Women working in the world of wine tell us what they like to drink - and how they cope with wine bores, writes JOHN WILSON
Do women drink wine differently? I am wary of generalising about any specific group of people. An article about Marlborough Sauvignon, Pinot Gris and girly rosés would offend as many women as it would please, especially coming from a man.
The wine business was very slow to recognise that much of the huge growth in wine consumption over the past few decades was fuelled by women. Wine shops remained fairly macho places, and advertising was aimed squarely at the middle-class male. These days, it is all very different; women both drink and buy more wine than men. Magazines, newspapers and TV have plenty of advertising featuring groups of young, glamorous women enjoying themselves with a glass of wine.
The large producers obviously believe that women, and young women in particular, prefer light, fruity wines with no oak and no tannin, something they can enjoy without food when socialising with friends.
Sinead Cabot of wine importer Cabot Co argues that this stereotype is partly the equivalent of the lager-drinking male. “The perception is that girls want something fashionable, without too much alcohol or taste, that will get them nicely merry over a few hours.”
This group was encapsulated perfectly by Polly Vernon in the Observer a few years ago: “Men take wine too seriously. They want to master it, they want to dress it up in mystery and tradition, and imbue it with an intrinsic maleness so they can feel superior about it. Women on the other hand just want to drink it until they feel like singing Wichita Linesman. Wine is actually there for drinking and being drunk. That’s why it was invented.”
The two women I talked to both mentioned men’s preoccupation with status. “I can’t stand what the French refer to as a ‘buvueur d’etiquettes’, someone who drinks by the label, like an art collector who only buys big names and doesn’t seek out new works,” says Emma Tyrrell of Tyrrell Co. “If I find myself sitting beside someone who starts reeling off all the great producers and vintages they’ve drunk, I try to change the subject.”
Cabot agrees: “Men tend to buy the big labels. Possibly they need reassurance or it’s a competitive thing. Women are more intuitive and confident.” Her choice of wine depends on her mood. “Men get up, look in their wardrobe and put on the first thing they find. A woman will ask herself, ‘how do I feel?’ and choose that way. Wine is the same. On Christmas Eve, when I’m too tired and hungry to think about making something to eat, I’ll reach for a bottle of vintage sparking Merlot or Shiraz from Australia. The rich, velvet, dark fruits, the long liquorice finish and the soothing mousse deliver everything I need at that moment. If I need to be woken up, I’ll have a glass of German Riesling, bright, pure fruit with citrus, flint, honey and sherbet. A mouthful of this feels like someone has grabbed hold of my cheeks and given them a few good tugs.