The Gender Fluid
In a now famous description of an 1869 Château Latour, H. Warner Allen called this Bordeaux a "heroic wine," the perfection of which was, to his mind, "as terrible as an army with banners." Now that Buzzfeed videos of people deciding whether or not loving Barefoot Chardonnay makes you a classy bitch are the standard, it's fair to say that a wine note requiring an intertextual gloss really stands out regardless of its content. But Warner's thought reveals not only the delightfully indulgent snobbery we've come to expect from wine writers, but also one of the more curious aspects of this particular drink. The heroic and militant 1869 Latour sounds like a manly wine indeed, until you realize the terrifying army with banners to which Warner is referring is in fact a woman, specifically the woman praised in the notoriously sexy and doctrinally slippery Old Testament "Song of Songs." The explicitly sexual imagery of the Song of Songs has made it the subject of scholarly controversy, but using it to describe wine might be its most relevant application. Erotic, spiritual, and somehow both masculine and effeminate at the same time, wine has always been impossible to gender.
To the average US consumer, wine might not seem that hard to pin down. It's obviously feminine, because, well, it's not beer or whiskey, so. To be sure, American women do still out-consume men when it comes to wine, although not by that much, and the statistics are changing by the minute with the latest generation of drinkers who wear #wokejeans (who says they even have hands?) and can't seem to get enough wine. More to the point, the way we talk about wine is not so cut and dry. Just pulling from the generic notes on big box wine and spirits websites, you'll find wine that is "powerful" or "seductive," "muscular" or "delicate," "brawny" or "subtle." The more florid descriptions found on the label on the back of your bottle might inform you you're drinking something "with a soft kiss of strawberries" or "a searing bite of acid." These might not be gender specific terms, and yet their implication is that wine can embody the female or the male with equal flexibility. It gets even more explicit: WineEnthusiast included "Feminine" on its 2014 "Top Wine Terms Defined" list, and contrasted it with the kind of wine that "can put hair on your chest."
How can wine be both a hairy chested man and a seductive woman kissing you with her strawberry-scented lips? Perhaps the flexible gender of wine is due to its liquid state. Like Heraclitus's river, you can never have the same sip twice and thus, each time it can reinvent itself for you. Or perhaps, conversely, wine is awe-inspiring precisely because it is capable of inhabiting both genders so seamlessly, because it is brazen in its femininity and reflective in its masculinity. Or maybe because we all want to be like that 1869 Latour, marching on, beautiful and terrible as an army with banners--if not quite so firmly footed, especially after a little wine.