WHEN in history did we begin calling wines masculine or feminine?
Prior to wine magazines and the modern tasting note, there was no regularly printed forum dedicated to the aromatic virtues of a wine. However, history still holds several texts that speak critically of specific wines, grapes, and regions — primordial tasting notes, if you will.
From the 1st century to the 20th, often in keeping with Galenic medicine, these texts speak most often of healthfulness (conflating it with goodness or quality). They gauge a wine’s roughness, its color, and they are obsessed with ageworthiness. But there is no trace of gender.
Here’s a typical note from Pliny the Elder’s 1st century AD Natural History: “The people of Dyrrhachium hold in high esteem the vine known as the “basilica,” the same which in Spain is called the “cocolobis.” (…) The sweeter the cocolobis is, the more it is valued; but even if it has a rough taste, the wine will become sweet by keeping, while, on the other hand, that which was sweet at first, will acquire a certain roughness; it is in this last state that the wine is thought to rival that of Alba. It is said that the juice of this grape is remarkably efficacious when drunk as a specific for diseases of the bladder.”
Fast forward to a 1785 source, Dissertation sur la situation de la Bourgogne, searching for traces of wine and gender, and very little has changed. The French author, Claude Arnoux, is sourcing French wine for English royalty. Behold as Arnoux sees no need to characterize Chambertin as masculine, nor Volnay or Savigny as feminine (what follows is my translation): (Click to Read more)