Give It Up Guys

female winemakerThere is a mountain of evidence suggesting that women have a better sense of smell than men. Julie Case takes us through a summary of the data.

Then, in the 1980s, Richard L. Doty, a professor of otorhinolaryngology and the director of the Smell and Taste Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and a team of researchers designed the Smell Identification Test, which asks subjects to identify 40 odors. When the test was later used in a study on sex differences and the ability to identify odors—the results were published in 1985 in the journal Neuropsychologia—women consistently outperformed men. The test has since been commercialized and used in a myriad of ways, including the study of air pollution and olfactory dysfunction and the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

Beyond merely identifying odors, however, Doty says women also seem to perform better than men in detecting odors at the lowest levels of concentration, and in tests of odor discrimination and memory. In the late ’90s, a research study used MRIs to examine the volume of the brain activated when men and women were subjected to olfactory stimulants The MRI activation maps for the women’s group showed up to eight times more activated voxels (by analogy with “pixels,” “voxels” are an element of three-dimensional space) than the men’s group in specific regions of the brain.

And so on. More studies leading to the same conclusion. But then at the end of this informative article she does what women too often do when male egos are at stake—she defers:

Does having more neurons and glial cells, and being better at detecting aromas, make one a superior winemaker or somm? Not necessarily. For some, all of the extra details and minute aromas are distractions.

Well yes but you can learn to manage the distractions. If you lack the ability to detect aromas there is nothing you can do. Is it better to have lots of money that must be managed or too little money with no recourse?

Unfortunately, we get more of the same lame excuses’:

Just as the fastest person in the world doesn’t make the best soccer player, or the strongest person in the world doesn’t make the best wrestler, [wine] tasting is so much more than just being able to taste the compounds,” says Rob Ord, prestige manager for Treasury Wine Estates in California and a former diploma instructor for the International Sommelier Guild. “It’s being able to put everything together in the puzzle.

Right. But is there any evidence that women are less adept at puzzle-solving?

Moreover, says Ord, it’s impossible to be able to smell something—or at least to identify a smell—unless it’s been described, defined, or imprinted in memory with a label attached. “It’s very difficult,” he says, “to be able to pick out those compounds and say, ‘Oh yeah, this smells like peach,’ unless you’ve actually spent time smelling peach and really defining that in your palate.” Even people with the most sensitive olfactory bulbs won’t be able to break down an incredibly aromatic wine if they can’t name or define what they’re smelling.

So is there evidence that woman lack the discipline to practice labeling smells? Of course not.

Obviously, a good sense of smell is not sufficient to make you a good winemaker or somm but without it you’re at a real disadvantage.

Give it up guys—they’re probably better than we are at the most important skill in the wine business.

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