Do women make better wine tasters than men?

There is a Lily Allen song that was very popular in the mid-teen years of 2000. In 2014, the British songstress sang about gender inequalities in the music (and general showbiz) industry with provocative lyrics such as “If I told you about my sex life, you call me a slut

Them boys be talking ’bout their bitches, no one’s making a fuss,” and, “There’s a glass ceiling to break, there’s money to make”. The song was met with universal and critical acclaim, not only for its melody and general chart worthiness but for the strong feminist message it delivered. Rolling Stone magazine called the track a “feminist anthem through and through” and applauded Allen for tackling a subject that many people would rather ignore. Allen was, of course, fingerpointing the music arena, but parallels can be drawn with many other traditionally male-dominated industries. Yes, there are some industries where, regrettably, misogyny is still prevalent.  And yes, the wine industry is one of those industries. 

Women vs Men, who tastes wine better

Buying and selling wine has always been seen as very much an old boys club. However, even if the image of white-haired old men sitting in their gentleman’s club, discussing the merits of a 1947 Cheval Blanc vs the 1949 Domaine Leroy Richebourg is both outdated and untrue, women are still undervalued when it comes to wine trading. “It’s tough enough being a woman in this business,” one of the women we interviewed explained. “The wine industry is still in many ways a non-meritocratic business to be in.”

So it comes as happy news that perhaps, just perhaps, women have the edge over men in one area in the wine world. The idea that women have a more developed palate than men is a common belief in the culinary world. Some studies have even suggested that women may have a biological advantage regarding taste perception. Even if the reality is much more complex, and there is no clear-cut answer to this question, could this perhaps be the glass ceiling that Allen was talking about?

I have spoken many times on here about how is breaking new ground with its revolutionary app, taking wine trading out of the dark ages and opening it up to new generations of investors – regardless of gender. Vimdome CEO Ingrid Brodin is very clear on the subject that wine doesn’t know or care if you’re male or female; the importance lies in knowing how and when to make trades effectively. “I find the gender balance discussion very sad – the discussion should be taken at the parenting and school level – and children should grow up knowing their sex should have no impact on their profession. Different viewpoints, regardless of whether they come from a man or a woman, give us a broader view of our product and help us strengthen our mindset.” (read our full interview with Ingrid here). 

With star women critics such as Jane Anson (who, in 2020, was the first woman to deliver the André Simon lecture for the Wine and Food Society since the lecture series began in 1971) and Jancis Robinson bringing wine into a more woman-friendly era, the rest of the industry is finally beginning to take note: these girls have something to say. And they can say it better than the men. Why? Because scientifically, women can taste things – wine – better. It’s not feminism; it’s nature. 

Do women have better taste perception than men?

Firstly, let’s consider the biology of taste perception. Women have more taste buds than men, which means they can detect subtle flavours more easily. Additionally, women’s taste buds are more sensitive than men’s, which means they can pick up on smaller concentrations of flavour compounds. These biological differences may explain why some believe women have a more developed palate.

However, it’s important to note that taste perception is not just about the number of taste buds or their sensitivity. Our perception of flavour is also influenced by factors such as experience, culture, and upbringing. For example, someone who grows up in a culture that values spicy foods may have a greater tolerance for spicy flavours, regardless of their biological sex.

Moreover, it’s worth noting that taste perception is a highly subjective experience. What one person finds delicious, another may find unappetising. Therefore, it’s difficult to make broad generalisations about whether one group of people has a more developed palate than another.

Here comes the science bit…

Dr Paul Breslin has spent more than ten years researching how men and women differ in terms of taste and odour. Breslin, a professor of nutritional sciences at Rutgers University and a researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, studied men and women of various ages over a period of years to see if there was a discernible difference in how men and women smelled and tasted things.

Breslin discovered that women are significantly more sensitive to taste and smell, not only because of their having more taste buds but because certain times of their lives – notably at the peak of fertility – give them a heightened awareness of aroma. Dr Breslin suggests that there are likely evolutionary reasons for this. “We are social animals, and women may have developed a keener sense of smell as a survival mechanism so that they could recognise their mates, children, and other kin in a big group”.

This research is supported by the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. In their groundbreaking 2014 paper, “The female nose always knows” they suggest that women may be more sensitive to certain flavours than men. For example, research has shown that women are better at identifying bitter tastes, such as those found in coffee or dark chocolate, and strong tastes, such as those in a 2011 Chateau Latour. Women may also be more sensitive to sweet flavours, which could explain why they tend to enjoy desserts more than men.

Ultimately, whether women have a more developed palate than men is debated. While there may be some biological differences in taste perception between the sexes, many other factors can influence our experience of flavour. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to enjoy what you’re eating and appreciate the unique flavours that each individual brings to the table, whether this is literal or not. Just as long as you don’t expect the woman to wash up at the end. 

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