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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I have a sensitive palate, and it's easily irritated by drinking red wine. However, I have found that older wines (15 years or more), can be quite enjoyable. Is this my imagination? Or is there a scientific explanation for this phenomenon?

—Bernard, Salinas, Calif.

Dear Bernard,

Not only does everyone have their own preferences, there can be biological differences to us, too. About one-fourth of the population are "super tasters," with several times more taste buds than the rest of us; that condition can cause sour, sweet and bitter tastes to be amplified. That can make things like spicy food and bold wine unpleasant to drink, and it's why many super tasters prefer plain foods.

You might also be sensitive to acidity, tannins or alcohol. Many zingy, mouthwateringly juicy white wines like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio can be very high in acidity, and some big red wines like California Cabernets and Italian Barolos can be packed with drying, mouth-puckering tannins.

Since you've observed that you prefer older wines, it makes sense that you might be sensitive to acidity and tannins. As wines age, the primary fruit flavors fade and acidity and tannins move into the background. I notice the changes around a wine’s 10-year mark, and certainly by age 15. Older wines are an acquired taste; most wines are consumed when they're still young and vibrant. But I’m glad in this case that older wines work for you. However, I'm not a real doctor, and you should definitely consult your physician about any irritation or pain you experience associated with consuming wine!

—Dr. Vinny

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