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That's Right, Women Are Smarter

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Nov 21, 2006 1:15pm ET

Kevin Vogt’s assertion that women are better tasters than men certainly has merit.

I've tasted with most of the women he mentions, and hundreds of other professionals, and more often than not there's agreement about which wines are the best and which wines lack merit or taste or are flawed.

So in my mind, it's not so much a matter of which gender is the better taster any more than which sex is the better chef: Men or women? Jacques or Julia? I think each gender has its strengths.

Even if we assume Kevin's right (and we’ll let him be for a paragraph or two), and women have superior taste buds, one intangible factor in wine evaluation, or criticism, is experience.

No matter how acute one's taste buds or taste memory might be, there’s no substitute for years (or decades) of experience.

I think it's a combination of the two: Great tasters do have sharp palates and taste memories. But they also benefit from experience.

The subject of women and wine came up the other day over lunch with a woman I'll call Kay. We talked about how women are different than men and here are some of our thoughts:

Women are not score-driven. That is, they don't pay nearly as much attention to ratings as men do.

Women are more experimental. They are, I added, more open-minded when it comes to different wines.

Women aren't snobs. Rarely do you encounter a woman who has a know-it-all attitude. The world is full of men with attitude.

Women don't overspend on wine or, more importantly, they don't think they have to spend a lot of money to enjoy wine. Many men equate price with quality.

Women aren't as defensive as men when it comes to wine. They can state their views without turning them into a personal attack.

Women listen.

And, of course, women are smarter.

I'm sure there are other examples of how men and women are different with their attitudes about wine that Kay and I somehow overlooked.

David A Zajac
November 21, 2006 2:29pm ET
Ok, who really wrote this column? Will the real author please stand up, no real man would actually admit these things much less write them, so I figure Mrs. Laube must have altered this blog. By the way, my wife agrees.
Jeffrey Ghi
New York —  November 21, 2006 2:46pm ET
/ me looks around for the girlfriend lurking in the corner.
Paul Manchester
Santa Cruz, CA —  November 21, 2006 4:55pm ET
All I can say is this: In all the years of tasting wine that I've done it does seem to me that women do have (in general) a more sensitive pallet. It doesn't necessarily mean that women or men are better, due to the experience factor that James mentioned, which I believe is HUGE as well. But I have noticed many times when I'm tasting in group formats women tend to detect certain things in a wine more readily than men. So lets all put aside our egos and accept the fact that men and women are both great at various skills and achievements, depending on the individual. After all, loving & honoring one another as yourself is really what matters anyway. PM
Robert Stoky
November 21, 2006 10:10pm ET

Over the years, traditionally, women have grown up spending more time in the kitchen smelling herbs, tasting fruits and vegetables, going out into the garden smelling flowers and plants, and smelling perfume while the boys played sports, rough-housed and focused on other tradtional male exploits. I think this is changing slightly with our newer generations. But I believe as a whole it makes it easier for women than men when beginning to develop their skills as tasters.

As a child (male) I was a finicky eater and smelled everything before I put it in my mouth at the dinner table. Years later as a young man training with wine, this undoubtably helped initially. Still as I matured in my field I had to continually train my senses as most all sommeliers do.

I teach classes on wine tasting to take the mystery out of wine and help others enjoy the gift of wine. I always tell my guests in the class that everything you taste and smell in a wine glass is something you've already smelled or tasted in your life, it's simply honing your natural ability of recall to identify those aromatics and flavors.
Amy Gardner
Sacramento, CA —  November 22, 2006 12:58am ET
I loved this topic and had to respond. And doing my homework on your blog and that of Kevin Vogt I realized that women are not however super blog responders. So I boldly step up to the plate. The first female to take the bait.

I have tasted with lots of novices and a similar number of wine snobs. And fortunately with many wine geeks, of which I'm probably one. I have found many women so intimidated by wine tasting that many never get past their standard chardonnay. But once you get past this, lots of my female wine drinking friends are much more adventurous than their male counterparts. Women are a major consumer force in the wine industry, and we know how to shop (sorry, had to throw that in there). I think women wine enthusiasts like to experiment and hone their wine tasting instincts, and then trust them.

On the other side of the gender divide, I've found many of my male wine enthusiasts very ratings driven and status oriented in their wine picks. And I've dealt with a lot of blowhards that really take the fun out of the whole business. Unfortunately they also tend to get their hands on some pretty exclusive wines that make their company very hard to pass up.

I think the best wine enthusiasts are those who enjoy tasting the wine and enjoying it, along with great company. And if we can take a walk on the wild side by experimenting with some new, fun inexpensive wine it's not too bad--we could do much crazier things.

Lastly, I find that many wineries prefer a woman winemaker because they do have exceptional palates and are adventurous, while perhaps trying to make a name for themselve in a male dominated field.Please guys, no arrows--this is all just friendly discussion and observation. Thanks Jim for keeping the topics varied. Cheers!
James Laube
Napa, CA —  November 22, 2006 9:28am ET
Nice to hear from you, Amy, and thanks for sharing your views. As for arrows from guys, I doubt you'll be hunted. Besides, most of those arrows have rubber tips...
Kari Auringer
Napa, CA —  November 22, 2006 1:25pm ET
Of course, we¿re speaking in generalities, but my experience at tasting events, (public or private) finds men more focused on the label, or one specific wine style. Women on the taste, experience or pleasure of the wine.

When I taste with friends, men usually want to know which of the wines are the most expensive, high scoring, hard to find, etc. I¿m assuming that they don¿t want to waste their time on the other ¿lesser¿ wines. I also think Amy may be right about women being more adventurous. Women most often ask which wines I like the best, and why. When women have discovered the ones they prefer, it is then they ask ¿where can they get it¿ and ¿how much is it¿? And, it¿s not a surprise that we¿re happy to pay the price for quality, but we always prefer a bargain.

As a result I tend to bring a variety of wines to parties and dinners, from a variety of price points, and often brown bag them until everyone has tasted and picked their favorites. It makes for a level playing field, and sometimes surprising results. In this environment I find that women are more likely to talk about what they are experiencing, and for us it is all about the experience.
Robert Fukushima
California —  November 22, 2006 3:06pm ET
While I do believe that women have a biological bias in terms of palate sensitivity, I would question whether this alone makes them better as wine makers or consumers. i think it gives them a bias towards certain flavors and styles of wines, and if those are your preferences, you might prefer woman-made wines. I wonder though, in my field of landscape architecture, it was, and still is, a field dominated by men. The few women over the years that have succeeded have done so in spite of this. Many of us feel that it is because of this bias, the few women that have risen through the ranks have done so because they worked harder and wanted it more in the face of cultural bias. Maybe these women wine makers that are clearly so good are so good, not because they are women, but, because they have had to flat out compete, out-work and sacrificed to be the best.
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  November 22, 2006 9:23pm ET
Wow! I really looking forward to meeting some women that I can open that great value Yellow Tail screw cap bottle of Shiraz with since they will appreciate it so much more than my score whore buddies that I will be drinking my 90+ rated bottles of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Pomerol, Chilean Syrah and Don Melchor cabs with this holiday season while watching college football! Cheers!
Sao Anash
Santa Barbara —  November 23, 2006 3:22pm ET
Somebody buy this man a drink! Nice blog entry, James. It was high time somebody stated the truth!!!
Kari Auringer
Napa, CA —  November 23, 2006 6:23pm ET
Thanks Karl, you have illustrated my point beautifully! I consider Yellow Tail cheap, mass produced and slightly sweet plonk. While cheap, it is not what I consider a great value. I offer that opinion because I have tried them. If you can¿t drink it, it¿s not a value¿at any price.

On the other hand, I have had many wines priced well over $50 that I would consider a value based on a pleasure/cost ratio.
Jeffrey Ghi
New York —  November 24, 2006 8:27am ET
Kari, To be honest, every wine has a purpose, yellow tail is no exception. It's a classic example of something that is sweet, very fruit forward and soft on the palate. At 5$ a litre, it's both a great bargain and a very drinkable wine for large parties. Among my friends, I'd have to say 80% of them do not drink wine regularly. If I were to pull out, say a certain pualliac, I know most of them will say, wow this is incredibly tart, mouth puckering and unenjoyable. My girlfriend though, who does have a stronger palate then me, will often enjoy such wines for the nuances she can pick out. So while I've had many bad wines 5-100$, Yellow tail is one I wouldn't necessarily knock. As with whoring for numbers, shrug =), "let them eat cake".
Delmonico Stkhse @ Venetian
Las Vegas, Nevada —  November 25, 2006 2:18am ET
James - I completely agree with you about the power of an experienced palate. I am not claiming that I am right about what makes women tick, I'm just looking for a healthy discussion about what I think may be true. I like to see Amy and Kari sharing their thoughts. I was hoping for more women posting on my blog. I appreciate your thoughts and insight. Thank "Kay" for me.

James Laube
Napa, CA —  November 25, 2006 1:02pm ET
Kevin, you made a great observation and point. I'm glad that Amy and Kari joined in; Amy is a headhunter (the friendly kind) who works in the wine business and Kari (who is also in the business) is an aspiring winemaker, with a passion for that manly grape, Petite Sirah.Kay has plenty to say about the issue, as well.As for women writing to the blogs (and other bulletin boards, I might add), one theory is they can accept certain things as opinion and they don't have to "win" arguments. Some men, it seems, simply can't accept the fact that we will disagree about things, and then they can't let go. Whipping a dead horse is an expression that comes to mind.I've enjoyed having you on our blog team. Hope to see you soon. JL
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  November 25, 2006 2:51pm ET
I enjoyed reading your post Kevin and you made some good points in your blog. While I am joking about my friends in my earlier entry I honestly do believe that your wine drinking experience is more important than anything genetic. Most of my friends are very inexperienced with drinking and buying wines and have no idea about scores. My observations have almost been the opposite of Kari's but then again her friends might be collectors for all I know. I would have to think that if your obsessed about the wine score, label and how rare the bottle is that you must have a lot of money to afford and find those bottles. I like to find value wine....but then again I can't afford the likes of Lafite and Petrus. My experience is that women do seem to enjoy the romance and pleasure of wine. Then again I'm still reminding some of my buddies to smell the wine before guzzling it like beer in a plastic cup...
Phillip Y Kim
November 26, 2006 10:58pm ET
Whether I agree or disagree is irrelevant. What matters to me is that this view gives me greater license to indulge my wine collecting. "Here, honey, what do you think about the 01 supertuscans?"
John Jorgenson
Seattle, —  November 30, 2006 12:30am ET
Might we see a change in the gender makeup of the Spectator editorial staff in our lifetime? I do value the observations of many female wine lovers and would have to say it's probably true that in general they have more acute senses than men. But there have been very few that I've tasted with that are able to remember the wine a year (or three weeks) later. I'm probably just running with the wrong crowd!

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