Wine, women and today's outdated etiquette

A lingering bias often favors males

January 07, 2004|By Andrea Coombes | Andrea Coombes,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

If you were a waiter serving a couple at an upscale restaurant, to whom would you hand the wine list?

Most times, the answer is the man. Even when a woman requests the wine list and orders the bottle, a male sitting at the same table will be offered the first taste, according to wine-industry experts.

"Women are not getting the menus. They're ordering the wine and then the taste comes back to the fella," said Cecile Giannangeli, president of online wine source FineWine.com and owner of two wine stores in the Washington, D.C., area.

"It's simply an outdated etiquette," said Leslie Sbrocco, author of the recently released book Wine for Women: A Guide to Buying, Pairing and Sharing Wines.

Some restaurants in urban areas are making changes. "Lists are put in the middle of the table, or tastes are poured for both sexes," Sbrocco said. But the bias continues, including at specialty-wine stores, where store clerks often assume women know little and care less about fine wine.

In fact, women make up the majority of U.S. wine drinkers. Sixty percent of the 25 million Americans who drink wine weekly or more often are women. And women represent 59 percent of the 28 million marginal wine drinkers who consume wine less often than weekly, according to the Wine Market Council.

And women are a majority of buyers in the fine-wine market as well, Sbrocco said. "Women comprise 60 percent of high-end wine buyers, as defined as those who spend more than $15 [per bottle] and have 12 or more bottles on hand," she said, citing industry research. Still, men are usually the collectors, more inclined to put together a cellar and concentrate on wines that earn 100-point scores from wine judges.

"It's an area that women have typically stayed out of in part because of financial restraints, but more importantly because of their lack of confidence and knowledge," Giannangeli said.

That may be changing. Women are joining Giannangeli's monthly Women's Wine Tasting Club events, eager to upgrade their skills. "It's fascinating. They have a lot of pent-up anger about being underserved. They want to know and learn and try new things," she said.

Other signs also point to women's increasing interest in fine wine. "More women are taking our master of wine courses," said Angel Nardone, executive director of the American Wine Society, a nonprofit educational organization. "They use it as a credential when they want to lecture or when they are judges."

And more women are enrolling in the AWS' wine-judge certification course, she said. "They want to be able to certify as a wine judge so they can participate in competitions." Women's presence in AWS classes has jumped to about one-third or one-half of all enrollees, Nardone said, up from about one-fifth a decade ago.

Women who enter the world of fine wine tend to approach the idea differently from men. "Men are much more concerned about points. Women want to know what it tastes like. Points are an added bonus, not a prerequisite," Giannangeli said.

Sbrocco agreed. After nearly a decade of writing and lecturing about wine, she decided to write a book aimed at women's particular relationship to wine.

"It's not that I recommend different wines for men or women," Sbrocco said. "It's that I really took into account the approach that women have. It's a very lifestyle approach. It's less, `What did that rate, what did it score, how big is my cellar, who won the game' and more of a `Tell me what it tastes like, what food does it go with.' "

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