Wine Talk: The (female) nose

2 groundbreaking studies show that women consistently outperform men in matters of odor identification and smell, and thus make better wine tasters.

Wine smelling cartoon 311 (photo credit: MCT)
Wine smelling cartoon 311
(photo credit: MCT)
Quite apart from historical prejudice or religion, wine has always been seen as a men’s preserve. Work in the vineyard and winery was heavy, physical, and took up long, unsocial hours. As a result, the vineyard and winery became a place for men only.
Furthermore the enjoyment of wine became a man thing. There were 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 England the port was passed around the table, but only after the women had left the room.
However women came to the fore in a very important facet of wine enjoyment.
They were proved to be better tasters.
There were two groundbreaking studies, one in Cardiff and the other in Pennsylvania, which both showed that women consistently outperformed men in matters of odor identification and smell. Furthermore another study at Yale identified that about 25% of the population had the potential to be super tasters, with the ability to taste more sensitively than the remainder of the population. The socalled super tasters had more taste buds and a greater sensitivity to taste differences.
The researchers found that women were the majority in this category.
Furthermore, it was realized that men tend to categorize wine using the left side of their brain. Scores, ratings and all the details surrounding the wine are important.
Women are more likely to use the right side of the brain, which is more sensory, creative and artistic. A man is generally interested in the minutiae of the wine. A woman is more interested in the taste.
Marketeers were slow to realize that the bulk of wine purchases are not made by men, but by women in supermarkets.
So women are better tasters than men, and they buy more wine than men, but it still took a few women pioneers and a few centuries to break the glass ceiling in the wider wine world. However, in the last 30 years, there has been a change.
There has also been a breakthrough in Israel. The hardest nut to crack was that of winemaker. Women could not be part of the actual winemaking in a kosher winery, as only Orthodox men are permitted to touch the wine, plant and machinery during the production process. However, they could be active in the vineyards and take the same managerial role in a winery as any winemaker in a kosher winery.
The pioneer was Tali Sandovski, who became a winemaker at the Golan Heights Winery in 1986 and then studied at UC Davis. She is the winery’s longest serving winemaker. Other women were to follow. Naama Mualem studied in California and Australia before taking over as winemaker at Dalton Winery. Another female winemaker is Irit Shenk Boxer who works at Barkan-Segal, which is managed by her father.
The first female “owner winemaker” was Orna Chillag, whose Chillag Winery was founded in 1998. Now there is also Tzina Avidan of Avidan Winery, and Roni Saslove partners her father in making the wines at Saslove Winery.
Women also broke into management of the larger wineries. Ronit Badler became the first managing director of an Israeli winery, managing Galil Mountain Winery.
Anat Rushansky Levy is currently managing director of Golan Heights Winery.
Carmi Lebenstein was firstly sales manager and later marketing manager of Carmel Mizrahi in the 1990s, and she recently looked after marketing at Barkan.
The current marketing manager at Carmel Winery is Ifat Rozenberg Moshan. The previous marketing managers of Galil Mountain and Binyamina Winery were respectively Carmit Ehrenreiche and Timna Shitreet.
Many of the sommeliers in Israel are women. Hadas Ezer was Israel’s first woman sommelier of note, at the Keren Restaurant in Jaffa. She is now an importer of fine burgundies to Israel. Ruti Ben Israel studied in Italy to become a sommelier and returned to Israel to become manager of Carmel’s Center for Wine Culture at Zichron Ya’acov. Debbie Shoham is education manager of the Golan Heights Winery.
Mira Eitan was Israel’s main female wine journalist, writing in the past for Globes and Ma’ariv. She then edited the Wine and Gourmet magazine for 5 years. She is now the media and communications manager for Carmel Winery and part of their wine development department.
There is a current initiative by Carmel to organize regular tasting and cultural events for women only. Each meeting is over-subscribed.
More and more women are having the confidence to participate, taste wine and give an opinion. The development of the women consumer and the flowering of female wine experts is the next trend already under way.
So the glass ceiling is well and truly cracked here too. Thankfully women feature strongly in Israeli wine today and the industry is better for their presence and expertise.
Wine of the Week

1848 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
1848 is a new boutique wine launched by Zion Winery, and owned by the Shor family, which opened the first recorded winery in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1848. It is a blend of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot and 3% Petite Sirah, aged in oak for 25 months. The wine is full bodied, oaky with an aroma of blackcurrant and cassis. The winery is today run by the eighth generation.
This new project is the latest praiseworthy step by this most traditional winery to revert to quality, dry table wines.
Cost: NIS 128.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes on wine in both Israeli and international publications.

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