With Women's Day just around the corner, I stopped to ask myself, what
do women want when it comes to wine? Are we really so far removed from
male wine drinkers as Venus is from Mars? Down the rabbit hole we go ...
The modern South African wine industry, and, in fact, that of the world, think they know what young women wine drinkers, like me, want in a wine. They try to provide us with wine that appease our 'girly' palates and assume we are all diet obsessed, desperately wanting to be skinny and therefore prefer a low-calorie wine. They imagine us 25 to 35 year olds playfully tossing our hair as we select a bottle of vino at the store to match our mood, rather than our food. They are convinced we crave an easy-sipping flavour profile with a naughty edge of sweetness.
Urrgh ... The whole thing makes me cringe. Yes, so we do like high heeled shoes and other pretty things, and yes studies have shown that we are more likely to pick a wine with an appealing front label and logo and we are easily swayed by the overall look of a wine's packaging, but that does not mean we like dumbed-down wines with little or no character. I mean ... Hello? Do they not realise, that in our age group, we make up to just over half of South Africa's noteworthy wine consumers?
I'll tell you what we want ... We crave quality wines with tangible complexity and permanence; wines that keep on giving, layers upon layers. We long for wines that are alive, for that perfect balance between fruit, acidity, tannins and wood. We want bottled poetry, elegance in our glass, something that lingers, that moves us; something worth savouring – just like any other serious wine drinkers out there.
Certainly our palates all differ; we are all individuals after all. We enjoy different things and that's wonderful. Some ladies prefer lighter wines like whites or rosé, and other prefer more voluptuous reds. There is great beauty in diversity – us, as South Africans, should understand that better than anyone. In terms of gender, male and female consumers have different preferences and attitudes towards wine, and the fact is we taste wine differently from what men do. It is simply assumed we prefer sweeter fruitier wines, like white wines and sparkling wine, but in actual fact, according to the University of Pretoria’s study in 2009, we actually drink more fuller bodied red wine than men. Funny that.
Experts are constantly amazed at how many women have acute sensitivity to the subtle nuances in wine and I have experienced women to be far more likely to detect a slight cork taint in a wine before a similarly experienced male wine drinker does. Why? Is the difference in likes and dislikes biological? Scientifically speaking the average woman has a better sense of smell and more taste buds than the average man, so technically we are capable of experiencing a wine differently from what men do. More women are known to be 'super tasters', which means we experience the five taste sensations – sweet, sour, salt, bitter and umami – more intensely. That doesn't necessarily make us better tasters per se; we are simply better able to notice those faint variances in a wine that men might not be able to identify as easily. Perhaps, to a degree, this is because we, as young women, are just that little bit more willing to try new things, enjoy being informed, are interested in discovering more about wine, and are open to new taste experience than the women of previous generations.
Research has shown that women also had a significantly stronger preference for obtaining wine information at the point of sale, for example reading wine labels and shelf tags in store, asking store personnel for advice, asking the sommelier for a recommendation or studying the wine list in restaurants. Men, on the other hand prefer reading wine books and other literature in order to learn more about wine. Again, one is not better than the other, we are simply wired differently.
So, to get back to that age-old question that even Freud struggled to find an answer to; "What do women want?" Ninety-odd years later, here is the answer ... South African wine industry, listen up: We want complex wines equal to the complexity of our feminine nature – multifaceted, alluring, haunting. No pressure.