On Wine and Gender: Chambertin = Masculine. But Why?

Rob Halford of Judas Priest: hypermasculinity at its finest. And it’s so great that he’s gay. (Source)

This is the second in a three article series on Wine and Gender. Here is the first, on ‘feminine’ wines.

IF we are to believe wine tasting notes, men are by definition muscular, tobacco-smoking, leather-toting brutes that smell like earth.

Here’s a taste from Wine Spectator’s Dec 15, 1996 issue:

1949 Leroy Chambertin: 94 points.
Rich, deep and very complex, this offers layers of lovely black currant and earth character. “Masculine” in style, opposed to the “feminine” and near-perfect Musigny from this vintage. It’s also a bit leaner and shorter on the finish. Drink now through 2005. Leroy vertical. –PM

1949 Leroy Musigny: 98 points.
Ethereal scents, a lush and silky texture and intense flavors of ripe, rich, sweet fruit. Powerful and youthful, the plum, cherry and mineral character are incredibly balanced. At its pinnacle and perfect to drink now, but should last until 2000 at least. Leroy vertical. –PM

While these two tasting notes don’t leverage the entire family of gendered wine descriptors, they still drive the idea home: the balanced and silky character of the red-fruited Musigny earned the moniker feminine, and beat out the deep, earthy, dark-fruited, more obviously tannic and thus less silky, masculine Chambertin.

The character of the tannins is the discriminant here, as it is in most gendered wines.

It’s worth asking why. And Harry Harlow’s historic cloth and wire mother experiment may offer a clue. (Click to Read more)

On Wine and Gender: Chambolle = Feminine. But Why?

Marlene Dietrich has a question for you.

CAN there be something masculine or feminine in a wine?

It’s a conceit that has haunted professional wine tasting notes for decades. But once you ponder the notion, it’s quite odd.

And recently, some in the trade are casting a worrisome glance back at the tired dichotomies used to hastily differentiate wines.

Consider this quote from a recent Wine Enthusiast article about female winemakers:

“When at its best, wine tends to express feminine qualities, like sexy textures, soft tannins, voluptuous fruit and delicate floral aromas.”

Dujac winemaker Jeremy Seysses adopts a similar paradigm in describing how to tell a Clos de la Roche from a Clos Saint Denis:

“‘Aromatically, they are both unmistakably Morey-Saint-Denis.’ Jeremy began. ‘That is, there are suggestions of nutmeg and cinnamon to go with the cherry-raspberry-strawberry. But texturally, they are quite different. Clos de la Roche (…) has more structure, more tannin, and is generally more masculine. There is a minerally graphite aspect I don’t find in Clos Saint-Denis.’

‘In the Clos Saint-Denis (…) the silky tannins are first and foremost. There is intensity without weight. Texturally there are similarities with Chambolle, but in character our Clos Saint-Denis is quite different. There are aromatic fireworks to be found and a peacock’s tail as the wine opens out in the mouth that I find most appealing.’”

Let’s dissect this statement.

Quite obviously, tannins are the critical difference for Seysses. So many gender stereotypes hinge on physical musculature and mass; delicacy must equal femininity, and muscular structure (read: body, higher alcohol content) must equal masculinity.

Seysses regards ‘intensity without weight’ as feminine.  ‘Silky’ texture suddenly comes into play with feminine wine; supple, caressing mouthfeels — devoid of coarse tannin — engender femininity.

These two stereotypes underpin the bulk of our attributions of gender to wine. But take an even closer look, and something much stranger lies lurking: a precise set of gendered aromas.

Which aromas are regarded as masculine? Graphite. Tobacco. Leather. Earth. “Dark fruits”.

Which are feminine? (Click to Read more)

Escape to Spring Mountain, Where Roots Run Deep In Napa Valley

Sunny Stony Hill Vineyards. Photo: Alexander Rubin.
Sunny Stony Hill Vineyards. Photo: Alexander Rubin.

Confessions: first, I’m usually drinking European wines, where dry farming is the law. And I’ve been pretty brutal to Napa Valley’s wine. The unholy alliance of high alcohol, high points, glamour marketing, and bombastic fruit profiles — the preferred drink of heavy-handed cologne wearers, whose senses are all but dead to the world — is the exact opposite of everything I’m looking for in a wine.

I’ve noted this strange correlation firsthand while working in wine retail. Often, drinkers and peddlers of bombastic, fruity wines are a suit-clad social elite, slathered in an ungodly amount of cologne, obsessed with how many points a wine scores. These are the sellers and consumers of what we’ll call Big Fruit: Amarone, pricey Super Tuscans, post-2000 vintage Bordeaux, and of course, pricey Napa Valley reds.

But not all Napa Valley reds are built alike.

Imagine my surprise upon discovering two producers, Smith-Madrone and Stony Hill,  who have been dry farming a corner of Napa Valley called Spring Mountain — an AVA that until 1993 (Click to Read more)