Category: Wine Tasting Notes

On Wine and Gender: A Critical History

Heidi Klum as both Sophia Loren & Jayne Mansfield. Mark Seliger, 2002.

This is the third and final article on Wine and Gender. The first, on femininity and wine, is here. The second, on masculinity and wine, is here.

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)

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

Above: 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)

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)