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.

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)

Burgundy vs. Champagne: An 18th Century Flame War

Is this the earliest recorded flame war between wine geeks?

A searing debate raged in France from the mid-17th to mid-18th century between the Universities of Reims and Paris.

Guy-Crescent Fagon, Royal Physician, and Louis XIV, his patient.

It all started with a change in Louis XIV’s Royal Physician in 1693.  The previous Royal Physician, Antoine d’Aquin, was a fervent promoter of the wines of Champagne.

The new Royal Physician, Guy-Crescent Fagon, made clear there would be no more Champagne, and that it would instead be Burgundy that would be used as a vehicle while administering quinquina infusions to Louis XIV1. You may recognize quinquina, or chicona bark, as a source of quinine — a modern day ingredient of tonic water and a whole host of liqueurs, which has retained its reputation as a treatment for fever and malaria.

Bag for cinchona bark, Peru, 1777-1785 Wellcome L0058857; Drug jar for cinchona bark, Italy, 1701-1730 Wellcome L0057626.

Fagon was seeking to remedy Louis XIV’s fevers2. And once Monsieur Fagon had pushed Champagne off the royal table, each town’s university medical department became engaged in a century-long battle to prove — trading blows, via graduate theses — whether the wines of Burgundy or the wines of Champagne (which were not yet sparkling) were superior.

And it got really dirty, really quick. (Click to Read more)

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  1. En 1679, Robert Talbor visita la France et l’Espagne. En France, il eut l’opportunité de guérir le Dauphin d’un accès de fièvre et traita avec succès d’autres éminentes personnalités. Ces résultats lui attirèrent les faveurs de Louis XIV qui, moyennant une forte somme d’argent et la garantie d’une pension annuelle, obtint de lui la composition de sa recette. Le secret tenait essentiellement dans l’administration de fortes doses d’écorce de quinquina infusée dans du vin et dans le renouvellement régulier des prises. http://www.biusante.parisdescartes.fr/guibourt/exposition_guibourt_1.htm []
  2. http://cour-de-france.fr/article1531.html?lang=fr []