If I like Sweet Wine Do I Have an Immature Palate?

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Image attributed to Von Vino

Ever wonder why you loved Twinkies and moon pies when you were younger and, now they taste way too sweet? When I was a kid I used to hate anything bitter, now I eat brussels sprouts and kale. What happened?

Your perception of taste changes as you physically mature and you rewire your brain through experiences. From birth up to around the age of ten or eleven humans are slow growing mammals. As children, we put “things” in our mouth that can kill us. So we are all more hypersensitive to bitter and sour to help us stay alive. Remember poisons are bitter and acids are sour. It is not genetically adaptive to eat poison, and acids can literally burn your throat. Some children are born more sensitive than the rest of us.

As you grow older you physically “mature”. Taste sensitivity tends to change with age depending on the unchanging number of taste buds you were born with and secondarily your positive and negative associative memories that come from what you experience.

Twenty thousand years ago humans lived in “food scarce” environments. This means they ate whenever they could find something to eat. The genes didn’t change much in 20,000 years. While you body is growing your brain recognizes simple carbohydrates (sugar) as “cheap energy”. So we tend to like to eat sweet things while our bodies are still growing. Sugar has only been cheap and plentiful for a few hundred years.

You reach physical maturity around twenty-five (some of us younger some older). When your body is fully grown your preferences for the taste sweet things can change. If you associate sweet foods with pleasure that tends to keep the preference going. If you have 11,000 taste buds, you like sweet wines because the sweetness masked bitterness and bitter things tell you’re mid brain stem to “spit out the poison”.

Men and women are different. Men are still genetically hunters and are testosterone poisoned from before they were born. Women are still genetically gatherers. A man hunting 10,000 years ago would decide whether the meat of the antelope he killed was “good” or “bad” by looking and smelling. No need to put the meat in his mouth to determine whether it was safe. So his sensitivity to bitterness was a somewhat mute point to survival. A woman 10,000 years ago would “gather” fruits, nuts, vegetables, and berries. If she gathered the “wrong” berry, because she was unable to taste bitterness, she and the rest of her tribe could die from poisoning. Non-bitter sensitive gatherers could eliminate a gene pool in one generation. This is one of the reasons women seem to like white wines more often and men like red wines. Eighty percent of supertasters are women.

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Sommelier Madeline Puckette – Image attributed to Winey Folly

Women are also hypersensitive to everything when they are pregnant. Pregnant women are vulnerable because they can’t outrun or outclimb a mountain lion. But they can out “sense” one. Their sense of smell, taste, hearing, vision and touch are at their peak when pregnant and to a lesser degree during menstruation.

So a “mature palate” has little to do with whether you will no longer like sweet wines. To a large degree your sweet wine preference is a built in result of gender and genetics. Sweet wine preference has nothing to do with your level of sophistication or knowledge about wine. It is to say the least nearly impossible to “wine educate” your genetics.

** This blog post originally appeared on medium.com/wineryguide