The following is a guest post written by Marlene Rossman. See her bio at the end of this post. Alternatively, read her full bio here: Marlene Rossman Bio. (please click “about” to get her bio). You may also find her on Facebook by clicking here.
My husband often says that I smell great. Partly joking, he explains that I have a more pleasing aroma than he does AND that I am very sensitive to aromas and odors in wine/food. Walking into our home one evening after a nice restaurant dinner, I said, “Honey, I smell gas.” He immediately said,
“It wasn’t me, it must have been the dog.” I explained that I did not mean that kind of gas, but the gas from the stove. He did not smell anything, but I found that I had left a burner on very, very low!
So why has fine wine traditionally been the preserve of men? And how has the enjoyment of wine became a man thing? There used to be men-only drinking clubs and tasting events where men gathered to share Parker scores and boast about which wines they had the previous night. In 1978, I joined New York’s Les Amis du Vin and was the only women participant for many years. I was also thoroughly ignored by the all- male group, but that’s another story.
Desmond Morris, who gained fame with his 1967 book The Naked Ape,is a British zoologist who focuses on people. Dr. Morris caused quite a controversy in a 1994 TV documentary when he said, “it has been demonstrated scientifically that women have a better sense of smell than men. Men and women
evolved with different strengths and weaknesses, and to believe otherwise is to ignore what biology shows to be true… women, for example, will never dominate championship chess because of the nature of their brain functions,” he says. “Men, on the other hand, rightfully should surrender wine-making to women because of the female’s more acute sense of smell.” It has been hypothesized that women’s highly developed sense of smell is a throwback to when women had to identify their offspring by their smell.
Smell is the most important sense with regard to wine because most of what we call wine ‘flavor’ is its aroma. “Women are better at identifying aromas and can detect them at a lower PPM (parts per million) concentration than men,” according to Dr. Ann Noble, a sensory chemist and retired professor from the University of California, Davis, who invented the “Aroma Wheel.” (Dr. Noble’s wheel is credited with enhancing the public understanding of wine tasting and terminology.) That’s not to say that men aren’t terrific wine tasters and appreciators — of course they are (just ask any man!) Anyone can train themselves to be an educated taster, but wine is ultimately about enjoyment.
Backing up Dr. Noble’s research are a number of studies showing women outperform men in tests on odor sensitivity. Tim Jacobs, Professor of Physiology at Cardiff University (UK), said: “Some studies have shown smells activate a greater region in the brain in women than men. There is a wealth of scientific data showing women’s superiority at identifying and detecting odors at even very small concentrations.” And two other U.S. studies (one in Pennsylvania and one at Yale) showed that women consistently outperformed men in matters of odor identification and smell.
When it comes to wine tasting, the nose will tell you that there have been impartations from oak barrels if you pick up on vanilla, nuts, bread, cereal, or butterscotch smells. Swirl the wine and sniff – if it smells like a wet dog, or a dank basement, chances are the wine has been spoiled by a bad cork (this only happens to about 3% of all wines) A corked wine does not mean that little pieces of cork are floating in the wine. It means it is spoiled with TCA or trichloroanisole. Try tasting wine when you have a cold, and see what happens. Probably nothing, as the sense of smell is really the sense of taste.
Some research suggests that women’s greater olfactory sensitivity is linked to the hormone estrogen. And a couple of years ago in the United Kingdom, pregnant women were recruited by Tesco (a supermarket) as wine-tasters after bosses found they had better senses of taste and smell. Store chiefs stumbled across the secret when four pregnant women were working in the 40-strong wine department at its HQ. They could all detect subtle differences between wines. Now, bosses are taking on more moms as tasters to choose the best wines to go on sale. Wine-taster Helen McGinn, 31, who was 6 1⁄2 months’ pregnant, said: “Now we will be better equipped than ever to sniff out the best wines for our customers.”
© Marlene Rossman
According to her bio, “Marlene is the wine columnist for Chef magazine and writes on wine for Andy Dias Blue’s Tasting Panel, Sommelier Journal and International Sommelier magazines. She was the Editor-in-Chief and columnist for Wine Country International magazine, wine columnist/editor for Orange County Home, New York’s Flatiron magazine and wrote for Beverage Media, and Wine Business Monthly. She was the featured commentator with Stephen Spurrier, in a program on “American Wine” produced by Associated Press Television News. She is a member of the North American Sommelier Association.” She is a former sommelier and currently the distinguished instructor of wine at UC-Irvine.