Wine-Pheromone connection: The science behind the seduction of wine

The research of surgeon, vintner and author Dr. Max Lake reveals a connection between the aromas of wines and human pheromones. Photo: iStock

WASHINGTON, DC, March 7, 2013 - Wine has long been considered the liquid precursor to sensual pleasure, the elixir of Bacchus, the one lusty, legal intoxicant. A conservative line of thinking associates the loss of inhibition brought on by all forms of alcohol with wild, Bacchanalian revelry. Those of us who appreciate wine as an accompaniment to meals scoff at such narrow minded ideas. But there just might be something to the notation that wine’s powers can lead to unbridled passion…

In 2004 I had the very good fortune to meet Dr. Max Lake, an Australian vintner, surgeon and author of several gastronomic books with titles like Scents and Sensuality. Lake became somewhat of a mentor to me until his death in 2009. Lake passed on a great deal of knowledge about biochemistry as it related to attraction. But the most profound of Dr. Lake’s teachings was on the relationship between wine and sexual stimulation and attraction.

According to Dr. Lake’s research, the scents of certain wines replicate the smells of human pheromones, those tantric body scents said to excite sexual instinct. “The mature cabernet sauvignon has an essence which is as close to this natural sexual turn-on as one could hope for,” were the colorful words with which Dr. Lake explained his discovery.

The scents used to describe many red wines – leather, sweat, spice, musk – are nearly identical to the scents emitted from the glands of hair follicles, essentially the same as the smells associated with the primary male sexual hormone, androstenone. Androstenone, apparently, also smells a great deal like the scent new oak imparts on fermenting grape juice, perhaps the first rational explanation behind the ever-rising trend toward full-bodied, oak-enhanced wines.

But if red wines imply the scent of a virile man, (women do produce androstenone, but generally in miniscule amounts), how do we emulate the scent of a woman? It is, according to Lake’s research, Champagne that unlocks the delicacy of female flesh.

Thanks to the research of aptly named Dr. John Amoore, we know that the primary female pheromones, thiethylamine and isovaleric acid, are linked to the smells of seafood and soft, ripe cheeses. The delicate aromas of soft cheeses such as Camembert is an aromatic attribute often attached to sparkling wines.

Dr. Lake suggested that the feminine notes were predominantly found in delicate Blanc de Blancs. However, he also believed that the yeasty aromas of Brut-style sparkling wine combines a touch of masculinity and a dose of feminine wiles, making it possibly the perfect pairing for a romantic meal for two.

Lake also found aromatic notes that appeared to directly impact female arousal in full-bodied Chardonnays and mature Semillons that offered both oak and musky notes. At one point he also asserted that some sophisticated, dry Rieslings, notably those that could be described as having a note of musk, have the potential to replicate a female pheromone. 

Although it might sound like a flimsy plot from an Anne Rice novel, a well-planned wine selection could just spell “sure thing.” Certainly, to say red wine signifies an attraction to men and Champagne brings about a desire for a woman is an over-simplification, but wine has been scientifically measured to unleash a cascade of hormones, a great number of them sexual.

If you want to put wine’s sensual promise into practice, you’re most likely to awaken the senses with wines generous in aroma. Look for aged Semillon, oak-fermented Chardonnay, musky Shiraz, full-bodied, American Cabernet Sauvignons and earthy Bordeaux blends. But if you feel skeptical about navigating the wine shop shelves for the right mix of scents, simply plan your next intimate rendezvous around a bottle of vintage Brut Champagne.

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Amy Reiley

Amy Reiley is a food & wine writer, cookbook author, speaker and consultant recognized as a leading authority on aphrodisiac foods. She has a Master of Arts in Gastronomy awarded by France’s culinary temple, Le Cordon Bleu. It was during her time studying at Cordon Bleu, Amy rose to prominence for her work in culinary aphrodisiacs.

In 2006, Amy releases her first book, Fork Me, Spoon Me: the sensual cookbook. She is now the author of 4 cookbooks on the topic, including award-winning Romancing the Stove: the unabridged guide to aphrodisiac foods. Her expertise has landed her guest spots on The Today Show, CBS Early Show, NPR and the Playboy Channel to name a few.

Amy is also the editorial director of EatSomethingSexy, as well as an internationally published wine critic and columnist. 


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