Wine is unpalatable at the first sip for most of us. How do wine lovers start enjoying wine weird flavors and tastes?
Published January 5, 2020, Revised January 6, 2022
Let’s be honest. Did you fall in love immediately? If you did, fantastic, but most of us have to develop our palate to start enjoying wine.
If you think about it, wine should not be pleasing at the first sip : alcohol irritates your mouth, tannins dry your mouth, and it can have unusual smells for a beverage (e.g., woody notes or floral).
We rarely grow up eating or drinking products with such flavors.
Our first beverage coming out of the womb, maternal milk, is lightly sweet and smooth. We seek sweetness for energy and pleasure and avoid anything sour or bitter as human beings.
So how do we suddenly start liking wine? Well, this transformation is not sudden and takes time. It’s a learning process, and we learn to appreciate wine by associating these new sensations with positive outcomes. This process also exists for unfamiliar foods like coffee, dark chocolate, or beer.
I don’t drink Tequila. This aversion dates back to my first experience with this beverage, which made me sick. Can you relate?
Having a negative experience when you drink wine the first time makes you associate the adverse outcome (e.g., headache) with wine drinking. It might not be an actual causal effect, but it is in your mind.
As Liz Thach found in her research, many wine lovers start drinking sweet and fruity wines (read more below). If you started with complex fruity, dry, and somewhat tannic wines, you’re an exception. But liking such an experience as your first wine sip requires a solid motivation to learn about wine.
Serving a bit of red wine diluted in water to a child was common in France or Italy. Parents believed that this fortified water would give the child strength and stamina. Many people in America might be horrified by such a practice. However, this early exposure to wine as a part of the family ritual makes the transition to drinking wine later in adulthood easier. The culture we grow up in influences our chances to become wine lovers.
You may not have grown up in a wine culture; however, you may have become exposed to wine through your social network and your peers at work.
Our friends influence what we like or don’t like as young adults. This social or peer pressure makes us reluctant to admit we don’t like wine when all the others seem to enjoy it. Or pretend to enjoy it.
Drinking wine and collecting wine seem associated with a higher status in some circles. So you may have started drinking wine to learn more about them and create a collection to feel part of “the club.” There is nothing wrong with that; there are many paths to learn to like wine.
Wine styles have also become fashion items. Media and celebrities can influence how we start drinking wine and how our preferences evolve.
Chardonnay was the wine to order 20 years back. Then, it wasn’t anymore. We went through a Sauvignon blanc phase, a Pinot Noir Hollywood craze, a Moscato season, rosé wines, Prosecco, and of course, the natural wine trend.
Many social factors influence our choices as wine consumers.
Your genetic heritage expresses the sensitivity you have for particular tastes and aromas. Although humans have 99.8% of genes in common, these genes may not light up in the same way. Some people can taste bitterness when it is present at a low level. In contrast, others can’t perceive anything at a high level of bitter compounds. The bitter-blind person may like a wine you don’t like due to its bitter after-taste.
As we age, our wine preferences change.
All the ingredients listed above play a role, of course. If you liked to experiment with different wines, you learned to love less sweet wines. Sonoma State University Professor Liz Thach showed in her research this possibility. On the graph below, most of the people she interviewed started their wine-loving journey with sweet or semi-sweet white wines to end up appreciating dry red wines.
This research team also visualized the evolution of wine preference over time with this wheel (researchers love wheels!).
You may have started your wine journey with Moscato and finally got to enjoy Barolos.
Science tells us that taste is king in our preferences for food and beverages. However, a beautiful label, an attractive price, or a great story on the wine provenance can seduce us.
And all these other ingredients can change the course of our wine-loving journey.
Lesschaeve I., 2008. Wine consumer flavour preferences. In proceedings of the 1st Wine Active Compounds symposium, pp 71-74. Chassagne D., University of Burgundy (ed.), OenoPluriMedia, Chaintré, France.
Thach L., 2018. Do Wine Consumer Preferences Change Over Time? New Research Study Provides Some Answers. Wine Business Monthly, April.
Categories: Tasting education