taste

Designed by a female winecologist

Finally, women get a wine of their own. Whether they wanted one or not.

LIANNE GEORGE November 21 2005
taste

Designed by a female winecologist

Finally, women get a wine of their own. Whether they wanted one or not.

LIANNE GEORGE November 21 2005

Designed by a female winecologist

taste

Finally, women get a wine of their own. Whether they wanted one or not.

LIANNE GEORGE

Among marketers, there is a well-worn theory that women will embrace any product if it’s reconfigured in a magenta wrapper and sold with a sassy tag line. In this tradition, Beringer Blass Wine Estates of California recently introduced White Lie, the first wine specifically developed—just like a panty liner!—“for women by women.” Packaged in lipstick red—with one of seven little white lies printed on the cork, including “It was on sale” and “Never on the first date”—White Lie is being marketed as an everyday wine, a lowalcohol, calorie-reduced Chardonnay for the modern gal-on-the-go. If chick lit came in a bottle, it would taste like this.

The past year has seen the emergence of a new niche market in the wine industry—the flummoxed female. In an attempt to remedy an industry-wide belief that women are disproportionately confounded by the beverage— the varietals, the regions, the pricing—wine marketers are creating products with tartedup labels and estrogen-fuelled names like Working Girl, Mad Housewife and Seduction (sold in a blood-red organza gift bag, the packaging equivalent of trashy lingerie).

To further help the fairer sex demystify the wine-shopping experience, books with titles like Wine Chic Women and The Saucy Sisters’ Guide to Wine have shown up—as well as Wine Adventure, “the first wine magazine for women.” One book, Wine for Women: A Guide to Buying, Pairing, and Sharing Wine, by U.S. wine

writer Leslie Sbrocco, helpfully offers fashionrelated mnemonic devices for identifying grapes. Chardonnay, for instance, is the “basic black of any wine wardrobe.” Pinot Noir is the “silk dress of reds.” Unfortunately, this gimmick will be of little use to a reader who wants to know what a given wine actually tastes like— whether it’s sweet or floral or gamy, or whether it goes with chicken.

Behind all these new products is the assumption that anxiety about wine selection is more than anything else a gender issue. According to these equal-opportunity wine advocates, the industry has for too long been geared toward men. Shop clerks, they say, too often steer women toward the cheap stuff, shoo them away like children, or ignore them altogether. “There are many female consumers out there who don’t engage with wine on a regular basis because they find it intimidating to shop for,” says Tracey Mason of Beringer Blass. White Lie, which Mason co-developed and which will be available in Canada next spring, is designed to make the experience more “fun” and “accessible” to women—to “break down the snob barrier.”

Yet all the research suggests that women, as a group, aren’t intimidated at all. In the U.S., women make over 60 per cent of wine purchases. And wine experts say that rather than shying away from confusing products, women are quick to ask questions and take risks when buying wine. “I’ve worked in wine

stores and I’ve talked to buyers as a seller of wine,” says Natalie MacLean, publisher of the popular Canadian wine website Nataliemaclean.com. “What happens is that women are far more likely than men to ask for advice, the same way we’re willing to ask for directions when we’re lost. They aren’t caught up in status and labels the way men are.”

And the belief that women want to drink only dainty, crisp Chardonnays and white Zinfandels? Also false. In fact, the Wine Council of California found that the majority of women prefer reds. “As a woman and a wine writer, I find it boring,” says MacLean of the new gendered approach to wine. “Women

Some advice follows a fashion theme. Pinot Noir? The 'silk dress of reds.'

have been drinking and making some of the best wine for years. Here in Niagara you’ve got Deborah Paskus. In California, you’ve got Helen Turley and Heidi Barrett who make practically all the cult wines that people chase after.” Moreover, the celebrated wine critic Jancis Robinson argues in her memoirs that women are the true arbiters of good wine, since there’s evidence that females have a superior olfactory sense for distinguishing complex aromas.

For reasons Mason can’t fathom, her female peers have not responded favourably to White Lie. “Women in our own industry are saying, ‘Well, why do we need a wine for women? Women are already drinking wine.’ ” This, she says, simply reflects their poor understanding of the brand. Maybe, or maybe it’s that highly developed sense of smell. M

TODAY’S SPECIAL

Nestec, a Swiss-based subsidiary of the Nestlé Corp., recently filed a patent for the world’s first “coffee beer”—although it won’t get anyone drunk and it’s likely to keep a person up all night. The new “fermented coffee beverage” pours slowly and foams like beer, but it’s non-alcoholic, packed with caffeine, and smells intensely of coffee. No word yet on how it will taste, although Nestlé says its fermentation process will introduce “fruity and/or floral notes.”