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Women and wine 

How the female mind chooses the grape

In the battle of the sexes, wine presents an even, albeit confusing, playing field. The grape equally intimidates both men and women -- they search for anything or anyone that can make it easier to navigate.

Last year, the Wine Institute released results from a study on how consumers make their choices. They found that people rely on: 1.) personal recommendations from friends and family, followed by the sommelier or server in a restaurant; 2.) publications, including newspaper columns and magazines; and 3.) a visit to the winery. But I wondered if women -- who aren't above asking for directions -- have it a bit easier without pride blocking the way? To figure out how the female mind strategizes its wine selections, I polled 10 women with varying degrees of wine knowledge and comfort on how they plot their wine purchases. The results:

At restaurants

How do you select wine from a wine list at a restaurant?

Servers, you have no idea how much power you have over the ladies. 50 percent of those surveyed ask for your advice.

Katy replied: "Typically I need to have heard of it or had it recommended by a friend or the server. At restaurants, I like to try wines I haven't in the past or enjoy ones that I only see at restaurants and not at retailers. Sometimes, I may even take a chance and just go with a region I've had luck with in the past."

Mariana, a winemaker, is more methodical and independent: "First, I narrow it down to varietal/type of wine based on what I am eating ... thus usually I choose my food first, wine second. I also generally prefer to order wines by the glass so that I can try more than one. Then ... [I pick] something I have never tried before and is moderately priced."

At the Store

How do you choose wine at a shop?

The majority of the women polled look for recommendations in a wine shop, but it often depends on the price point, a special occasion or if they're stumped. Many admitted that labels influence their buying habits as well.

Katy: "Labels can definitely catch my eye, but if the name is too catchy or the label too flashy, I often suspect it's making up for lacking qualities, much like a jerk in a Corvette ... I love venues/events where I can try [the wine] first ... I'm apt to buy much more that way. I'll read the back of the bottle, hoping that they're being truthful in their description but realizing it's not quite on the mark. I will also try wines I've read good reviews about and that speak to the flavors and qualities I want in a wine."

JL: "If I am buying for myself, then I go with something that I know is good and inexpensive (but not cheap) [for] house wine. If a gift for a friend, [I look for] something unusual at a higher price point that I think they haven't had before ... and [I'm] likely to ask for advice. If it's something special for me, usually I'll pick an interesting, adventurous-looking label -- marketing works!"

Vonita: "[I shop by] label, what I have heard someone talking about and from what I know from wine tastings. I usually don't ask the wine shop for recommendations or really look at ads for wine."

Mariana: "Generally, I buy something I have read about or tasted. Otherwise, on impulse I buy something that seems like a great value (even if I don't plan on drinking it right away). Labels are fun to look at and I generally like modern, simple labels best but seldom buy a wine based on the label."

Recommended Wine

Cline 2005 Carignane Contra Costa (California) For something completely cool and different, try this red made from vines over 100 years old. Concentrated, ripe plum, tobacco and bittersweet chocolate combine to fascinate. Sw = 1. $12. ****

Sweetness (Sw) rating is out of 10, 10 being pure sugar. Star (*) rating is out of 5, 5 being wine nirvana.

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