For a couple of months this summer I lost my drinking buddy. Not that he actually went away, but some medication he was taking ruined his wine palate. He spurned the bottle of red we usually share forcing me to find enjoyment elsewhere. My roving palate was encouraged by his misfortune to seek out new adventures with whites and rosés.
Our taste buds are easily impacted by external forces like medications or associations with good or bad experiences. A wine enjoyed on vacation will conjure up wonderful memories. Or, conversely, the hangover you suffered at college will forever be associated with too many shots of Jagermeister. Whether you’re indoors or outside also makes a difference in how things taste. The great outdoors does wonders for the appetite. How satisfying is a barbecue or a picnic after a long walk? If you’re sipping wine while taking in the beauty of nature, be aware that the fragrance and pollens in the fresh air are impacting your perception of the wine’s aromas and ultimately, its taste.
Internal forces have a way of changing our taste buds, too. Illnesses, hormonal changes, and natural aging all have an impact on our perception of taste. Lifestyles that include smoking and high stress may also affect your sense of taste. Taste is also integrated with our sense of smell so even a common cold or seasonal allergies may influence our perceptions.
More than the physiological aspects, there are mental and emotional aspects impacting our sense of taste. Like a mid-life crisis, a roving palate may be instigated by the need to stimulate our senses with fresh new experiences. And it’s a heck of a lot cheaper to try a new wine or an exotic dish than it is to alleviate your stressors with a flashy new sports car!
Being able to perceive and articulate the subtleties of wine is gained by the experience of tasting. It’s natural that one’s palate will evolve as you learn your particular likes and dislikes. But sometimes the most favored wine can be transient; it’s really only the wine of the month. Are we challenging our taste buds the way athletes alternate their workouts to avoid hitting a plateau?
We have a tendency to condition ourselves to like certain things, especially delicacies like escargot and oysters which can be rather repulsive at first encounter, hence the term “acquired taste”. What’s important in conditioning is not to let it develop into prejudice, letting snobbery get in the way of a purely sensory experience.
My drinking buddy’s wine hiatus has just about come to an end, but I intend to keep nurturing my roving palate ‘til death do us part.