Judy’s Comments

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Who Is Maria Baniel?

Maria Baniel
Maria Baniel is a good friend of Garden State Woman who believes in the organization's Mission to empower New Jersey women through education. She is also an independent wine consultant who is putting together and will lead our June 10th wine tasting event to be held in the Mansion at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, NJ starting at 6 p.m.

There are plenty of wine tasting events being held throughout New Jersey so we challenged Maria to come up with a theme or concept that will make our event stand out from the crowd. She came up with a really great idea.

Our event on June 10th will feature domestic and international wines hand-crafted by women wine producers. Women purchase more than 50 percent of all wines sold in the U.S. Increasingly women are moving into the industry in key roles including as sommeliers and winery owners. At our wine tasting Maria will discuss the backgrounds of the sparkling, white and red wines included in the tasting.

Maria has a remarkable background that includes two engineering degrees from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken and a successful corporate career that included several years with Oracle in a high level director position managing six states. She put her career on hold to raise her two children.

During the intervening years Maria also took on volunteer work and eventually ended up heading the now substantial Roots & Wings Foundation, a non-profit that provides support for teenagers once they age out of foster care.

Now with the kids into their high school years Maria is again evaluating her options and instead of returning to the corporate world she has decided to pursue her passion for wine. Growing up in an Italian family Maria learned from a very early age to appreciate wine and its importance at the dinner table. From that early introduction to wines Maria has developed her knowledge and enjoyment of wines.

She reads about wines constantly and attends many, many wine tasting events each year from small intimate affairs to large gala-like fund raising events. She has traveled to Europe visiting many wine regions in addition to the wine regions of the U.S. Maria organizes wine tasting events for various New Jersey clients including non-profits for fundraising events. She truly enjoys sharing her knowledge of wine in order to educate others.

Given Maria's extensive corporate and non-profit leadership experience Garden State Woman has extended an opportunity for Maria to become involved in the Board of the now 3 year old Garden State Woman Education Foundation.

You will certainly enjoy yourself at our upcoming June 10th wine tasting event. Maria will be a great discussion leader for all of us to learn from. Garden State Woman had the opportunity to interview Maria regarding her life-long passion for wine.

GSW: How did you develop your interest in wines? Where did the interest come from? How long ago?

My interest in wine began at an extremely young age. My family made their own wine each year. At home, wine was treated as a beverage no different than iced tea or soda and was at our every meal. However, it wasn't until I graduated college that I realized that others treated wine differently. I was intrigued by this disparity which then heightened my interest even more. From there my passion grew.

GSW: How have you gone about learning about wines, particularly those from other countries?

Taste, taste, taste! For every wine I taste I take the time to learn all I can about the region, grapes, vintage, and winery. The approach to learning about domestic versus international wines is the same. In fact I spent most of my early years learning first about European wines since they intrigued me more. Traveling to the various wine regions is an incredible way of getting first-hand knowledge about the wines and how they are produced. You walk away with a greater appreciation for the vines, the earth, and the wine makers.

GSW: Are there any good books, web sites or magazines that you can recommend to anyone looking to develop their knowledge of wines?

There are almost too many books published on wine today. If you're just beginning to learn about wine, I highly recommend Kevin Zraly's Window's on the World Complete Wine Course book. Mr. Zraly was the wine director at Windows on the World where he developed the Windows on the World Wine School. Popular wine magazines are Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. There are plenty of websites including those from the previously mentioned magazines, eRobertParker.com and cellartracker.com. There are also many blogs on the internet as well.

GSW: You help people and organizations organize and host wine tastings. Tell us about that. What are the keys to having a successful wine tasting?

The key to any successful wine tasting is to invite guests that are truly interested in learning about wines and expanding their palate. The wine theme is also important to create an ambiance for the event. Most importantly, I encourage responsible drinking. Learning how to spit is an art onto itself!

GSW: Is the wine industry dominated by men or are women becoming increasingly involved?

The industry has traditionally been male dominated. Women have made great strides and are now making their mark on the wine world. Some of the most respected wines today are made by women. It's a known fact that women have a heightened sense of taste and smell. It would only be logical that we would excel in this industry.

GSW: Can you recommend your favorite under $25/bottle Champagne? White wine? Red wine? Desert wine?

It all depends on what I'm having for dinner but let me recommend some affordable types of wine in each category. For a sparkling wine I would suggest an Italian Prosecco or Spanish Cava. There are plenty of good white wines in this price bracket, but a Portuguese Vinho Verde is an incredible value at under $10. With red wine, look towards South America. For a dessert wine, try a port. Finally if you like to serve a cheese course at the end of your meal, I recommend a Canadian Ice Wine.

GSW: Do you have a wine cellar at home? If so, please describe what you have collected? How do you decide what goes into your "cellar"?

I do have a cellar. My cellar is well diversified as I like to collect wines from many regions. I tend to have more bottles of my favorites like Barolo and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. My wine collecting philosophy has changed over the years. In the past, I followed the ratings of the critics but then realized that I was accumulating a cellar of wines that others thought of highly. I now only collect wines that I have tasted, that my husband and I enjoy, and most importantly complement my cooking style. That guarantees that I pull a great wine from my cellar every night.

GSW: How do you go about buying wines for your cellar?

Today I make most of my wine purchases on-line. I was always at the mercy of my local liquor stores in search of wines for my cellar. Now I use the internet to not only locate the wines anywhere in NJ but also to find them at the best price.

GSW: We invite all of our web site visitors to share their wine interests, questions, recommendations with the rest of us by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Friday, 21 June 2024

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