A couple of months ago in Wine Enthusiast magazine, that question was brought up in an article. The wine industry used to be dominated by men and most of those men had extremely closed minds. They had archaic notions such as “women only like sweet and light wines” and some even believed that if a female was to go down into a cellar while the wine was aging, it would sour the vintage. Most of that type of thinking as gone away and now there are very prominent and successful women in the wine industry. But the question still exists, are women better wine tasters than men?
While there are more female hyper-tasters or “super-tasters” it seems to be genetics not gender. But it does seem that women do use their sense of taste differently then men. According to Karen MacNeil, an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, women tend to take their time, experience the wine and are more intensive when they are tasting where as men tend to be pretty quick on the call or description. Another thing Ms. MacNeil mentioned, as did several others in the article, was that women’s hormone cycle can be disruptive to their taste buds. Another difference which was brought up by Andrea Robinson, (Master Sommelier, Dean of Wine Studies for COPIA and host of Parings with Andrea), that women have a more emotional rather than pragmatic approach. Women don’t like you use scores or numbers as much as they like to tell you what it tastes like and what they like or dislike in the wine.
To my knowledge, there has only been one purposely made, male vs. female blind taste test. Bill Daley of the Chicago Tribune created it for a piece he did in July, 2007. He had two teams of sommeliers, three male and three female, and asked them to choose their favorite wine out of a small selection. Then he asked each team to pick the wine they thought the other team would pick as their favorite. The female team picked as their favorite a 2003 Stag’s Leap Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon and also thought that the men’s team would pick the same. A cabernet sauvignon is often considered a “man’s wine”, but the female team picked it as their favorite. As for the men’s team, they selected a 2005 Williams Selyem, Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir and also thought the female team would select this as their favorite. A pinot noir is often considered to be a “female wine”. What was learned with this test? Well, that you can't really have a category of male wines or female wines.
In my personal experience most women have a more expansive library of tastes to draw on while tasting wine. Especially those that love to cook and try different foods. When I have wine with my wife, her mother, or our friends who are good cooks they tend to describe a specific herb (for example; rosemary or sage) or spice (for example; cumin or coriander) they taste. Where as I would just recognize that it has herbal taste or has some hints of spice. I think it all comes down to experience, not only with wine, but also with different foods and tastes.
I don’t think that one gender is better at wine tasting than others but I do know that the wine industry is no longer just for the boys. Women are now wine makers, master sommeliers, Presidents and CEO’s of wineries and import companies and instructors at the highest levels.
I say Cheers to that!