Expensive Wines, Men v Women, and Peacock Feathers

Women are less likely to buy expensive wine than are men, even when you control for personal disposable income. This is the conclusion drawn by Wine Intelligence, which did an analysis in 2018 and further concluded that women “Could they be the next growth opportunity?” This matches what we’ve known for a long time about gender-based wine buying patterns. Men are far more likely to seek out and purchase expensive and collectible wines.

The Wine Intelligence explanation for women not equally participating in the purchase of high-end wines is this:

“One clue may come from differing gender attitudes to money in general. It has long been a cultural cliché that women should hold the purse strings, and recent data from online financial services would appear to bear this out. A study of its US customer base published in 2018 by Stash, an investing app, suggested that women were more cautious and sensible with their money, and less tolerant of risky or aggressive investing strategies….

“Our US data on wine drinker attitudes consistently shows that, while women appear to know as much about wine as men, they are significantly less confident in that knowledge. As such, they gravitate towards reassurance and safety in their wine choices, and will often opt for a cheaper, tried-and-tested wine over a more expensive and unknown product.”

I don’t think the difference between men and women in gravitating toward more expensive wines has much do with confidence in their knowledge. For as long as I’ve been in the wine business it has been very clear that men are far more likely than women to use wine as an object of conspicuous consumption.

Whether a matter of culture or sex differences, it’s clear that women and men use different items to signal or attempt to raise their community and cultural status. My experience tells me that men are far more likely to engage in the wine auction market, even to the extent that it becomes a means for them to be seen as “winners”. And though on a much smaller scale, the acquisition of showy, well-endorsed wine is far more likely to be used by men to display their feathers and to connect with other peacocks of the male variety.

The Wine Intelligence researcher who explained the company’s findings, Lulie Halstead, wrote: “I am now beginning to understand the everyday-sexist trope of my husband being handed the wine list in a restaurant, and him receiving more attention from the wine store clerk when we were in New York in the summer (as it happens, conducting qualitative research for the same Premiums report). Consciously or not, retailers and sommeliers alike seem to know who is more likely to boost the transaction value.”

Of course they know men are more likely to spend more on wine. Whether this knowledge and acting on this knowledge in the way Ms. Halstead experienced amounts to sexism is another question for philosophers and ethicists. However, it’s certainly an economically sound practice. 



12 Responses

  1. Marcia Macomber - November 12, 2019

    Absent from this report is mention of how the gender pay gap may be affecting how much women spend on wine. At the current gap rate of 82 cents* earned on males’ dollar earnings, women understandably have less disposable income to indulge on either more expensive wine or a greater quantity of wine purchased.

    Find a way to close that gap more rapidly and we may, indeed, begin to see women spending more disposable income on this libation.

    * 82 cents for white women. Latina women earn 58 cents and Black women 65 cents against ever white male’s dollar.

  2. Liz Holtzclaw - November 12, 2019

    Spot on Tom. Women are far less likely to overspend on wine than men, as you point out, because we don’t use wine as a means of showing off. Does that mean that the people whose job it is to sell expensive wines should alter their approach to make sure that my feminine sensibilities are not bruised, I would say no. By all means feel free to hand the wine list to the fellow I’m with. I will get my value and validation in some other way, thank you.
    I’m of the age when ultra fine dining had two sets of menus: one with prices for the gentlemen, and a separate set of menus for ladies that did not have prices. If I was dining alone or with other females, we all got menus with prices. If I was dining with a gentleman, he got the menu with prices and I didn’t. As long as I am taken seriously in business and education, I don’t care if I’m stereotyped by a server or retail clerk.

  3. Liz Holtzclaw - November 12, 2019

    Marcia, while the pay gap is real, I do not believe that it has a bearing on how much I will spend on wine. That is not the driver in this instance. I’m a foodie and if the item I want is expensive, I will determine if I’m willing to spend the money based on how much the enjoyment is worth to me, budget or not.

  4. Tom Wark - November 12, 2019


    I suspect we are from the same generation and era. I don’t know if I ever received a menu with prices, while my companion did not. That said, seems the job of a server or clerk is to treat everyone with respect, to try to determine who will make decision, then go from there. However, when we are talkinbg about big dollar purchases, those clerks and servers will be on firm ground if they make the kind of assumptions you and I know are sound.

  5. Tom Wark - November 12, 2019


    If the gender pay gap was only 5 cents, I wonder if this well established dynamic of men being more likelly than women to use wine as a way to join the club and to measure themselves would be much different. I don’t think it would because I have doubts that the difference is a matter of pay rather than a matter of gender cultures. But I could be wrong.

  6. Marcia Macomber - November 12, 2019

    Tom, I’m sure it’s a bit of both: cultures and closing the pay gap. Culture will change AS the pay gap closes. What once may have been more extravagant to some will lessen as more disposable income is generated.

    The article cites 6 million women being MIA in wine purchases. Could it be that some of it relates to the amount of disposable income available to them in comparison to how much is available to their males counterparts?

    I completely agree that many men make wine purchases for status and show.

  7. Tom Wark - November 12, 2019


    The article spoke of 6 million women being MIA on wine purchases over $20 per bottle. Not missing entirely. Now could that be related to the pay gap? Sure. But to determine that we’d want to know if there was an even bigger gap in women and men purchasing $20 bottles of wine when the pay gap was larger.

    The study showed that “the female share of wine drinkers spending over $20 in off premise FELL to 35%. My guess is that means it fell not over time but FROM the level that men spend on $20 per bottle and over. But it’s not clear. In any case, we’d need to see what share of $20 bottles of wine were purchased by women when the pay gap was larger. Now that would be interesting.

  8. Christian Miller - November 12, 2019

    I haven’t crunched the numbers for a few years, but last time I did the gender pay gap accounted for a large portion, but not most of the difference in purchasing wine over $20. Based on past consumer research, men are far more likely to be points-chasers.

  9. Helene - November 13, 2019

    We know Lulie very well (as she’s based in London) and Wine Intelligence do very good research.

    What is interesting is that often in the UK nowadays the waiter or sommelier, even in the top restaurants, will often ask, ‘Who is choosing the wine?’ If it’s my husband and I, then we don’t really care; with one MW and one amateur top sommelier, either or even (usually) both!

    Re: priced and un-priced menus…well, there are still a few restaurants in the UK where this still occurs. However, the practice is far more prevalent in the best restaurants in Paris!

  10. Paul Vandenberg - November 13, 2019

    As a producer, tasting room host, former wine steward, former waiter.
    Stupid expensive wine is primarily bought by males. I do believe, like expensive, chunky analog watches, it is all about status and image.
    Trying to convince women to spend $500 for a bottle of wine to ensure they get laid? Or impress their male cohort? Don’t think so.
    I’ve often wondered if there might be a correlation between penis size and bottle price. My sisters assure me there is a correlation in other status objects!

  11. Bill St. Croix - November 14, 2019


    Stupid expensive wine buyer here 🙂

    On a more serious note, I have always tried to find values on the menu, regardless of price, and wines that I cannot easily get (older vintages, special vintages (like birthday year or anniversary year)) and the like. I don’t do so for any phallically driven reason, either.

    On the pay-gender gap, I have simply found that as I have had the opportunity to earn more money, my disposable income level rises and my cost threshold for many purchases increase.

    While one could attribute the findings to a gender pay gap, I think it is just simply ‘pay gap’ as when I made $30K a year, I would never consider spending $100 on a bottle of wine and now I will spend that or more for special occasions or a splurge, etc..

    It’s very nice to have that luxury and I am grateful for that as I know that can be snatched away at any point.

  12. BOB HENRY - November 26, 2019


    I have a quibble with this statement:

    “For as long as I’ve been in the wine business it has been very clear that men are far more likely than women to use wine as an object of conspicuous consumption.”

    I organize wine cellars in Los Angeles. Sell off a few, too.

    Wine stored in a home wine cellar is wine consumed INconspicuously, in the privacy of one’s home.

    It’s not the same as conspicuous consumption — such as driving a Ferrari around the block for all the “Keeping Up With the Jones” neighbors can see and covet.

    Or for all your work cohorts to see parked in the company garage — perhaps (if you are a big enough VIP) with your “Reserved for” name stenciled on the concrete block “stopper.”

    (I used to work for a movie studio. That was one of the perks of being in senior management.)

    Even bringing your trophy wines to a fine dining restaurant isn’t that conspicuous. The vast majority of fellow dinners are complete strangers. Even if you impressed the adjacent tables with your discerning good taste and deep pockets, they won’t know who you are.

    I can think of only conspicuous occasions to impress fellow wine collectors.

    One is participating in the “Bring Your Own Magnum” tasting sponsored by Wine Spectator during Auction Napa Valley.

    URL: https://www.winespectator.com/articles/three-decades-of-big-bottles

    The other is attending La Paulée tasting in New York or San Francisco, where it is de rigueur to bring an expensive bottle of Burgundy to share with fellow collectors/imbibers . . who in turn share their bottles with you.

    URL: http://www.lapaulee.com/program-2019

    For other comments on Wine Intelligence’s report titled “MISSING: 6 MILLION FEMALE PREMIUM WINE DRINKERS,” navigate to David Morrison Ph.D.’s Wine Gourd blog dated November 25, 2019 titled “The are not 6 million missing female premium wine drinkers.”

    ~~ Bob

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