Men are from Mars, women are from Venus -- or so we were told by psychologist John Gray in his bestselling paean to gender stereotypes. But do wine-buying habits reduce psycho-theories to dust and reunite us? I conducted an informal poll of 15 men and women of varying wine interests to find out what enters their minds when facing a wall full of wine. I found out -- gasp! -- we're all pretty much the same.
Although asking for directions isn't manly, both sexes seek advice from wine retailers. Marty Young, a computer geek, observes, "My girlfriend tends to ask about flavor: 'Do you have an oak-y red with chocolate tones?' But I shop by varietal and region: 'Can you recommend a Chilean Cabernet?' I think that is probably because, in classic male fashion, I flatter myself that I know what a Chilean Cab should taste like."
Susan Edwards, an editor, confesses her bumbling humbleness, "I wish I could say I always make a list based on what my favorite wine writers have recently recommended, but the best I can do is hazily remember the topic and ask the person at the wine store which ones they recommend."
One thing stood out: Men didn't trust the retailers as much. Computer-systems troubleshooter Paul Hart admits, "I like [store-owner recommendations], but only after I get to know the owner. Are they just moving inventory or are they truly interested in meeting my expectations?" Tom Chandler, a project manager, notes, "If I am in a wine store, I usually try to squeeze the owner to hear what he likes but not particularly what he sells a lot of."
Some wineries openly admit they package their crappy wines in eye-catching bottles, and women fall for it more often. Amber Abram, a manager, confesses, "[I'm] totally a sucker for wine-label art and even the color/shape of the bottle. I figure if they have a sense of humor, the wine can't be bad either." Artist Katy Alderman says, "I am drawn to certain labels. That doesn't necessarily mean I'll buy the wine because of the label, but I often find myself asking about the wines with the intriguing labels." Looking beyond beauty for once, men tend to study the labels to glean more information. Winery rep Bob Kreisher: "The other day, I chose between two Argentinean malbecs. Same price. One said its grapes come from two specific high-altitude vineyards. The other one didn't specify. I chose the one that specified."
Believe it or not, price doesn't dominate, but it does influence the final decision. Museum maven Simone Bennett says, "I'm willing to pay a lot more for a wine that I know is good. But if I'm exploring a new wine, I'm a little bit more frugal." Tom Wagner, a photographer, admits, "When memory fails (as it usually does), I fall to looking for [shelf tags with wine-magazine ratings] and affordable prices. I figure if an expert (at least someone clever enough to get paid to rate wines) says something is better than others, far be it for me to disagree." Financial-services slave Jim Sutherland sums it up: "I'm not really influenced by price because I've tasted inexpensive wines that were terrific and expensive wines that I wasn't wild about."
Other people mention buying wines based on tastings, but the hazy aftereffects often clouded their memory. Don't we all hate it when that happens?
Tamas Estates 2002 Sangiovese San Francisco Bay Livermore Valley -- Strawberry and vanilla, like Neopolitan ice cream. Plenty of acids and backbone to please with food as well. $16.
Quivira 2002 Sauvignon Blanc Fig Tree Vineyards -- Full-bodied, full-flavored like a Chardonnay, but surprise! It's Sauvignon Blanc. Vanilla and white peach gush from its elegant drops. $18.