There is a sad fact about the global wine industry that often goes unaddressed.
There are just not as many women involved with wine as men.
This isn’t to say there aren’t a lot of women involved in the world of Italian wine. However, in terms of pure numbers, it remains a male-dominated industry. Many of the leading wine companies are led by men. And the majority of respected wine critics are men as well.
We’re not sharing this to spark an inflammatory debate.
Instead, we want to highlight something that needs to change in the world of wine. Women have just as much to offer to wine as men do. In fact, some recent research shows that they may even have more to offer.
What does that research show us?
Women can apparently taste wine better than men.
That may seem like a strange statement to make. After all, everybody with tastebuds is capable of tasting Italian wine. But the research we’re about to explore shows that women may be more naturally talented at picking out the complexities and subtleties that a glass of wine has.
Let’s look at the research that seems to prove this idea.
In 2017, Dr. Paul Breslin of Rutgers University teamed up with Monell Chemical Senses Center researcher Pamela Dalton. Together, they created a test with the intention of discerning if there was any difference between men and women in terms of how they reacted to the taste and odour of wine. Specifically, the duo was looking for measurable differences, rather than those based on inference.
The duo collected a large sample group made up of men and women of all ages. The people in these groups were then asked to sample a selection of odours so they could describe what they smelt. As Dr. Breslin explains in an interview with VinePair:
“We gave subjects the same odour several times and repeatedly found that men have a stable sense of odour, while cycling women became more and more sensitive to that odour over time. Within the confines of our study, which tested them 20 times and sometimes more, each time, their ability to accurately discern scents became more refined.”
This reference to cycling women may be confusing.
It doesn’t refer to women on bikes, though that would be an admittedly hilarious condition to throw into the test.
Instead, “cycling women” is the term that the duo came up with to define women who still had their menstrual cycles. This is an important point to note, as the study also included women who had undergone menopause and were no longer in their cycles.
The conclusion is simple.
Women who are in their fertile years were more able to discern specifics about the odours they were exposed to. What’s more, this ability seemed to improve over time, right up until the point where the study examined post-menopausal women, who seemingly lost the special odour-detecting abilities.
The duo didn’t go into the specifics of why this change in the ability to sift through odours occurs. It is likely something to do with hormone levels present in women who are cycling. However, Dr. Breslin does point out that he believes natural evolution may have played a part in the development of this peculiar talent.
In the same interview with VinePair, he says:
“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.”
It’s an interesting theory, and one that would certainly explain cycling women’s improved sense of smell as an evolutionary holdover.
But this brings us to an interesting question.
If cycling women are demonstrably better at detecting odours than anybody else, does this mean they are better suited to being wine experts?
Do Women Make Better Sommeliers
The answer is that they can…
But it’s certainly not a foregone conclusion.
This research shows us that women of a certain age appear to have a natural talent for detecting subtleties in odour, which can certainly translate to detecting the same when tasting wine. However, a natural talent alone does not mean much if it is not trained and honed.
For example, you may know somebody who is a naturally talented footballer. They can execute all types of skilful moves and general shine when playing against groups of amateurs. However, if you stack that person up against somebody who has been trained in a professional team, the professional is likely to win every time.
The professional has spent years training so they can hone their natural talents and build upon them.
The same applies to the world of Italian wine.
The average cycling woman is likely able to detect the different odours in a wine’s bouquet better than most.
But if you stack them up against a fully-trained sommelier, man or woman, the average cycling woman will be less likely to detect everything.
The Route into Wine For Many Women
Still, this natural talent should certainly not be discounted. In fact, we believe it could provide an easier route into the world of wine for those who are currently sorely underrepresented.
This natural talent for detecting odours could prove an advantage for any women who wish to undergo sommelier training. They will have a natural head start on everybody else, meaning they need to focus on honing a talent rather than developing a talent to hone in the first place.
Women may also be able to rely on these natural talents to produce wine. The ability to detect more specific odours may help them to discern the specific qualities of the wines they produce, which can help with everything from refining their wines through to coming up with marketing strategies for them.
If nothing else, this is extremely interesting research.
Hopefully, having this knowledge may inspire more women to enter the world of Italian wine. But even if it doesn’t, it’s a neat little bit of knowledge to have that you can share the next time you’re enjoying a new wine.
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