A few years ago I was ranting about everything, including Robert Parker, men, women, menopause, and wine. This is the article I wrote after snarling about Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 list. Unfortunately, I was hacked and lost a lot of files – including my WE rant – but I found this one in the archives. Enjoy!
It’s not just perception. It’s a reality. Women have better taste buds than men. They are far more sensitive to nuances of foods, often have a harder time eating hot foods than men, and as a group tend to eschew bitter foods. Their olfactory senses (smellers) are better, which is why a woman is more likely to wake up smelling smoke in the event of a house fire long before her husband.
These are known facts. Studies from both Harvard and Yale make the argument; it’s based on the number of taste buds and the sensitivity of these taste buds in individuals. There are supertasters, regular tasters, and nontasters. More women than men tend to be supertasters.
So why is it that the overwhelming majority of official wine tasters and critics are men? It’s not because they’re better at the sniffing or tasting. It’s because they have better memories. And because they don’t go through menopause.
Let me explain.
Robert Parker is known as one of the top gurus of wine critics. Essentially, he can make or break a winery just by his pronouncements. Apparently, his taste buds are magical, his analysis flawless, and his word infallible and nearly divine.
Why do I risk bringing the wrath of Parkerphiles upon my head? Because I don’t agree with him, that’s why. (insert “neener neener” here) I’ve found that more often than not, wines that he heralds as the current elixir of the gods, in the opinion of my feminine, scientifically ascertained to be well-developed taste buds, are often overdone, overripe, and too much over the top for me. If he proclaims something as being relentlessly mediocre, I’m busting my budget and buying as much as I can – or can’t – afford. He did that to Kosta Browne a couple of years ago, and their prices and sales temporarily tanked. Thank you oh sheeple! I’m still drinking the bottles I was able to scarf up for a song! And they are, of course, absolutely perfect. Unfortunately, when sanity returned, so did the prices. Oh well.
So what does this have to do with menopause?
Robert Parker – and all of the other male critics, actually – have an almost magical ability to recall elusive and obscure scents and tastes as they sniff, taste, and drink wine. Ever since hormonal holocaust hit me a couple of years ago, my brain cells began their self-immolation and slow decent into an estrogen-starved hell. As the tide began to ebb and flow, so did my memory.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had my nose in a glass of wine and while trying to appear cool, urbane, and learned, was desperately trying to remember what in the hell that particular set of aromas was. It’s good, but damned if I can remember what it is! And I may take the glass away from my nose, look quietly thoughtful, and put on a Mona Lisa-like smile before making some sort of declaration that sounds authentic and plausible. And hope like heck that nobody calls me on it. If you saw my post entitled “I Love Cat Pee in My Wine,” you may recall that I made a comment about “spice box.” That’s one of my favorite terms. Hopefully the wine is red when I say it.
So does this mean that every time that I taste wine I’m making stuff up? Of course not! Most of the time everything works like a smoothly oiled engine, where I can recall those long-forgotten scents of crispy, fresh-from-the-oven sugar cookies, Grandma’s peach cobbler with that extra touch of nutmeg, the slightly sulphuric pungency of a freshly struck match, or the warm aroma of a barn after the cows have been milked and the dirt floors hosed down and swept. There are simply some wines that bring memories flooding in, both on the nose and on the palate. And if I’m tasting those wines when the estrogen tide is at full crest, then I will pit my nose hairs, taste buds (and memory) against any of the male wine critics out there. With confidence, arrogance, and in full total recall. Even if though it’s obvious they aren’t – or ever – going through “the change.”
Of course, unlike Robert Parker and his ilk, I don’t have to make my living depending upon my senses, where no matter if everything is working together or not, you still must come up with *something* to say. If I had to do it and what’s left of my hormones isn’t walking in lockstep, then it really doesn’t matter what I’m sniffing and sipping. I would still have to produce a plausible, but accurate, review. But what to do if I can’t?
Maybe drink a glass of soy milk and drag out a spice box. I think.
PS, 2015: I’m so much better now that I’m no longer dealing with hormonal tsunamis. All is well and I rock at tasting!