Does 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 said: “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.

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.

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.

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. 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.

Jim van Bergen

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. 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.

Liza Swift

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.

Martin Redmond

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.

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.

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!

(Source: SNOOTH)