Thursday, October 23, 2014

Why older men prefer higher alcohol wines and younger women

Over lunch, I was talking with an older friend. He’s a fan of California wine, really loves Pinot Noir. He’s not a beginner, heck he pulled a 30 year old bottle of wine from Napa out of his wine closet and gave it to me. It was 12.5 percent in alcohol. But he likes wines with more power, more flesh, more alcohol.

Earlier in the day I read an interview with Dave Ramey that Blake Gray did. In the interview, Ramey said, “The middle road is the better path. 15 percent is not high for ripe Cabernet. It's what Bordeaux will be in a ripe vintage. It's what some white Burgundies will be in a ripe vintage. You get these guys making 12.5 percent wines now. There's a reason that people in Burgundy have been chaptalizing for all these years. The alcohol adds pleasure to the mouthfeel.”

Two times in one day, older guys were waxing about their affection for higher alcohol wines. In another vein, three of my oldest male friends have started second families with women half their age. It got me to thinking, wondering if there was something akin to those older men who turn to younger women, this whole pleasure aspect. Was there a correlation? Why do some older men prefer higher alcohol wines and younger women?

Dave Ramey is saying to me that pleasure is a guiding principle.

While the debate rages on between those who prefer more mouthfeel (in their wines) and those who are seeking wines more like those we had in California 30 years ago, I find myself somewhere in the middle of all of this, although I’m not sure it’s Dave Ramey’s middle road. However, if I am blind tasted on something that’s 15 percent and don’t know it, and the sum of the parts makes a wine that to my senses appears to be in balance and is pleasurable, I’m likely to sip on.

I recently opened a 2013 Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc from Napa. Tasting it before dinner I wasn’t in thinking mode. I was cooking and the wine was lubricating my palate. But when I turned to study the wine, I realized that, for me, it had very little to do with what I thought Sauvignon Blanc should be. It was sweet, almost Moscato-like, but instead of the acidity of Moscato, it fell short of my expectations. My solution was to put the unused wine in the fridge and find another bottle more suitable for the moment. Was that Duckhorn’s fault? Or was it something in the stars? Or me? I really didn’t care to address the ideological side of the argument; I was looking for a solution for the moment. And I found it in another bottle of wine.

When it comes to women, maybe those friends of mine who seek out younger mates see themselves as not that old. Or perhaps they are pursuing someone closer to their emotional age, like my friend Carlo once joked. He is over 60 and engaged to a woman who is 30. He’s not a jerk; he’s a pretty sensitive guy. But he has found love (and pleasure) with a younger woman.

I know I’m reaching, not really positing a hypothesis as much as floating an idea. Is there something in the brain that older men respond to in seeking out wine and women? Is it really just about the trophy? So far, all I have found has been anecdotal evidence to advance my suspicions. I’m not talking about a 47 year old man and a 39 year old woman. I’m talking a 60+ year old man and a 30 year old woman. Is it really that unusual?

Not that I’m angling for universal acceptance of this behavior. I have no desire to go there. Nor does Dave Ramey, it seems. But occasionally I do open and enjoy a young and buxomly Amarone or even a ripe-and-ready Super Tuscan. I can see that, even if Dave and I don’t agree on the fatal attraction a Super Tuscan can have. This isn’t polemical or even ideological. If I like it, I go with it. That pleasure thing, again. But a 30 year old wine at 12.5 percent can also be a really pleasurable thing, too.

I’ve done enough wine dinners in the last 5+ years though, to see my share of the older men/younger women couples at a Barolo or Brunello dinner. Hey, the women like these wines too, and it appears these young women like older men. Maybe that’s the other side of this coin?

Another male acquaintance of mine decided to set me straight on all of this navel gazing. “Look pal, you’re thinking too hard and too deep about this. Here’s what it is. When a man gets older he starts thinking about his mortality. And for many people that’s a tough road to go down. So some men prefer to forestall that reckoning by seeking out younger women.”

Maybe it really is about a connection. When men are younger they are thinking about their career, about building a family, about relevance. As men get closer to their final days, connection for both men and women seem to be a huge part of the equation.

Is that what drives some older men to the younger, sweeter, higher alcohol wines? Everything is right there up-front; power, energy, pleasure. What about the visceral connection? Does higher alcohol make them feel more alive?

I don’t know. I do know I still have a lot of older wines in my closet. And there’s something about a woman who knows her way around the world and is comfortable in her skin through the long march of time, irrespective of AndréTchelistcheff’s take in this matter.

I hope there is more to this story than just instinct and biology.

I’d really love to hear your thoughts.

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