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How Are Tastes in Wine Shaped?

Posted on | April 20, 2010 | Written by Jane Nelson | 3 Comments

I started thinking the other day about people’s relationship with wine. Clearly everyone is different, and there are a number of different variables, but what is it that shapes our tastes and habits in the world of wine? It looks to me as if our tastes in wine are shaped much as our tastes in just about everything: by genetics, culture, family tradition and, as I witnessed this past week, generation.

I was eating dinner with my grandparents, who spend most of the year in London and a few months in New York. Upon arrival, my grandmother handed me a glass of Bordeaux. As I sipped it, I discreetly perused their bar and noticed that every bottle of wine stored there was from Bordeaux. I remembered how often I’d drunk this wine in their presence. I continued pondering the Bordeaux connection, and I realized that Bordeaux is all they ever drink—in restaurants and in their home. In fact, it’s a taste that I associate with my grandparents. And I can’t help but think that they’re not the only wine drinkers their age who practice that sort of discrimination.

One school of thought would then be that this predilection for Bordeaux would have been passed on to my mother, and then on to me. However, it’s quite the opposite—my mom’s red of choice is Zinfandel and we rarely drink Bordeaux at family meals. So what is it that drives my mom’s relationship with wine? Could it be that because she is a baby boomer she has the cultural drive to try something different, to redefine traditional values? Does her choice of wine constitute a subtle act of rebellion? Is my mother’s Zinfandel the sign of an infidel? Or does she merely like it better?

I then started to think about my friends from California. While they’ll try anything new and different that they can get their mouths on, when push comes to shove, they’ll show their hometown pride in opting for a big Napa Cab any day of the week. This choice seems to fall clearly into the culture camp. To drink otherwise is not to support the home team.

And then I tried to decipher my own relationship with wine. Although I do have my everyday favorites and some wines that I crave above all others, I am like many people of Generation Y: I’m always searching for the new. Novelty may be the standard in my relationship with drinking wine, a habit I was allowed to develop early on because of my parents’ European love of always having a glass of wine with dinner. However, as much as I love pushing my oenophile envelope, I cannot credit any one thing for shaping my relationship with wine. But then, I’m still young. Maybe by the time I’m my grandparents’ age I too will have found my Bordeaux. (Though I doubt it.)

I’m curious about all of you. What would you say shapes your love of wine? Culture? Tradition? Taste buds? Generation? Or some combination thereof?


3 Responses to “How Are Tastes in Wine Shaped?”

  1. Kerry-Jo Rizzo
    April 21st, 2010 @ 11:44 am

    Preferred taste is definitely developed based on culture and generation. I feel lucky to be living and entering the creative age, where exploration and try new things is the norm. Great book on taste and its development:

    “All Manners of Food: Eating and Taste in England and France from the Middle Ages to the Present”

  2. Jane
    April 21st, 2010 @ 12:11 pm

    Thanks Kerry-Jo I will be sure to check that out. Any conclusions on which factors in the most?

  3. Nicola
    April 28th, 2010 @ 6:50 pm

    I think one’s personality is expressed in how one approaches wine. I, too, value the novel and esoteric. I feel like tasting wine is an exploratory adventure. However, this is how I approach many situations in life outside of wine, and the esoteric is a valued characteristic for me. I also think that our generation is so accustomed to a break-down of barriers, driven by media. Through the internet we’re able to get so much information and to communicate across different groups, as well as have access to information about cultures worldwide. This breakdown of certain barriers, I believe, contributes to our generation’s inclination to explore and to seek novel experiences…in wine, and in many other areas of life.

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