So, here’s something that’s probably more amusing to me than it should be: According to a new study, women are better wine tasters than men — and not just because of biology (although apparently that can be the case, too). Indeed, the difference has to do with how we cope with emotion: It turns out that men get way more emotional about their wine than women do, which in turn seems to have a relationship with how well they’re able to differentiate between different wines.
The study’s results fly in the face of the male dominance still rampant in the wine world: As of 2016, only about 10 percent of California wineries have women winemakers, according to the Hanford Sentinel; of the 158 Master Sommeliers in the American chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers, only 25 are women; women buyers and sommeliers are often treated poorly at industry events; heck, even when a bottle of wine is brought out to a table at a restaurant, it’s often assumed that a man at the table will do the tasting. But if simple common sense hasn’t hitherto been enough to dispel the notion that women are, in fact, capable of knowing their wine, this study, which was recently published in the journal Food Quality and Preference, underlines the facts sharply.
For the study, 208 participants performed a blind taste test of six different wines — one rosé, two whites, and three reds — in order to shed some light not only on the relationship between “emotional and sensory traits of wine products,” but also on how gender and age might affect people’s wine preferences and the emotions specific wine traits prompt in them. The results did uncover some interesting relationships between specific notes and various emotions; for example, fruity and floral notes inspired were linked with positive emotions, while licorice, clove, and vanilla were linked with neutral or negative emotions. But perhaps even more fascinating is this: Men generally had a stronger emotional reaction to the wines — but women, although they had less intense emotional reactions, were better able to discern the differences between the wines.
Or, as The Daily Meal put it: Women are better wine tasters because men are too emotional.
Just, y’know… let that sink in for a moment, perhaps while you enjoy a robust and full-bodied red.
It’s somewhat ironic, isn’t it, given that our culture likes to insist that women are “too emotional” and use that as an excuse to hold us down? Studies have found that women’s pain is taken less seriously than men’s — even when the symptoms are the same — because the assumption is that we’re being “too emotional” about it; that we’re judged harshly for expressing “too much” emotion (and for expressing not enough); that we’re less competent than men at work, often because women are perceived to b so "emotional"; and that we’re “bossy,” while men are “confident.” Assumptions that periods make women “irrational” — and that if a woman is being “irrational,” it’s because of her period — persist, despite the facts that a) they don’t, with research to back it up, b) women are not the only people who menstruate, and c) not all women menstruate.
Holding the study up against this background, it’s difficult not to want to go, “OH, WOMEN ARE TOO EMOTIONAL? HOW’S THAT WINE TASTING GOING, FELLAS?”
Of course there’s more to it than just that — and indeed, it could be indicative of how patriarchy fails everyone, men included. The study found that women were able not only to pinpoint the differences between the wines themselves better, but also that they were “able to discriminate among the wines regarding emotions such as joyful” than men were — that is, the male participants had stronger emotional reactions to the wines, but weren’t able to describe these emotions very well.
It’s possible that this, too, is related at least in part to how patriarchal culture deals with emotions: Whereas women are often assumed to be overly emotional, men are encouraged to be as emotionless as possible — the belief being that to be emotional is to be “womanly” and therefore "weak." Knowing this, then, it’s not surprising that the male participants weren’t able to discuss the nuances in the emotions the wine notes brought up for them; when your culture actively discourages you from experiencing or talking about your emotions, you don’t develop the vocabulary or communication skills and techniques needed to discuss them.
The hole in this study, of course, is that it focuses only on women and men (and likely cisgender women and men, at that); it fails to take into account the vast range of gender identities. Interestingly, though, there seems to be a similar effect in age: Older adults scored more highly on the emotional experience of tasting wine than younger adults did, although younger adults were able to distinguish the differences between the wines better. Further research might considering looking into social and cultural differences in wine tasting alongside biological ones; clearly whatever’s going on is a lot more complex than one or the other.
But in the meantime, the next time you’re out at a restaurant and your server presents a bottle of wine for tasting to a man at your table by default… maybe suggest that they offer it to someone else. You might get a more reliable verdict on the vintage.