Does your wine have a gender?

 


Esteemed wine critics like Robert Parker and Antonio Galloni employ gender-positive terms in their tasting notes without compunction. Masculine wines are commonly associated with structure and power, while feminine wines can be perceived as delicate and thin. Speaking about a trip to the Bandol region in the Financial Times, wine writer Jancis Robinson says, “When I tasted at the domaine last July in the company of two British wine merchants who also happened to be visiting that day, there was spirited but fruitless discussion as to whether (the wine) is 'feminine' or 'masculine'. The wine itself certainly isn't fruitless.” A category like gender can help wine drinkers better identify a wine they will like. It’s also a tool wine writers use to guide their readers to the right wine. But does the idea of a masculine versus a feminine wine actually resonate? Does it offend you? Or is it just unnecessary? We asked some of the web’s top wine writers to weigh in on the position of gender in wine. Read on for their thoughts.

Cathrine Todd
Dame Wine

I do believe in “masculine” and “feminine” wines as well as those that are a combination of both; and although I know these terms offend some people as being sexist, they make sense to me. Some people get annoyed by the idea that certain wines are for women and others for men, but I do not think of these terms in these ways. I started out liking “masculine” wines – big, structured, lots of tannin, savory flavors – it was just my natural tendency to like them, and it took me a while to truly appreciate more “feminine” wines – light bodied, fruity, soft – but I love wines that illustrate qualities from both. I think many of us have “masculine” and “feminine” qualities and they manifest themselves differently. And so, in my mind, the terms do not determine the sex of the drinker but give a hint of the style of wine. Since I just returned from Israel, I’m going to recommend two different wines from the same Israeli producer. Recanati Winery is driven to make wines from Mediterranean varieties as well as finding ones that are indigenous to their local area. The first is a white Châteauneuf-du-Pape inspired wine with 60% Roussanne and 40% Marsanne, their 2014 Special Reserve White which is mainly a “masculine” white with a big, rich body that firmly shakes your hand and says “Hello!” yet it has beautiful peach fruit and floral aromas that give it a hint of feminine charm. The “feminine” wine is their 2015 Marawi (Marawi is an indigenous grape variety that they buy from a Palestinian grower) that has a lighter body, more subtle nose yet its intensely flinty minerality gives it a touch of masculinity. These wines just show that when we come together and recognize ourselves in others we can make beautiful wines and a wonderful world.


Elizabeth Smith
Traveling Wine Chick

I do not think that wines have masculine and feminine qualities, although we associate certain descriptors with gender. However, I do believe that winemakers possess varying sensibilities, palates, and styles, which make their way into the wines that they craft. Two such examples are the following California vermentinos, one made by a man and one made by a woman. Vermentino, whose origin is believed to be Spain, is grown primarily in Italy and also in France, where it is known as rolle, but is also grown sparingly in California. My first example is the 2015 Fields Family Vermentino, Delu Vineyard, Lodi ($19). I tasted this with winemaker Ryan Sherman by a pool on a hot, summer night in Lodi. Whole-cluster pressed, his wine is fermented in stainless steel, dry racked semi dirty, then spends about seven months aging sur lie in five- or six-year-old neutral barrels. The resulting wine is bright and tart, yet also shows a textured, rounder mouthfeel, thanks to that sur lie, barrel aging. My second example is the 2015 Bella Grace Vermentino, Shenandoah Valley, Amador County ($25). The grapes for this wine come from two acres of estate vineyards owned by the Havill family, Charlie, the vineyard manager, and his wife, Michael, the winemaker. Michael both ferments and ages this wine in stainless steel for six months. This mouthwatering, low-alcohol wine is clean, crisp, citrusy, and tropical, with a touch of salinity. These vermentinos are distinctive and delicious, both demonstrating how differently and how well vermentino can be produced in California.


Issac James Baker
Reading, Writing & Wine

I may be in the minority here, but I don’t understand attaching gendered terms to wine. I wrote a column late last year arguing that we should do away with the gendered wine binary. Whatever the words masculine and feminine mean, their clichéd application to wine seems silly. Fine wine is something so profoundly difficult to describe. I get that. I try to describe fine wine all the time, and it’s not easy. But the masculine/feminine binary has become such a tired trope. Young Bordeaux can be bold and strong, but so are women. Aged Burgundy can be refined and elegant, but so are men. If we’re trying to explain and demystify wine, how are we achieving that goal by attaching traditional gender stereotypes to wine?


Jade Helm DWS, CS, CSW
Tasting Pour

Of course wines possess masculine and feminine characteristics, plus many shades of gray (or purple as the case may be). In choosing a masculine and feminine example I have a predictable answer and an unexpected answer. Cabernet Sauvignon is the James Bond of grapes. If it wore clothes the closet would be filled with  smoking jackets, leather jackets, dinner jackets - wow Cab Sauv wears a lot of jackets. Is it manly because of the tannic thick skinned, high acid grape itself, or its affinity for oak barrels that add smoke and leather? Whatever the reason, Cab IS called King. Consider the 2012 Mercer Estates Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Malbec, 5% Syrah, 4% Petit Verdot ($42)  It almost demands you sit in a dark wood paneled den to enjoy this savory wine. Spice, licorice, root beer, dried herbs,  black fruits, smoke and leather. Merlot might be the obvious feminine choice but I prefer, Cabernet Franc, Cab Sauv’s other cohort. I find Leah Jorgensen Cellars expresses the many feminine faces of this lovely grape. Sometimes it is the elegant lady in a flowing red gown.  Her perfume of violets, spice, and juicy ripe fruit lingers along with her laughter as she glides across the floor to charm a lucky fellow. Sometimes it gets outdoorsy with the fresh strawberry and green pepper notes of a spring garden. The 2015 LEAH JORGENSEN CELLARS OREGON “TOUR RAIN” VIN ROUGE ($25) captures the fresh girlishness of a picnic enjoyed barefoot in a day dress. The perfect melding of hatch chili with floral, blueberry, raspberry, and peppery spice. The 2014 LEAH JORGENSEN CELLARS “CLOS ROGUE VALLEY” CABERNET FRANC ($50) has all of the fresh red and blue bramble fruit of youth mixed with experienced aromas of earth and clove. This dame doesn’t need a man, but if the right one caught her eye, she might give him a tumble. Maybe he drinks Cabernet Sauvignon.


Jim van Bergen
JVB UNCORKED

The terms "feminine" and "masculine" are used less commonly in today's wine world. I have used them as descriptors and found them helpful to communicate a style of wine, but these words are sometimes interpreted as offensive and sexist to segments of the wine community and should be considered carefully.

Feminine refers to wines that may be lower in alcohol, have bright fruit and acidity, or that express qualities of being smooth, round, delicate and gentle on the palate. An example of a feminine wine to me is Panther Creek 2014 Kalita Vineyard Pinot Noir, which shows bright fruit and acidity with a luxurious, gentle, and refined mouthfeel.

On the other hand, Masculine refers to wines that may be higher in alcohol, that are fruit forward,  feature dominating tannins, or that express the qualities of being bold, strong, and firm, with a powerful mouthfeel. A masculine wine I'd offer as an example would be from Argentina's Uco Valley, Bodegas Salentein 2014 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, which features bold flavors, massive tannins, and a strong mouthfeel.


Liza Swift
BrixChicks

To think of assigning gender qualities to wine, was to remember visiting Kaena Wines in Los Olivos CA and speaking to owner and winemaker, Mikael Sigouin. He showcased barrel samples of his County of Santa Barbara wines and discussed the sensuous qualities of the samples. In several cases, the descriptions came down to wines that had a clarity of fruit and litheness that we called feminine. Others had a power or a heft that we experienced as masculine. It made me think of Grenache with its clear red fruit and spice lending itself to feminine. This contrasts with masculine Syrah, which I expect to have dark power, pepper and meatiness.  Not always. Wines, like people, can vary greatly and may not conform to their expected place on a spectrum. In the case of wine, the soil the grapes are grown in can influence them greatly. In Kaena’s case, Mikael makes wine from the Tierra Alta vineyard from soil that he describes as “limestone/clay which creates high toned aromas and great minerality.” Whichever way they swing, they are delicious. The Grenache has a red label and the Syrah, a blue, which might telegraph gender or might just symbolize the winemaker’s heart is all in, like blue arteries and red veins. And like the masculine and the feminine, Syrah and Grenache are often the most successful together where the best qualities of each create delicious blends.


Martin Redmond
ENOFYLZ Wine Blog

I recently noted a wine described as “ broad-shouldered”. I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant. Was it full bodied? Did the term refer to the persistent of its aromas and flavors? Both? I took it to mean the wine was full-bodied. But I wondered if others also might not understand what the writer intended to convey about the wine. It reminded me of the reasons I avoid gendered wine terms like “masculine” and “feminine”. Such connotative terms are intended to convey a sense of the wine’s personality. For example, a light-bodied, Pinot Noir with floral aromas might be considered to be “feminine”. On the other hand, a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon with earthy aromas might be considered to be “masculine”. While there is nothing inherently favorable or unfavorable about the body of a wine, describing it as either feminine or masculine, potentially has sexist implications. For that reason, and to make my tasting notes as straightforward as possible, I generally prefer to simply refer to a wine’s body using other wine descriptors such as light or full-bodied, or perhaps lean or ample. In my book there are plenty of wine descriptors that can be used to describe a wine’s personality without the potential stereotypes associated with gender.


Melanie Ofenloch
DallasWineChick

I am a gender neutral kinda gal – it comes from being one of the few women in technology at the executive table during my career, to being one of the first women to box in the Golden Gloves (Fight of the Night, Check) – I like to defy stereotypes. Cathy Corison, Winemaker of Corison Winery, personifies that same approach. While studying biology at Pomona College, she joined the men’s diving team because there was no women’s team. Her tenacity continued throughout her career as she continued to break stereotypes by going where women had never had the opportunity to go prior. Today, she continues that in her wines, and when I was asked by Snooth to write about masculine vs feminine wines, Cathy immediately came to mind. What I love about her is that she stays true to her sense of place, style and self with her 100 percent cabernet wines (Corison Kronos Vineyard and Corison Napa Valley Cabernet) that show balance, elegance and power. Then she completely shows her other side with the Corazón Gewürztraminer, which has some spice and sass, but would probably be described as her feminine wine.


Nancy Brazil
Pull that Cork

Masculine and feminine are not adjectives I use to describe wine, though if someone describes a wine as such I have a pretty good idea what is meant. Masculine characteristics include generous dark fruit aromas and flavors, a medium+ to heavy body with generous tannins and a long finish with higher alcohol levels expressed as sweetness or heat on the finish. Generally I think of these wines as grown in a warm region and made in a New World style. Feminine wines, on the other hand, often reveal red fruit and herbal aromas, red fruit flavors that taste like berries and are sometimes tart like cranberries. Herbaceous backnotes may be present along with a light to medium body, tannins that vary from light to grippy and alcohol levels that are generally lower. I expect feminine wines to be grown in cooler climates and to be made in an Old World style.

Recently I participated in a tasting of Cabernet Franc that provides an excellent example of the variety made in both a masculine and feminine style. 2014 Brecon Estate Cabernet Franc, Paso Robles, offers dark fruit, cigar box and earthy flavors with generous tannins and medium+ body. By comparison, the 2014 Glorie Farm Winery Cabernet Franc, Hudson River Region, is translucent ruby in the glass with tart red fruit flavors, celery leaf backnotes and a lighter body. Same variety, different growing conditions and different winemaking styles. Two distinct wines. Both enjoyable.

Describing white wines as masculine or feminine is more difficult. I’ll pour myself a glass of feminine red wine and get back to you. Cheers!

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Comments

  • Snooth User: rightjb
    1331193 29

    "Masculinity" and "Femininity" are real words with real meanings defined for thousands of years. If you think they are interchangeable, I would love for you to go to your local mall and tell 100 women they are "masculine" and 100 men they are feminine. (Writer takes no responsibility for outcome.)

    As a very neophyte oenologist, these descriptions have been incredibly helpful when trying to identify specific selections as they are in the fragrance industry. And, since our smell comes directly from our sense of taste, this tool makes great sense to me.

    Feb 24, 2017 at 3:28 PM


  • Snooth User: MrWino101
    1501408 88

    Some wine critics are making the enjoyable time of drinking a bottle of wine, let alone reading about one, a true art of BS. Popping a cork has become so crowded with self-absorbed gratification of ones ability to over analyze, over comment and overly self-inflate their self-made egos! Masculine and feminine wines? Really? What next...transgender wines?

    Feb 24, 2017 at 9:00 PM


  • Snooth User: slud
    356372 10

    I think that gender nomenclature for wines is mildly offensive and totally unnecessary.

    Feb 24, 2017 at 9:31 PM


  • Snooth User: Bill Ruse
    2117971 6

    I have no objection to it, but find it adds little if anything to my appreciation of the wine! perhaps the whole debate is something for wine writers to amuse themselves with, paying scant regard to the ultimate consumers.....

    Feb 26, 2017 at 8:00 PM


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