In one of those trend pieces that seem to resurface every few years, the Washington Post addressed the growing number of female sommeliers this week. While ostensibly meant to reflect the wine world’s increasing gender parity, the article—annoyingly titled
Sip, She Says”—shows that it’s not just the old-boy wine geeks who still harbor gender stereotypes, but sometimes the women sommeliers themselves. They’re subtler stereotypes, to be sure, but they’re striking nonetheless:

Some women say their gender gives them a tableside advantage when it comes to one of the most important parts of the job: the sales pitch. ‘Women are better at the soft sell,’ says Nadine Brown, the 34-year-old sommelier at Charlie Palmer Steak near Union Station. ‘I have an approachable attitude. I’m conscious of not being snooty and looking down my nose at people.’

A Jamaica native, Brown sees a benefit from her background in social work and thinks her opening line—‘What are you in the mood for?’—creates an emotional tie with the customer. ‘I don’t think a man would say that. The tone of my voice is reassuring.’

Ah, yes, because women are by default so nurturing and down-to-earth. Riiiiight.

Where the Post sidesteps the tricky question of whether gender-based taste preferences actually exist, a better article by Food & Wine in 2003 tackled the issue head-on:

The stereotype is that female sommeliers go for crisp, light whites rather than the superextracted, high-alcohol ones—the ‘penis wines,’ one female sommelier calls them. There’s some truth to this; again and again, I heard female sommeliers rave about Austrian Grüner Veltliner, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Loire Chenin Blanc. Lean and bright were their favorite adjectives, while they used big and fruit-forward almost as slurs.

This preference for more nuanced flavors may have to do with biology. Several studies have found that the majority of so-called supertasters—people blessed with double the normal number of taste buds—are women.

Supertasters ostensibly have subtler palates and are turned off by cloying, fruity flavors; the article suggests that this could be the reason women like the leaner wines. Is there any truth to this hypothesis, in your experience? F&W’s reporter didn’t find too much support for it among those he polled: “The woman sommeliers I spoke to bristled … when I suggested they might be tailoring their lists to the female palate.”

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