Category: Wine History

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.

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)