Sunday, May 20, 2012

As you age does your taste in wine change?

That was the question I posed on a Facebook page two months ago. I have been thinking about it for some time now, and doing active research.

In my life, I have to say, my tastes have ranged all across the board, like waves of appreciation. For a while I would taste all the Bordeaux reds I could get my hands on. And I developed a taste for them. But my diet, which ranges from low to no red meat, really doesn’t complement them. I also was into Rhone reds as well, and again, aside from the occasional spicy chicken on the grill or holiday repast, I found them hard to take on a regular basis. Not that I didn’t like them, it was more that I just didn’t have a lifestyle where these wines fit on a regular basis.

Red wine, in fact, is getting harder for me to find a place for in my regular diet. What’s with that? As I wrote in an earlier post, the Riesling I had last week (with a baked potato and yogurt of all things) shook my world, and in a good way. If anything I am finding my taste towards wine is going more to white and then rosé and then red. If my fridge doesn’t have a slew of white and rosé wines in it I get worried, like I don’t have enough provisions. Meanwhile I have a whole walk-in closet full of red wines I have been collecting for the last 30 years. The closet really represents my personal tasting history. There are still Bordeaux reds in there, along with Rhone reds, mainly from the northern Rhone. Italians are in there, lots of Tuscan reds, Piedmont reds and reds from Abruzzo, along with the occasional oddity from the Marche, Apulia and Basilicata. And then there are those Texas reds I forgot about and are now ready or rotten, depending on which wine we are talking about. Now those wines seem more like historical notations rather than a record of my preferences.

What I am finding is that I am enjoying lighter wines. We opened a 1970 Chateau Latour recently. 11.5% in alcohol, so in effect a lighter wine. But what a powerful red it was. We simply sipped on it, like communion wine, rather than spoil it with a “match.” It needed nothing to complement it, although it was still vigorous and not anywhere near having peaked.

White wines, anything from light Garganega blends from the Veneto to Verdicchio, whites from Campania or Alto Adige. Crisp, high acid, but fruity freshness. More of a beverage than an experience. Hey, I still have those moments when I get in front of greatness and sip from the chalice; I haven’t become immune to those experiences. But the days of opening a magnum of 1911 Chateau Lafite to go with BBQ are long gone (and yes we did things like that in the 1980’s).

No, what I am really getting at, searching for, is if some of us change what we are looking for in wine when we reach a certain age? I mean, some men (and women) start looking for younger mates and faster cars when they reach their 50’s. 60’s and 70’s. And while that might be more of a reflection of one’s personal and emotional maturity, is there something to it when I hear a man in his 50’s tell me he really likes “Big red wines from Napa” (P.S. you should have seen his wife).

I guess what I am looking for from anyone else who is reading this and cares to comment, is their personal path; taste evolution let's call it, in conjunction with the aging process.

I could envision drinking Riesling for the rest of my life on a regular basis. And white Burgundy. And those lovely crisp white wines from Italy. Even the occasional Chardonnay (I love the 2009 Jordan, for example). But what about all those reds in my closet? When am I going to get around to drinking them up?

So this is kind of a personal journey and even more it is a peculiar mystery, for I really don’t know how I got here from there. Is it me aging? Is it having tasted so many wines that I now know what I like? I mean, the thought of a Quintarelli red doesn’t repulse me, not at all. But I don’t dream about drinking Gaja or Sassicaia. They just don’t seem to appeal to me, even though it was a Gaja wine (78 Barbera) that really opened me up to the wines of Piedmont. And while that was then and this is now, I am a little perplexed by my path. I like fruit. I love acid. I don’t mind tannin. But I am not fond of high alcohol or oak. Usually, but not always. What the hell kind of palate do I have and who has commandeered it? It’s as if what I like to drink and what I “think” I should like are two different things. And we aren’t even descanting the salubrious world of natural wines; I’m just talking wine in general.

In the meantime, let’s hear from you folks out there, especially the older ones or ones who have been sipping on wine for some time, let’s say 20+ years. I know that might leave some of the young’uns out of this discourse, but feel free to join in if you want to. In any event you all will be in this situation sooner than you think. Like the next time you go to bed and wake up. Thirty years is merely a good night’s sleep. And a slew of wine pleasure.


Anne said...

How true. I started with White Zinfandel, now can't stand that perfumey smell and don't care for sweet at all. If it says a touch of residual sugar, I run away.
Graduated to big jammy California reds.
I now love a dry rose, especially from the Loire Valley, a dry reisling, sauvignon blanc, pinot blanc and a light red such as Schiava. I know I am drinking whites because it is getting warm in Texas. But even in the winter I prefer a subtle red and of course any dry sparkling.

michelecolline said...

For me, after selling wine for 20 years, and drinking it 10 years before and 10 years after(so far)I am preferring white wine and detest oak. I would drink white wine directly from the spigot if I could...gotta be fresh!!!!!!!

Gary York said...

It has been said that "the only constant in the universe is change". And we can only hope we all change for the better. Seems to me that as I grow older and change, I search for more balance and elegance in the wines I taste/drink. As I value and find great importance in that balance, it as caused me to leave behind styles and types of wines that lack it.

Gary York said...

Is one of the photos from the Allegrini dinner at VinItaly?

John M. Kelly said...

In one of my first industry production jobs, the winemaker complained to me that the owner was dictating boring, flabby, uninteresting blends. I spent a week at the library (this was before the days of internet ubiquity), Xeroxed 5 or 6 seminal research papers on the geriatrics of taste, put them in a manila folder, and left them on the owner's desk with a PostIt note: "There's a reason grandpa wants dessert first."

Like our hearing and eyesight, the acuity of our taste and smell deteriorates as we age. But it's not just a matter of acuity - there is also a shift in perception and preference.

I'm with you with respect to what I want to drink these days. I love grower Champagnes, whites from Alsace and Friuli (and Gavi and Cortese), 1er cru Chablis, white Corton and Meursault, Aligote, some of the Loire whites, a few new world whites, and dry roses from the southern Rhone.

But I make and sell red wines for a living. I'm keeping a sharp eye out for palate deterioration, and grooming young talent to replace me. I still enjoy drinking red wines frequently, especially as vini per meditazione but most of the time I just find them to be too much work.

arbiterbibendi said...

I don't know if it's age or experience. We all hit milestones along the path of wine. It usually goes sweet whites-fruity reds (Zin, Malbec, Cali/Or Pinot)-bolder reds (Napa Cab)-bold OW wines (CdP, Rhone, Spain)-balanced OW reds (Bdx, Brunello, Barolo)-Burgundy. Some say all roads lead to Burgundy but I think it goes further. Once you've reached the pinnacle of red there's a whole world of whites (riesling, Gruner, Alsace, etc.) and finally the noble sweet wines (Ausleses, Sauternes, Loire, Kracher). It's funny how many people jump off the trail at various points thinking the have 'got' wine.

Neveranonymus: Carlo said...

Yes, definitely.

Anonymous said...

I love these comments! I find your answer lies partially in what you said about your food preferences these days. Less heavy steaks. More delicate fish and even vegetables. What about your rustic eggplant Parmesan? What wine calls out to you to go with it?

Your best anonymous friend

Wine Curmudgeon said...

I don't know it has as much to do with age as how open minded we are about trying new things. I have a friend, who is older (and, oddly enough, doesn't eat red meat), and all he drinks are Bordeaux reds and white Burgundy. Go figure.

Marco Cadetto said...

How can our taste not change with age? The wines themselves are changing in the bottle. I think that my tastes have changed toward more well crafted honest wines that speak from a time and place. I like wines with a bit of mystery and surprise in them, ones that tell a story.

Mike Dunne said...

I tasted my first wine around 40 years ago. Then, and still today, my tastes are eclectic. By the accident of geography, the wines in the barn and the wines I generally write of are Californian, but I still enjoy and seek releases from South America, New Zealand, Australia, Itay, France and so forth. I find that my day-to-day tastes after all this time are influenced largely by the season and by the menu. Between now and September, that means mostly whites and the lighter reds. I wish I could put my hands on it, but I can't find a long-ago study that suggests that the tastes of our youth are sweet, in middle-age dry, and then return to a preference for the sweet when we qualify as elders.

Ric said...

Your tastes aren't changing they are just maturing. I started with white wine and moved on to reds but never the big high alcohol monsters. They are just boring and cumbersome. Don't get me wrong I love a cru burgundy but it's the difference between a pushy fat woman and a lithe ballerina dancing across the palate. Compare some balanced cabernet or pinot (Monte Bello/Littori) to one of the big cult wines, I find the aromatics and flavors if not as BIG much more fascinating. Besides now in my 50's I still like to have that second (or third) glass and be able to walk away without my head swimming.

Mary John Baumann said...

Great post!
Am heading to Piedmont in September and welcome your suggestions for restaurants.
Staying at a friend's house in Asti.

Man About Wine said...

For the first time in about 30 yrs I am drinking whites, when at home alone, because it is always hot here in S Diego, and at home alone is a lot less social than with red wine friends.

Valerie said...

I believe just like anything else changes with age, so would our tastes in wine. Heck, my tastes change with the seasons. I would also have to agree that we become more likely to reflect more of how we see ourselves in our tastes as a reflection of life experiences. My tastes in careers, goals, men, foods, music, travel & clothing have all changed from my 20s, 30s, and 40s. As I approach 50 I'm finding my tastes for all things becoming softer (less alcohol & tannin with my men please) but with more depth (hello white Burgundies and Ramatos from Friuli.) Great piece, again, Ace! Bravo ~

Alfonso Cevola said...

wow - nice comments all..

I'm on a deadline now and am trying to close up the office for a few days of downtime but will respond when I catch a moment. In the meantime, please continue..

Grazie tutti!

Anonymous said...

I do not think it is as much age related as refinement of palate and personal preference and diet.

I still love big reds but do not drink lots of them. I never liked over-oaked white wines. I have always been able to enjoy a good beaujolais with out embarassment.

23 Years in the adult beverage business and yes there are Roses that I like.

But, bordeaux of any name with BBQ?

by gdfo

Alfonso Cevola said...

@ gdfo - It was the 80's...
...and it was a (low fill) magnum of the 1911 Lafite, so somebody had to drink it. And BBQ (brisket) showed up at the office.

Oddly I remember things like that and forget really important things in my life - go figure

Renie said...

My answer is 'yes' if you believe in the full circle. Began my wine drinking on simply sweet German wines 40 years ago. Last night's experience was a slightly sweet, fresh, lightly frizzante, Moscato. Who would have thought ---- certainly not me ---- that I would discover and enjoy this basic varietal years later.

The pleasure of unique varietals, both white and red, has fascinated me...opening my nose and palate into the fragrance of Viognier, the crisp simple freshness of Albarino, dark, juicy Tannat, and Malbec with a staunch backbone and a lush and gamey attitude. The beauty of wine is that there are discoveries to be made every day at any age.

Thomas said...

It's damn-near impossible not to personalize such a subject. As John posted, there is science behind what happens to our senses as we age. To be sure, change takes place.

Still, our lives are influenced by more than the technicality of how our bodies react to aging. As you say, Alfonso, your diet plays a role in your wine selection--it should.

Now I get personal: ever since I started to drink wine, my tastes have been eclectic, with a decided bent away from bombastic. As I age, I find my tastes remain eclectic, but that the volume of whites and roses over reds has increased, and the reds that I do drink are far less weighty than the ones I used to drink.

Having said all that, no matter its color or its state of stillness/bubbly, I seek that elusive "balance" in wine, and have been finding that the so-called classic red wines have shifted (in general) to an out-of-balance experience.

Tone Kelly said...

I find that what I like now is a wine that has really wonderful balance. This can be a red or a white. I don't like blockbusters or overly fruity, jammy wines. I started drinking in the early 1970s and went through sweet German wine for many years. Then I switched to Bordeaux and Burgundy and I find that I am still here (with a few diversions). I like a good white wine but I find that the primary purpose for me of a white is to get me ready for a red. Whites don't satisfy me like a good well-aged balanced red wine.

Pam Barksdale said...

You make a excellent point about changing diet. I'm in my 40's and just prefer lighter foods, especially meats, than I did when I was younger. We, too have a cellar full of Bordeaux and high alcohol California cabs. I drink them because I have sons that still want me to cook red meat. But I have a bite or two of steak and mostly vegetables - not an ideal pairing. We drink far more Pinot and Sangiovese than Cab or Syrah, as they just seems more versatile with my dining preferences. Houston is blazing hot, so from April to November, I really prefer rose or white. Anything to refresh from the heat!

Paul said...

Someone I know in the wine trade has told me that he thinks all roads lead to Pinot. I can see where he is coming from.
The first thing I'll say is that we aren't all starting from the same place. We all taste differently which means some are more sensitive to certain compounds in the wine than they are others. I'm sure tastes change with age, but it is certainly more than that. personally I'm just coming up on that 20 years of drinking wine. My ability to detect finesse in a wine is more much developed than it was 20 years ago so I'm able to find enjoyment in lighter styles of red. I'm also drinking a lot more white these days an I think that is similar story. I can now detect nuances that I couldn't previously.
I still like the big bold reds, just not as often. Another interesting thing in my personal tastes is the swing from in preference from cabernet to shiraz then back again.
So some of this can be explained by aging, some by education and some I don't have an explanation for

italiaoutdoorsfoodandwine said...

I do see my taste in wine changing as I get older. Some changes are due to a lighter diet, yes. But most are due to just learning that there is so much more out there than we see in most of our US wine stores and restaurants. You mention the wonderful whites, like garganega, from the Veneto or Alto Adige. Some amazing lighter reds, like Lagrein and Schiava from the same regions. All of these have been produced for years specifically to accompany the local foods. A very different perspective than producing wines that appeal to what experts think will sell - HUGE reds that can overwhelm any meal.

Samantha Dugan said...

I think another thing to consider is how often you are drinking/tasting. For someone that goes home and opens a bottle of wine a night that big full red might be perfect, but for those of us that are tasting all day, everyday, maybe a little refreshment is in order. Kind of like that old wine making comment, "It takes a lot of beer to make great wine"....

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