Girlie Wines

You want mad? I'll show you mad. . . . 

No one ever went broke marketing anything to women, so I wasn't surprised to open an e-mailed press release and read about Rainier Wine's new "female-targeted" "lifestyle" brands. Coming soon to a point-of-purchase display near the high-end caramels, fashion magazines, and other female-targeted lifestyle wines near you: Mad Housewife and Grand Embrace. In this space two weeks ago, I wondered if women can really taste wine better than men, and now I'm wondering if "women's" wines can possibly taste any better than, well, what would they be called? Men's wines? Gender-neutral wines? Actually, I'm sure I already know the answer to that, but what bothers me is that other women—and men—are apparently not so sure. I'd like to think that the women I know would see gimmicky bottles like Olympic Cellars' Rosé the Riveter and keep on walking (and I'd like to think that no man I know would pick up a bottle of Marilyn Merlot), but women do buy and consume more than half of the wine sold in this country, and it's clear that someone is falling for this stuff. Maybe there's even a fairly valid reason for falling for it; the Mad Housewife 2002 California cabernet sauvignon isn't at all interesting on the palate, but it's aggressively drinkable, smooth, and relatively tannin-free. I can easily imagine a new wine drinker—someone maybe intimidated by the new-to-their-palate flavors they encounter in over-the-head reds—going, "Hey, I found a cabernet sauvignon that I can drink!" I'm all for everyone drinking whatever floats their boat, but now Ms. New Wine Drinker has a somewhat skewed expectation of cabernet sauvignon, and she might end up thinking that she'd better stick with these "women's" wines. God help her if she identifies with the silly caricature of an egg-beater-bearing '50s housewife on the front label or the absurdist babble on the back of the bottle, which seems to have been written by a bubble-bath marketer: "Somewhere near the cool shadows of the laundry room. Past the litter box and between the plastic yard toys. This is your time." To paraphrase the immortal words of Fast Times at Ridgemont High's Jeff Spicoli, "If I'm here and you're here, doesn't that make it our time?" And I really don't want any of this pejorative, stereotype-perpetuating hooey being poured on my watch, thanks. Right about now you're scrolling down to the bottom of this page where my e-mail address is and inviting me to just relax already. You're thinking: What's the big deal? Wine can be intimidating, that's the big deal, and if you tell women that they need a pink-hued cartoon icon on the bottle in order to get inside it, you're doing them a big disservice—and you're ripping them off. Wine companies know that we buy the wine (which must mean we bring home some bacon, too, but still they frame us as litter-box-tending housewives), and in packaging it this way, they're telling us not to worry about training our palates, developing our vocabulary, or identifying our personal preferences. It's the same problem I have with Leslie Sbrocco's wardrobe/wine mnemonic devices. We don't need tricks. Or gimmicks. "I find some of my female customers may express that they 'don't know anything about wine,'" the Spanish Table's Catherine Reynolds told me, "but when coaxed into responding to palate preferences—i.e., smooth versus spicy, oaky/buttery versus fresh and clean—they indeed do know what they like!" To illustrate, she told me the story of a couple that came in recently looking for some white wine. The man said the woman liked sweet wines, and the woman, perhaps feeling put on the spot, said she actually didn't have much of a wine palate, yet minutes later she was describing the flavor of fiddlehead ferns in intimate detail. Sensing raw talent, Reynolds drew her out, and the couple eventually went home with a gender-neutral, gimmick-free vino verde.

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