A recent study by the Wine Business Institute at Sonoma State University confirms what pretty much everyone who loves wine already knows: Most people's taste in wine changes over time.
The study itself is, statistically speaking, of marginal substance, never mind its academic provenance—it was based on a consumer survey of just 422 respondents. In addition, more than half the respondents were young: 28 percent were members of the so-called iGeneration (early twenties) and 30 percent were Millennials (roughly now between 22 and 37).
You may not be surprised to learn that 69 percent of the respondents stated that their wine preferences changed over time.
What this tells us is precisely … nothing. When we're young and starting out on our wine investigations, of course we know very little. And we know from our own experience that most of us preferred sweeter wines at the beginning of our wine journey.
Many wine drinkers, young and old, retain that preference throughout their lives. Witness the current popularity of white Moscato and mass-market red wines with big fruit, little character and plenty of sweetness, such as Meiomi. And it's not just wine newbies drinking such wines, either. Wine producers have known for, like, forever, that a sizable percentage of wine buyers of all ages and experiences find sweeter wines literally more palatable than dry wines.
For the rest of us, however, taste preferences do change. The more interesting question—one not addressed by any study that I'm aware of—is when (and why) our preferences stop changing.
My guess is that our taste preferences stop changing relatively early in our wine investigation. This is to say that most wine lovers proceed from sweeter to drier in taste preference; from a low tannin and acidity tolerance to a higher (or at least more accommodating) degree; and then, for whatever reasons, we find that we ultimately prefer buying certain sorts of wines (Burgundy, Bordeaux, California Cabernet, Oregon Pinot Noir) that fulfill our personal notion of wine beauty. Then we stop changing-or at least resist doing so.
But do we really stop? Twenty years ago I would have said, "Yup. Once we land on one or another square of what we find beautiful, we don't budge." Today, I would submit no such thing.
So what's changed? Partly it's simply living in the fastest-changing era the world has ever known, thanks to all the forces of modernity that I hardly need enumerate.
That said, two forces do deserve mention as root causes for our greater willingness and interest in changing our preferences.
One is price. Time was that if you liked Burgundy or Bordeaux, then, hey, no problem. Prices barely budged for decades at a time. And even the most expensive such wines were still within reach of a reasonably affluent member of the middle class.
Obviously, that's no longer true. Out of economic necessity, wine lovers are now forced to move from their original and preferred buying patterns or, if younger, never consider buying such newly exorbitant wines from the outset.
Second—and almost as significant, in my opinion—is the unprecedented availability of new and different wines from places that previous generations of wine lovers never knew existed, let alone considered buying.
Not least, these same previously obscure wines are now of a quality and refinement never before achieved. Think Italy. Spain. Portugal. California. Australia. New Zealand. Oregon. Washington. Canada. Greece. And on and on.
Today we are awash in extraordinary wines, a goodly number of which are selling for what can only be called middle-class prices. They are mighty good and we can afford them. What's more, we can even afford the more expensive versions of these wines, what might be called the "best in class."
Let me give you an example, an extraordinary wine that I recently was reacquainted with while living in Spain: 2009 Pazo de Señorans Albariño Selección de Añada from northwest Spain's Rías Baixas zone.
Rías Baixas is not new to many American wine lovers, especially, I suspect, those of us who long for wines that remind us of the white Burgundies we once could afford and no longer can (or care to).
Albariños from Rías Baixas are vaguely like a good, village-level Chablis, which is by no means faint praise. I've toured the zone and, as it happens, also visited Pazo de Señorans, as it's one of the most significant producers in the area.
But then along comes Pazo de Señorans' relatively recently created "grand cru," if you will. At $55 it's easily twice the price of most Riás Baixas wines. But that's still within reach of many wine drinkers, if only as an occasional splurge.
Why spend the premium? Because when you taste it, you'll know in a single sip how the wine world has changed and why you, too, might willingly, even eagerly, embrace change.
Selected from a single 10-acre plot with vines nearly a half-century old, Pazo de Señorans Selección de Añada is an Albariño like few others. It's aged in stainless steel tanks on its lees for 30 months. (Most Albariños are released within a year of the harvest and are meant to be drunk young.) Then it's aged in bottle for another 12 months after that.
What emerges is a dry white wine with a striking greenish cast and an unusual (for Albariño) textural density delivering a lemony mineral complexity that reminds you of … wait for it … those expensive white Burgundies many of us love and long for. It's reminiscent of you-know-what, yet remains both distinctive and original. Not least, it's truly equal in quality with traditional great whites.
So why change? Because the answer is at hand on the shelves of any good wine shop or on the wine list of many good restaurants: a world of wines like no other in history.
Nominations anyone for other rock-your-world agents of change such as the 2009 Pazo de Señorans Albariño Selección de Añada from Rías Baixas?
I look forward to hearing your choices!