The Question of Cancel Culture and “Feminine” Wine

Gendered words such as “feminine” and “masculine” have come under some pretty severe criticism as wine descriptors in recent years. In nearly every example of a commentator discussing such terms, the conclusion has been that they are, in today’s world, inappropriate for describing wine. These condemnations—and they have been condemnations—are misplaced, rely on a misunderstanding of the utility of gendered wine descriptions, confuse gender expression for gender identity and, when they lead us to jettison the words from our wine vocabulary, leave us worse off as writers.

Vicki Denig, an accomplished food and wine journalist, most recently explored the issue of “masculine and feminine” as wine descriptors in an article for Wine-Searcher in which the title of the article gave away her position:

“Time to Kill Gender Stereotypes in Wine”. At first glance, Denig’s concern with using gendered words to describe wine is that there are other, more descriptive words that can better reveal what a writer thinks of a wine:

“I continually find myself stunned when I hear the words ‘masculine and “‘feminine’ used. Are we really that incapable of finding any other adjectives to describe what we’re tasting on our palates?…Moreover, what do gender-specific adjectives even mean? Assuming we’re going by societal context, we’re basically implying that “feminine” wines are soft, elegant, and delicate, and  that “maculine” wines are powerful, muscular, and robust. If this is indeed the case (and, again, I’m not supportive of societally-created gender norms), then why not just use the other adjectives I just used instead? I’ve easily listed six without any hesitation – and there are certainly so many more that can apply.”

Denig’s objection to using what she believes are imprecise adjectives is really a prelude to her real objection, which is telegraphed in the article’s headline that insists the problem is not one of style, but rather one of stereotyping. Denig goes on to press her point by interviewing six of her colleagues on the question of gendered wine descriptions.

Victoria James, the beverage director at Michelin-starred Cote, tells Deng that “masculine and feminine terms are a bit archaic and our industry should evolve past this.”

Denig’s friend Matt Kaner, a wine professional from Los Angeles, admits to Denig that he had used these terms in the past, but that he has now moved beyond them, suggesting that these words no longer express his values: “In recent years, I’ve reflected on how my language is perceived, but also where it comes from – who I learn from, what values and ideals am I portraying in the words I’m using, etc. So when we bring gender into it, especially nowadays, you must be aware that these terms do not have the same meaning for all.” Denig endorses Kaner’s re-evaluation of his use of “masculine” and “feminine” by admitting, “my point exactly”.

Anther of Denig’s friends, Jeff Harding, of New York’s Waverley Inn, while admitting to still using the terms, gets more directly to the point that the problem with these gendered terms is not necessarily one of writing style, but rather a stereotyping problem: “It oversimplifies gender into black and white and doesn’t allow for shades of gray, and probably insults a lot of people. I do think we need to steer away from it and start using more nuanced terms: ‘softer/more aggressive tannins, more subtle and nuanced vs. in-your-face aromas’—I think people lump these terms into masculine/feminine, but when you just look at a trait, you realize how you can’t say aggressive or subtle a ‘male’ or ‘female’ trait is.”

Finally, Richard Betts, who obtained his Master Sommelier certification in 1997 and admits to having once used gendered wine terms, gets to the very heart of the perceived problem with these descriptions that Denig really wants to convey: “Today do not use these terms for a number of reasons, including the fact that they are offensive. We all need to be thoughtful and deliberate about the words we choose, as they can both empower and do great damage. To call a wine masculine or feminine is to subscribe to an old idea of the world (and a binary one at that) which does not provide for the huge range of wonderful humanity.”

Denig finishes off her article by asking her readers to see the real problem with gendered wine terms by imagining something different: “Next time you’re tempted to use a gender-focused tasting descriptor, think about how you would react if someone characterized a wine as “white/Black”, “gay”, or “elderly” on the palate. If you’d find any of these terms offensive, then imagine how some of us men and women feel.”

Recent commentary is filled with similar denunciations in numerous articles of the terms “masculine” and “feminine” as wine descriptors. Last year at the Snarky Wine blog, Kevin Gagnon made the case:

“They [gendered wine terms] beg defining, and the ensuing definitions inevitably rely on tired and inaccurate gender stereotypes. The words are imprecise at best, downright insulting at worst….All they symbolize are outdated gender-based stereotypes that are losing their relevance, if they ever had any.”

In all the commentary condemning gendered wine terms, there is usually a nod to the idea that the terms “masculine” and “feminine” are imprecise and capable of being replaced with more specific and meaningful words. However, this criticism isn’t the primary problem folks have today with gendered wine descriptions. In fact, this criticism is usually offered as an aside to the primary argument, which I believe can be accurately described this way:

Wine descriptors like “masculine” and feminine” stereotype the genders in ways that undermine individuality. They convey a binary expression of “male” and “female” that is at odds with today’s understanding of gender that properly admits to a spectrum of genders and a spectrum of roles that can be adopted by a person irrespective of their gender identity. Using the term “masculine” to describe wines that possess more structure, tannins, intensity and aggressiveness and using the term “feminine” to describe wines that are softer, more delicate, less powerful and rounder only serves to reinforce outdated gender stereotypes. For all these reasons, the use of these words to describe wine is offensive and should be discontinued.

This is incorrect.

One thing is clear. The vast majority of people (95-99%?) understand what is meant when the words “masculine” or “feminine are deployed to describe a wine. This alone should tell us that the words are useful metaphors and I don’t think we are ready to argue that metaphor should be banished from wine descriptions. Moreover, any metaphor that is understood by nearly everyone is by definition a useful metaphor.

It’s true a writer could use a series of more specific words to replace “feminine” in a wine description. While this might be useful and justified in many contexts, I’m not ready to advocate for the over-boarding of poetry, particularly when we are talking about a product as sensual and personal as wine.

But even more important, the argument that gendered wine terms are offensive for their stereotyping of men and women is just incorrect.

“Feminine” is not a word that describes a binary view of gender. Nor is “feminine” an identity. Rather, “feminine” (and “masculine”) are words that describe expressions of gender that are every bit as useful and necessary today as they were centuries ago. If I describe a wine as “feminine” this does not mean that all women or all females are feminine or should be feminine. Using this term does not imply I believe “real” women are feminine. Yet this is the implication to which many of the critics of the use of the word “feminine” in wine descriptions seem to object.

Look at any description of gender expressions (and there are many) and you will find that “feminine” is commonly used to describe just one such expression that tends to be at the edge of the gender expression spectrum. At the other edge of that spectrum generally sits “masculine”. Look in the middle of the spectrum of gender expressions and you’ll likely find “androgynous”. None of these descriptions of gender expression are inherently pejorative, positive, or neutral. They are descriptions of a way a person is expressing themselves.

It is easy enough to find a woman who admits to expressing their gender identity as more masculine, just as it is easy enough to find a woman who admits to expressing their gender identity as feminine. We can find women who purposefully express their gender otherwise. We would not take issue with any of these people and the way they choose to express their gender. We should not take issue with a writer who chooses to express their view of a particular wine as “feminine” or “masculine”.

The misunderstanding of gender identity and gender expression is best depicted by looking at Kaitlin Ohlinger’s article on gendered wine descriptions at There, writing on the terms “masculine and “feminine” as wine descriptors, Kaitlin explains:

When you assign a particular gender to a wine, you’re signifying a shared assumption of what “femaleness” and “maleness” really mean. Defined gender identity is a blurred line at this point, so gender-identifying wine is a bit archaic, wouldn’t you say?”

The use of “feminine” to describe a wine is not sexist and it is decidedly NOT assigning gender to wine, as Ms. Ohllinger suggests. It is assigning a gender characteristic or one expression of gender to the wine. This is an entirely different thing than an identity. If you are thinking this is a distinction without a difference then read articles about the challenges transwomen have accommodating their desire to appear feminine.

If we are being honest, then we have to admit that the concern expressed with the use of gendered wine descriptions is almost always aimed at protecting women from stereotyping even though the stereotyping of men through the use of gendered wine descriptors is often noted. However, this inclusion of men in the equation often seems like an aside.

But if, as I suggest is evident, that the use of “feminine” as a wine descriptor is not sexist, should not be offensive and does not stereotype women as meek, light, delicate and less powerful, then what can be made of the fact that so many wine professionals today, both men and women, insist that the term’s use is in fact offensive? Where is the disconnect?

I think the answer lies in our tendency today to be too quick to jump to judgment.

Thirty, twenty and even 10 years ago the use of gendered words to describe a wine wasn’t controversial. In fact, it has been done at least since 1920 when in his “Notes on a Cellar Book”, George Saintsbury described an 1846 Hermitage as “the manliest wine I ever drank”. Yet in the past 10 (more like five years) it has become quite common to see this practice denounced. What’s changed?

I think we live in a moment when a heightened desire to correct past wrongs (sexism, racism, etc) is leading to the occasional overreach. Certainly the effort to cancel “feminine wine” is an overreach that is born out of a misunderstanding of language and intent. While it is good to accept the call to reorganize our habits in order to dash discriminatory tendencies, we must be careful not to let our instincts overcome our reason.

One could just as easily chalk up to “cancel culture” the effort to rid wine vocabulary of its use of “masculine” and “feminine”. And while I think this is legitimate if a somewhat slapdash way of describing what’s happening with the moves being made against gendered wine descriptors, I’m more inclined to assign blame to good intentions gone wrong.

Writers, speakers and communicators of all types need all the tools at their disposal to get the message across efficiently, convincingly and poetically, when poetry is called for. The use of “feminine” and “masculine” to describe a wine is highly useful and proper.

In all my reading and research for this post, I did not come across a single critic of gendered wine descriptors who, despite their antipathy for the use of “feminine’ and “masculine” in wine descriptions, did not know what was meant by their use. In fact, the only way one can criticize the usage of these words in a wine description is by first understanding what they mean in the context of a review. Had I come across a person who worked in wine or wine adjacent and claimed to not understand what these words mean, I would be forced to doubt their sincerity. This is important because it underscores the utility of these words.

By all means, let’s fight the good fight. But let’s not throw reason and logic and metaphor and poetry into the spit bucket in order to achieve our ends.

Posted In: Culture and Wine


33 Responses

  1. Christian Miller - October 27, 2020

    Tom, I appreciate your linguistic and philosophical probing of this issue. But if the purpose is to communicate flavor and texture of a wine, masculine/feminine are dumb adjectives with plenty of baggage, for which we have useful and more precise alternatives. And as used, they often aren’t accurate from a sensory science or consumer preference perspective anyway, but that’s another can of worms.

  2. Chris - October 27, 2020

    I agree with you 110 percent! Can we just all relax and have a glass of wine?

  3. David R Miley - October 27, 2020

    I describe Pommard and Volnay as masculine and feminine respectively because it just works so well descriptively and succinctly. So does most everyone else in the Cote de Beaune. Let’s not make a problem where there isn’t one.

  4. Tom Wark - October 27, 2020

    HI Christian…How are you?

    The word “feminine” and “Masculine” can be used in a number of ways in a wine review, including texture and flavor. I don’t think they are dumb words. Not sure how a word can be dumb. That said, you may are always welcome to open a can of worms here.

  5. Gerald D. Boyd - October 27, 2020

    It’s probably my age, but this looks to me like another tempest in a teacup. Unfortunately, the real answer didn’t appear until three-quarters of the way into the piece: ” Where is the disconnect? I think the answer lies in our tendency today to be too quick to jump to judgement.”

  6. Tom Wark - October 27, 2020

    Gerald, are you saying I buried the lede?

    I really wanted to mainly demonstrate why the calls to ban “masculine” and “feminine” from wine reviews is misguided and stems from a misunderstanding of words. But once you do that, then you ask, so if this really a misunderstanding of words that people should really see, why is it happening….and there we come to the question of jumping to judgement.

  7. Mary Taylor - October 27, 2020

    I would be offended as a man to be associated with over-extracted, blowsy, four-square, high alcohol oak bombs. Is it a sign of vulnerability to be elegant, nuanced, fruit driven, subtle – and mostly not hiding behind a tough exterior? Is femininity associated with the vulnerable, the exposed? And why so?

  8. Tone Kelly - October 27, 2020

    I have not used these terms in a long time. Not because I am afraid to use them or that I am afraid of not being PC. I haven’t used them because they are often vague or imprecise. Words like firm or tannic or big or extracted are more precise. On the other end of the spectrum words like round, ethereal, elegant or soft are more precise. Matt Kramer goes into more detail on why this a better way to communicate.

  9. Jim Ruxin - October 27, 2020


    I wish the rest of the world was attuned to nuances as you. Unfortuantely we all pay for that in so many ways beyond wine. We are in a changing world where the contemporary implication of a word is autiomatically assumed, instead of a more worldly, literate perspective.

    Nothing can be done about this because language has always been in the process of change. As long as we keep the strict constuctionists oin the Supreme Court from becoming more reductionist, we stand a chance of moving forward as we create our own democratic ideals for this century.

    You smartly pointed out a distinction that matters to only few and there is little to be done about it. Now if only the culture at large would keep its focus on things that really mattered, like unjust treatment of people because of their gender diffferences, that would really make a differfence!

  10. Tom Wark - October 27, 2020

    There is no doubt that words like “feminine” and “masculine” could be used in terribly imprecise ways and that they could be used out of laziness. However, in the hands of a good writer or reviewer, use of these words could help convey important and precise points about a wine.

    My argument is that those who want us to banish these words from the wine lexicon because they say they are offensive or pejorative or foster stereotypes are themselves making very bad arguments that rely on misunderstandings of the meaning of these words. Moreover, their insistance that these words be taken out of the hands of wine writers borders on virtue signaling and wades into the pool of cancel culture.

    The argument is that, for example, “feminine” in a synonym for “woman” and the person that uses “feminine” to refer in one way or another to a wine that is delicate or floral or lacy or not powerful is suggesting this is what a woman should be. But that not the case. There is a traditional meaning for the word “feminine” that included the specific characteristics that society commonly applied to women.

    One great leap that women (and society) have made in the past few decades is that while they could choose to express themselves in traditionally feminine ways, they dont’ need to anymore in order to retain their status as a woman.

    “Feminine” still exists as a recognized way of expressing oneself. But today it could easily be applied to a woman or a man and, yes, to a wine.

    There is great value in retaining this meaning for the term feminine because without the absolute association with “woman” it is able to be deployed to refer to any number of things…including women and including wine.

    Removing the term “feminine” from the wine lexicon just removes one more useful tool from the writers toolbox without good reason.

  11. Tom Wark - October 27, 2020


    Thank you.

    Sometimes it is right and good to fight for the little things. The little things, put together, often add up to the big things.

  12. Tone Kelly - October 27, 2020

    Tom, thanks for the comments. My reasoning about using the words that I did really revolve around the imprecise nature of feminine and masculine. Wine is not a human being. The words feminine and masculine are shorthand for what the writer is trying to communicate. In the past these terms worked well, but they were approximations and often imprecise. This is not a new phenomenon. British writers in the early 20th century talked about a wine being “heroic”. Today, that would mean nothing, but at that time it was a common descriptor for a large scaled Bordeaux such as Chateau Latour. I am thinking that feminine and masculine have acquired additional context given societal changes and that these words are still useful, but they carry a lot of “baggage” along with them that they didn’t used to carry. One can still use them, but with the warning that they are imprecise and carry some negative connotations for some people.

  13. Charlie Olken - October 27, 2020


    I think you have missed the essential point. It is not that we wine writers know what the gender-specific jargon has meant in wine descriptions. It is that the terms, as they are used in wine, suggest that there are “feminine” and “masculine” standards in this world. There are not, cannot be lest some large percentage of the persons of that gender would not qualify by past usage and past wine writing usage. The terms now offend many people, and I choose not to use them. I don’t need them, and somehow I manage to write thousands of lengthy wine reviews without them.

  14. Tom Wark - October 27, 2020

    Charlie! Good to hear from you.

    Where I disagree with you is here: “suggest that there are “feminine” and “masculine” standards in this world.” Consider this…

    There was a time that both you and I can recall when women were expected to exhibit feminine traits. Men were expected to exhibit male traits. We understood what the traits were for both. But today, while those set of traits still exist under the moniker of “feminine” and “masculine” we no longer judge a man or a woman on the degree to which they adhere to those traits. We don’t judge a woman if she is more masculine than feminine and vice versa.

    This is a very good thing because it allows men and women to express themselves in a myriad of ways without the kind of judgement they once experienced for not adhering to the masculine and feminine models. Today, a woman can choose, for example, to express her gender in a very traditionally feminine way…or not, without judgement.

    However, the characteristics we once judgementally applied to women, but don’t today, still exist under the label of feminine. The word retains its meaning, but without its judgemental quality.

    By using the metaphor of “feminine” to describe a wine today we are communicating that a wine has that set of characteristics that had long been associated with women, but no longer are applied only to women exclusively.

    The word “feminine” has been liberated. When we use it in a wine note today, we no longer have to live with the idea that we are referring to women as well as the traditional feminine characteristics associated with the word. We can assume, today, when we no longer insist that “feminine” only applies to women, that readers will simply read the characteristics of feminine into the word, rather than apply the additional “woman” association.

    Most important, I can’t embrace the idea that “feminine” and “masculine” are to be banned from the writer’s vocabulary. I won’t buy the idea that those that use the word should be judged for it. A good writer and their readers can profit from these words used properly. No one benefits from cancelling the word.

  15. Katy - October 28, 2020

    I think that perhaps some nuance has been so-far overlooked with these descriptors: generational and cultural differences. If you aren’t directly describing a wine with concrete touchstone descriptors such as various fruits that another person could go out, purchase and taste for themselves then you have stepped into a metaphorical space that is circumscribed by cultural bias – Western conceptions of performative gender expression are distinctly different from those in other regions of the world, which given how far wine consumption has travelled should likely be taken into account if your reviews are to be useful to the sort of international audience you likely desire. One shouldn’t need to take a comparative world literature course just to decipher a wine review. Also, as (even Western) culture shifts generationally once-useful descriptors become less so as the historical context one is obliquely referencing becomes more obscure or irrelevant.
    From my own biased perspective, if you wanted to continue to use a set of terms to describe wines in terms of stereotypical gender-expressive traits I would recommend using femme and butch. If that makes you cringe, then perhaps you could take a moment to contemplate the possibility that your distaste might be mirrored by someone reading the terms masculine or feminine. Acknowledging that wine writers aren’t the most succinct at the best of times, perhaps utilising a more diverse and accurate set of descriptors would both side-step a possible cultural issue and provide a more universally accurate and useful review that would be comprehensible to a far wider audience than you might otherwise capture.

  16. Blake Gray - October 28, 2020

    Language is meant for communication. Sometimes we might need to offend a group of people to deliver an important message. I don’t think wine tasting notes are ultimately at that level of importance, not when there are workarounds.

    When Europeans, especially French people, use “masculine” or “feminine” to describe wine, the listener should understand their culture and language. In France every noun has a gender. We should give them the benefit of the doubt that they are just trying to communicate, especially if English is not their first language.

    But in the US, we know better about these stereotypes. I played co-ed sports with a number of women who could kick my ass on the field. What would it mean to them if I called a soft, no-tannin, delicate wine “feminine?” It simply would not be accurate. And if it offends 2% of my readership, well, I could say I could live with that, but why? Why offend that 2% when I have my own doubts about the word?

    I’m always anti-censorship and I don’t think people should freak out if we see those words in tasting notes. But for American writers, we should know better. There is a better way to do it.

  17. Tom Wark - October 28, 2020


    Thanks for your comments here.

    One thing that concerns me most is the idea of imposing social sanction on a writer for using a word not as a slur, but in an attempt to communicate an idea that is also not a slur. I find this kind of action or movement to be both morally and ethically wrong. And I see the beginning of that with “feminine” and “masculine” in wine writing.

    My view is that with the evolution of our understanding of gender and gender identity, the terms “masculine and feminine” have been liberated from what was once their rigorous association with gender: Women are feminine and Men are masculine. As you point out in your comment, this kind of association is no longer relevant.

    Yet the words remain with their original meanings, only now disconnected from gender. I think this makes them MORE useful in a wine context. If “feminine” today no longer is associated with what a woman is or should be, but retains its general meaning of lighter-bodied, more delicate, more refined, etc”, then it becomes more useful. It communicates a set of characteristics without the failing of associating those characteristics with women.

    But what of the person who, upon reading a wine writer refer to a wine or wines as feminine, gets upset or offended because they still believe there is a strict association between the word “feminine” and “woman”? As a writer, what should I make of that? This gets to your point about the 2% and to Katy’s point above about having to translate. The problem here, to me, is not that the person may be confused about the meaning of the word Feminine or confused about what I mean to imply when I use it. The problem for me comes when that person jumps to the conclusion that I’m a bad person, a sexist person or a misogynist, all due to their confusion. I think that leap they make is wrong.

    So should I not use the word in order to avoid the possibility of confusing people and risking their social and public sanction. My answer is no. The risk of social sanction is for me less than the risk that comes with banishing useful words from my vocabulary.

  18. Sara Mann - October 28, 2020

    I respectfully disagree with your view that the terms masculine and feminine have become disconnected from gender and therefore freed of their historical baggage. On the whole, people still automatically associate the words “masculine” with men and “feminine” with women, as well as the “original meanings” (as you put it) that go along with those words, and therefore using those words perpetuate gender stereotypes.

    Gender stereotypes in certain communities may have become less strict than they used to be. But it remains that the status of women and girls is quite low in many cultures of the world and I think it is myopic to pretend otherwise. Even in more so-called progressive societies women still face societal judgement for doing things that go against gender stereotype like say, choosing not to procreate.

    I wish we were at the point where these particular words don’t carry negative baggage but we’re not there yet. And while I don’t support cancel culture or censorship, I think one should be aware that when one uses words like ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ to describe a wine, some will react to those words as they would react to any gender stereotype, and quite reasonably so.

  19. Christian Miller - October 28, 2020

    Tom – true, a word can’t be “dumb”, although my usage might have been. My points should have been:

    1. You say that literally speaking, masculine and feminine traits have become divorced from gender. For you that may well be, but I am skeptical that in the trade, or population as a whole, this is true.

    2. I am very skeptical that consumers, given a group of wine samples (blind) or even adjectives, and asked to divide them into “masculine” vs. “feminine”, would be consistent in their grouping. It’s possible that trade members might be consistent enough to be useful, but even there it might not work in a blind wine tasting.

    3. If people really are consistent in their usage of masculine/feminine as flavor descriptors, yet I am correct in #1 above, isn’t that part of the problem?

    4. If masculine and feminine are really associated with a set of attributes or descriptors, then why not use those words instead of masculine/feminine? One could say that would be less efficient, but that assumes that masculine or feminine implies all those descriptors simultaneously to all tasters AND all those attributes apply to the particular wine being described.

    That’s my 2 cents.

  20. Tom Wark - October 28, 2020


    1. You are certainly correct. The whole population of the country and the trade have not come to the realization that gender has been divorced from the words Fem/Masc. I agree.

    2. Though I have no evidence to support this, I’d bet that 85% of that test group you imagine, if given a cabernet and a Riesling, would group the Cab with masculine and the Riesling with “feminine”. I think this is more likely to be the case with the average person that with the trade.

    3. It would be the same problem you identified in #1. And I agree it is a problem, but not as big a problem as you believe.

    4. This problem you identify assumes that the assignment of “masculine” or “feminine” to a wine are the only descriptors need or used to describe a wine. But they are not. Consider this: “While the Pinot Noirs of the Russian River AVA tend to be more assertive, their sister Pinots in the nearby Green Valley AVA tend to be more delicate and feminine in character.” Here is an example that I’m sure you understand what is meant. However, it’s not merely a wine note. It’s a comparison of wines. It’s an example of where the word “feminine” could be used, could be understood and could be useful. A lot of folks who have taken issue with the use of Masc/Fem in wine writing are thinking about strictly wine reviews a la Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiats. While these are types of wine writing in which Masc/Fem could be useful, it’s important to note that they are hardly the only type of wine writings in which they are useful.

    My primary concern where this issue is concerned is that there is a growing tendency to make the use of Fem/Masc in wine writing reason to condemn the writer as sexist, misogynist, etc. This makes no sense and it is both wrong and unethical. In the end, this effort is an attempt to cancel the use of a word and to cancel it I think for very bad reasons.

    Thanks for the comments….

  21. Tom Wark - October 28, 2020


    Yes, on the whole there are probably still more people who associate “Feminine” with women and “masculine” with men. But you must agree that there has been a sea change in this regard. Just look at the graphic up in the story. This comes from a group that emphatically supports the idea of multiple gender identies, transgender rights and have no time for gender stereotypes. Yet, there it is. They show that Gender Expression is a runs on a continuum with “feminine” on one side and “masculine” on the other. Moreover, take a look around particularly at the transwoman community. Within that community there is a great deal of discussion as to how it is very difficult for a transwoman to accumulate the items (clothing, beauty supplies, etc) that accommodate the bodies of transwomen who choose to express their gender in a feminine way.

    While I agree there remain societies where women’s rights amount to near nothing, I’m not inclined to alter the words I use to accommodate the challenges faced by women in those regions and countries.

    But now here’s the thing. Let’s say because not everyone in America has progressed to the point where they can disassociate gender expression from gender identity, we banish the words “Fem/Masc” from our vocabulary. There will come a day when the vast majority have adopted this more proper understanding of gender identity and gender expression. But then, the use of “Feminine” and “Masculine” will have vanished from the lexicon. That, in my view, is too high a price to pay for doing something that has too small an impact.

  22. Christian Miller - October 28, 2020

    Good responses, Tom. Re:
    #2 – it’s possible, and I’d love to do the experiment. But based on many years’ research, I’ve found consumers often don’t behave according to preset trade beliefs.

    #3 – haha, in the context of today’s world, NONE of this feels like a big problem!

    #4 – your example has already given the game away, by associating “delicate” with “feminine” in opposition to “masculine.” Not a fair test of the pure meaning (or not) of masculine or feminine as descriptors.

    Thinking of Dave Miley’s comment I describe Pommard and Volnay as masculine and feminine respectively because it just works so well descriptively” let me propose another (rather geeky) example. Pommards and Volnays from Lafarge, d’Angerville and Leroy – what exactly makes the Pommards of all three “masculine” and the Volnays all “feminine”?

    However, I agree on the problem of over-extending “cancel culture” and jumping to conclusions from a few phrases in a wine description.

  23. Matthew Perry - October 28, 2020

    Okay Boomer.

    And you wonder why millenials aren’t buying wine?

  24. Gerald D. Boyd - October 28, 2020

    Not at all, Tom. I’m just agreeing that people are often too quick to jump to judgement.

  25. Charlie Opken - October 29, 2020

    If nothing else, you have raised an issue that has brought the blogosphere to life. It is clear to me that many more women disagree with you about the use of the term “feminine” than men objecting to either terms usage. I’m not going to explore the cultural and generational reasons at play. Suffice it say that I find your stance wildly out of touch with today’s world. Or to put it another way, my delightfully pleasant, friendly, accessible daughter would kick your ass here or on the sports field over the usage you suggest.

    I appreciate your comments that we who have around the wine scene understand the ways those terms used to be used. At the time, whether misguided or not, those terms mirrored their then popular usage.

    Today, they do not. Full stop. And winewriting, in its functions as a describer of wine to drink, is very much a practice that exists in the present. It needs to communicate in the here and now. Not in the past.

    So, let me beat this horse one more time. I ave been writing wine descriptions for four decades now and I feel no need to describe wines with gender stereotypes.

  26. Rebecca Stamey-White - October 29, 2020

    Tom – you’re great and I respect you, but I disagree with you on this post and think you’re fighting for something extremely unimportant (the right to use gendered words to describe wine without fear of reprisal – literally could there be anything less important right now?). I think the point is made by the New York Times’ story today regarding the alleged sexual harassment and assault against female somms:

    Sexism is not dead, but thrives in the wine industry, and this post and all your witty responses parsing language reads like an amazing example of mansplaining. I know you have good intentions, or perhaps are just in the mood for a red-blooded American argument (yes, we’re all a little pugilistic during election season), but regardless, listen to the many wine writers and women who have commented here and let this one go (or enjoy the traffic to the site over this lightning rod of a post!).

  27. Katy - November 3, 2020

    As an addendum to my prior comment, given that I’ve read through the resulting conversation I feel the need to mention that even after several of you attempted to clarify your usage of feminine and masculine as accurate and rich descriptors, I am still entirely at a loss. Again, this may just be generational but speaking as a female raised in the West feminine to me indicates the use of makeup and a tendency towards wearing skirts or dresses – how does that possibly apply to wine? Masculine: lack of obvious breasts, makeup or skirts (unless of course it is a kilt). Performative gender expression is pretty damned bizarre to use in describing something one consumes, as well as being paltry short-hand for something none of you have actually bothered to elucidate the apparently grand depths of meaning behind.

  28. Tom Wark - November 3, 2020


    Thanks for writing. Let me make this observation. You suggest that their is no merit in using “Masc/Fem” to describe a wine or wines. You note that “performative gender expression is pretty damned bizarre to use in describing something one consumes.” Yet, some of the world’s most accomplished male and female writers on wine have done it for decades. These are not unthinking people. Nor are they people who have a disregard for communicating their ideas and assessments. This is worth considering, rather than assuming these folks are simply off their rocker.

    As to the meaning of Fem/Masc in a wine context, you are right that there is no strict or absolute meaning. Rather they are more generalized or intuitive meanings. Here’s a decent example of this explanation:

    “Traditionally, the wine world likes to refer to fresh, light and elegant wines as feminine and heavier bodied, brawny and more tannic wines as masculine. For instance, the full-bodied and tannic Cabernet Sauvignon wines of the left bank of Bordeaux are viewed as masculine while the softer, rounder Merlot centric wines of the right bank are viewed as more feminine.”

    This quote comes from this article, which I find very interesting and think you may enjoy:


  29. Christian Miller - December 15, 2020

    A fact-based footnote to all this: we recently surveyed a large representative sample of frequent wine drinkers. Among the questions was one matching a list of attributes to a number of leading Chardonnay brands. “Masculine” and “feminine” were two of the attributes on the list. Only tiny numbers of respondents linked these attributes to any of the brands.

  30. acv - January 5, 2021

    In short – gender marking nouns is not social gender engineering and the two are being conflated badly You tackled the issue in several ways none more precisely than the appeal to metaphor. Our ability to comprehend and retrieve data is easier when we associate a concept or in this case, a glass of wine to an image we know well, and this memorization trick makes it easier for us to formulate a mental database. I was drawn to this quote you wrote >>“feminine” is commonly used to describe just one such expression that tends to be at the edge of the gender expression spectrum. At the other edge of that spectrum generally sits “masculine”. Look in the middle of the spectrum of gender expressions and you’ll likely find “androgynous”<>The words themselves are shorthands for image-tones which would otherwise need to be described at greater length. Image-tones are understood to be metaphorical. And if I substitute the many words that could be used to convey gender metaphors, I’m guilty of the same ill, only at greater length.<< I'm not as sympathetic to those pushing this George Orwellian attack on speech. It looks from the outside that the #woke bloke….want to make learning much more difficult in their drive to push a social agenda. Kinda like homeschooling…..but that's a topic for another day.

  31. acv - January 6, 2021

    Having taken the time to read through some of the comments and there were many worth reading – The whole idea that the female community is clamoring for the abolition of genderless wine descriptors is a mendacious view. Further, how this will radically improve wine knowledge or even wine writing is spurious at best. Wine writing is what we are talking about correct? See, if more broadly as many imply that we are all tasked with saying the right things and we are never meant to ever offend anyone then there is no point in having the 1st amendment and the right of freedom of speech. This is often tossed aside quip is chalked up to the callous actor who just wants to be able to “offend”. Yet, I can in the same Socratic breath say, “kindness is the excuse that those who claim to be #woke will use when they want to exercise control over what people think or say.” Describing a wine as “feminine” does not imply that all women are feminine or should be feminine. European wines are made in a culture where everything has a gender. Il Sangiovese is a masculine noun. The idea that in pursuit of some higher cause we should disassociate culture from its roots because claiming victim status is in vogue today is a narcissistic aim. So, I repeat freedom to only speak inoffensively is not free speech worth having…. or even a society that those pushing for genderless wine descriptions would want to live in.

  32. Olive - March 16, 2021

    Feminine and Masculine are words which hold no defined meaning in todays society and they are subject to an individuals perspective of the way they wish to express themselves from one moment to the next.

    If you are saying that a muscular wine is masculine, it implies that to be feminine you can not have muscles.

    If you wish to continue using these words, no one is stopping you. Validation or arguments from peers will not persuade people who are unsure about how they feel either. This is simply your opinion. and most people will have a good intuition about their opinion too. If you aim to be inclusive in your writing, you can choose to be more creative.

  33. Tom Wark - March 16, 2021


    I think a better wat of putting it is that the words Feminine and masculine are no longer describe traditional characteristics that are firmly linked to women and men. However, the traditional meaning of these words still exist, making them useful. If you look above in the post, you’ll see that on a gender expression scale “masculine” and “feminine” are two points on a spectrum. They have their traditional meaning. Those meanings simply are not today firmly linked to associations with male and female, though they still closely associate.

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