmony. The wine melted on the tongue like butter. Absolute perfection!


TF: What do you look for in wine service?

CL: 1. The wine should be served at the right temperature, especially reds. In Jamaica we do not have European temperature. 2. I believe the right glassware ought to be used – this is not too much to ask. 3. At minimum, the staff should know how to pronounce the name of the wines that they are serving. The staff needs to have basic information about the wines beyond just knowing they are red and white.


TF: What is new on the international wine list?

CL: Orange wine, made from white grapes, looks orange but has the features of red wines – full bodied, rustic and delicious. Anywhere I go and that wine is available, I will purchase because it is not readily available. The last bottle I had was in Prague, a couple of weeks ago. So that is on my wish list for Christmas.


TF: What are your expectations for 2020?

CL: I'm looking for wines from Greece, Eastern Europe, Georgia, the Czech Republic; generally wines from some interesting places. The same grapes planted differently will be affected by the climate, soil type and topography, so that should be interesting.

Cecile's Wine Tips:

1. If you are new to wine, think about what you like. Do you like sweet? Then try Moscato (even though I will talk you out of that choice). You are definitely an aromatic wine drinker. So, I suggest that you try either Viognier, Riesling (more fruit-forward expression), Gewürztraminer (white varietals), or Beaujolais, Pinot Noir or Malbec (red varietals).


2. Daily drinking — You do not need to purchase a $6,000 bottle of wine. There are some good wines in the $1,500 - $2,500 category that you can purchase from the supermarket. Anything in the Trivento range is very good. Casillero del Diablo is an award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon that is also very good. A hot brand right now is 19 Crimes Hard Chard; it is a beautiful wine and the bottles talk. Rosés are perfect for the Jamaican climate; Urban Provence rosé is certainly a keeper and the bottle is beautiful. The Pasqua Pinot Grigio is also a great choice.


3. For more of a premium experience, try Twomei Sauvignon Blanc made by Silver Oaks in Napa California, or Jordan Chardonnay from Russian River, Sonoma California. You could also try Enamorie, an Argentinean red blend of Malbec (45%), Cabernet Sauvignon (40%), Cabernet Franc (5%) and Bonardo (10%). Alto Tajamar is a Syrah-based blend from Chile, and Prisoner and Orin Swift Wine from Napa Valley. I also like Sauternes, so try either Chateau Bastor LaMontagne or Mouton Cadet Reserve.


Readers' Feedback:

Imagine if we embraced life's moments big and small, without reservation. Together, we might fill the world with contagious joy. Please share with meyour wines, spirits and cocktail experiences or comments on the above article at debbiansm@gmail.com, or follow me on IG @debbiansm #barnoneja.


Debbian Spence-Minott

An Alumna of the US Sommelier Association

CEO of the Academy of Bartending, Spirits & Wines

President, Jamaica Union of Bartenders and Mixologists (JUBAM) Limited

Marketing Studies Lecturer – The University of Technology Jamaica

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