Women are certainly doing their bit for consumption. An estimated 70 per cent of women drink wine compared to 62 per cent of men, and women make 70 per cent of purchases in supermarkets. This fact is not lost on those supermarkets, which sell four in five bottles of wine. Half the Waitrose buying team consists of female Masters of Wine (MWs). Until recently, Tesco boasted an all-female wine-buying team.

A growing number of women are MWs - 54 out of 247 worldwide. In the UK, female wine journalists include Jancis Robinson, Jane MacQuitty and Joanna Simon. In contrast, America's Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate are alpha-male-dominated. But last month Michele Ostrove launched Wine Adventure. Pointing out that "women are the shoppers", Ostrove wants to reach this economically significant segment of the market. The publication is also available at www.wamagazine.com.

In my experience, women are often better tasters than men, although I'm not convinced, unlike Béatrice Ondet at Château Chauvin, a St Emilion Grand Cru Classé, that their wines taste different. According to Ms Ondet, "Wine made by women is more subtle, elegant and complex than wine made by men, which tends to be stronger and more aggressive." Clearly there are women, such as Australia's Vanya Cullen, who make silky, elegant wines, but it's as much a leap of faith to ascribe feminine characteristics to wine made by women as to suggest that only men make strong, muscular wines. The strongest wines I know are the monster zinfandels made by Helen Turley in California, while some of the most elegant and delicate Mosel rieslings and Hunter semillons are man-made.

Banding together in groups, like Italy's Donne del Vino and Australia's Women of Distinction, may suggest greater emancipation, but Susana Fernandez, a Spanish winemaker in McLaren Vale, derides the trend as just a clubby notion of positive discrimination: "All of a sudden, it is fine to have all those women organisations like one here called Women of Distinction, but it is a bit of a cliché to try to find differences." Sue Hodder, chief winemaker at Wynns Coonawarra, is also unconvinced that women and men make different wines, but does believe that "women can bring different approaches, sensibilites and backgrounds to the tasting room and vineyard".

Equality in the cellar does not appear to be matched by equal status within the wine industry. In the July issue of Decanter, a list of the 50 most influential people in the wine world included only two women: Jancis Robinson, editor of the Oxford Companion to Wine, and Nancy Griese, vice-president of foods and sundries at Costco in the US. Curiously, it omits Gina Gallo, a mega-cheese in the world's second-largest wine company.

If the industry's discrimination against women is on the wane, it still manifests itself in subtle ways, symbolised by the recent appointment of an all-male board to the new Wine and Spirit Trade Association. A letter to me from a woman in the wine trade reads: "The sad truth is that our business is far from an equal-opportunities one, even if it has progressed a lot." So while a deft touch in the cellar is equally likely to be male or female, the glass ceiling remains in the boardroom.

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