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Do Women Make Better Sommeliers?

A female sommelier tasting wine

Although more and more women are training to enter the wine world, the industry certainly remains male-dominated. Of the 4391 wineries in California, for example, only 10 percent have a female winemaker employed. However, numerous research studies have found that women are naturally better at tasting wine than men, thus suggesting that they would make better sommeliers.

Researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, Dr Paul Breslin and Pamela Dalton, have spent the past ten years investigating the difference between men and women’s ability to smell. Studying men and women of all ages over several years, it was discovered that women of reproductive age have the edge when it comes to scent identification. When presented with an odour over a period of years, men’s ability to identify it remained ‘stable’, meaning that there was no real improvement in identification. On the other hand, women were able to gain a more refined sense of smell over the years, to the point that they could identify concentrations of the scent up to 11 orders of magnitude lower than the men could!

Because of this, women who are training to be or work as a sommelier may be able to discern between the subtler flavours and scents present as they learn about each wine, better than a male sommelier. The training is the most important aspect, as it isn’t the olfactory system that improves, but rather the brain learning how to differentiate between specific smells.

The same goes for taste, with women coming out on top. This is down to genetics, because some people have a heightened sensitivity to flavour. Known as ‘supertasters’, the superior taste ability is all down to the taste buds, with supertasters having over 100 times the number of taste buds per square centimetre than people who have regular tongues. Around 25 percent of the population have this superior taste ability, and of those, women make up the majority, as they are more than twice as likely to be supertasters than men.  

Most recently, the Technical University of Madrid has conducted their own wine specific studies into gender differences in wine tasting. With 208 volunteers taking part in a blind taste test it was concluded that women can find more differences between wines. In the study, six wines were used; one rosé, two whites and three reds. Rather than finding a biological reason, this study determined that men have a significantly more emotional response to wines than women, leaving them less able to differentiate between different tastes.

Despite these findings, the gender divide in the wine world is still greatly unequal, with only one out of thirteen of the inductees to the Court of Master Sommeliers being a woman last year. In America, 133 of these Master Sommeliers are men, while only 25 are women.

The next time you dine out at a restaurant and the server presents your chosen bottle of wine for tasting, perhaps direct them to a woman at the table! If you’d like to increase your wine collection at home, then check out our range of quality wine cabinets, including Climadiff wine cabinets.



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