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Let's remember that gender is a construct and sangria is delicious

Tim Nelson
May 15, 2018

Everyone’s pretended at one point or another that they’re a wine sophisticate. But when it comes to actually discerning the difference between hints of oak and hints of sandalwood, studying wine is a woman’s game.

That’s at least the case if a recent study published in the scholarly journal Food Quality and Preference is to be believed. After a taste test of three reds, two whites, and one rosé (tis the season) conducted by 208 participants, researchers determined that the men tended to reason more emotionally when it comes to wine, whereas female participants were more adept at picking up on the real differences between various wines.

So what accounts for the fact that you might be better off trusting a female sommelier? There are a few possible theories. Certain past research suggests it might have something to do with gendered variations in how well we can smell. A 2014 study from Brazil goes so far as to suggest that women could have more olfactory cells, giving them a biological advantage.

Dr. Paul Breslin (who was not involved in this study) believes that evolutionary biology could help explain why. We are social animals, and women may have developed a keener sense of smell as a survival mechanism so that they could recognize their mates, children, and other kin in a big group,” he told VinePair.

Conversely, the emphasis on emotional responses in the study’s methodology and results could imply that emotional intelligence plays a role. The study’s abstract states that “women, although they gave generally lower ratings than men, reported greater differences between the wines and were able to discriminate among the wines regarding emotions such as joyful.” Though it would require further research to confirm, it’s possible that the ability to identify and articulate the nuances of various emotional states lends itself to picking up on a wine’s finer details, and that this may have manifested as a difference between the sexes in this particular case.

Speaking of emotions, the study also explored the correlation between certain flavor profiles and the feelings we tend to associate them with. For example, wines with fruity and floral notes tended to elicit positive feelings, whereas liquorice, clove and vanilla were more likely to conjure neutral or even negative emotions. So no matter who you are, the study offers some useful information next time you want to buy some wine that makes a good impression.

Of course, any study like this should be taken with a grain of salt—or better yet, a glass of sangria. The findings suggest a correlation, but there isn’t sufficient evidence that explains why women might be better at picking up on a pinot’s tasting notes. On the other hand, it does suggest that there’s no inherent reason why only 25 out of 158 accredited Master Sommeliers are women.  

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