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The Times they are a Changing

The recent EP thread threw up another perennial in that long kept wines may no longer be your taste by the time you get to actually drink them.

This again is something that occurs more with the, lets say, the more senior members on here, but not exclusively, and it is a dimension in life that affects more than just our taste buds, we change how we look at things how we hear and smell things and how much, less and more we indulge in all the senses.

As an example, I have a neighbour who had his own successful rock band back in the day and still pre virus did live gigs around the country, and we were talking about the fact in both our cases our large music libraries get less and less play time, both our wives have commented on this fact in recent years, our much coveted Hi Fi systems gather dust for longer periods these days, we have not tired of our respective choice in music, we just don’t play it as much and some of it has not stood the test of time.

I never as a child had much of a sweet tooth, partly that was because post war sweets were rationed and you got used to not having them but even when rationing finally was raised I did not go mad as many did and buy all in the shop, yet now I like the odd cake and similar, items I never ate during previous years, a reverse of my changes in taste in wine to some degree.

Do we lose some degree of quality in our senses, my wife likes fino and manzanilla sherries, and I remember in years back the amazing nose many had, somehow now I find it something that is less evident in the sherries she drinks now, is that the sherry or simply me not being able as in the past to appreciate that wonderful aroma, or has our familiarity made us blasé?

And I know from conversations with people this is anything but uncommon, so how much do our tastes in wine change over decades? again this will vary from person to person and some will not change at all, more probably those who have had a narrower tasting experience and stick with their preferred choices, but I could be wrong.

When talking about my own tastes, I have found that certain regions have themselves changed the wine styles either to stay in fashion or to suit new markets, that also means a change in what you drink and the change may no longer be to your taste yet on the other hand it may well come into someone else’s comfort, taste zone, these changes further muddy the waters over what is happening to our senses.

My own experience with Riesling shows the changes in style in recent times have not all been to my liking, I can speak about Riesling as it was the first serious wine I started buying in the early seventies and I have always had what I like to think of as decent Riesling in my cellar, yet I drink more red than white from virtually all regions of the globe, I love the ‘finding out’ about new wines grapes and winemakers, it is one of the prime reasons for me to buy wine.

A good example of changing tastes and styles is Australian Shiraz , something that could be duplicated elsewhere as in Argentina with Malbec, the reds of California and indeed full on reds from almost anywhere and indeed with Chardonnays from the similar climes.
The trend is now away from full throttle wines and towards a lighter less alcoholic style in many of those places, yet I and others have enjoyed the better well balanced full on styles, it has been the other over extracted and alcoholic versions that have caused the changes now being made.

But many of the newer lighter versions of the same grapes suffer from being rather thin, the pendulum has swung to far.

With Riesling the change back to drier wines as Riesling originally was has resulted in many winemakers going for what is perceived by many to be the way forward and they are producing wines that are only one step away from battery acid, the comments from the lovers of this style are interesting, do they really like it or is it a case of keeping up with the trend, the mouth puckering Rieslings I have tried I simply do not enjoy, they verge on being untypical of the grape to the extent they become indistinguishable from SB and not good SB at that, the fruit is almost entirely obliterated, but that is just my opinion.

Back to changing taste and taking all those above items into consideration, I do still find I am, in the case of Riesling drinking a much larger amount of Kabinett class wines as opposed to the sweeter versions, the sweeter versions are still enjoyed but in much smaller doses, in reds yes I still like a full on balanced Rhone red or Aussie equivalent, but I am buying more of the lighter style wines such as those from Monastrell, as good an example as any, the shift in taste is along those lines.
I still have some some full on reds in my cellar and they will be drunk, but I am not buying so many these days, and if I had cases of those wines now waiting to be drunk, I doubt they all would be, and I pre-empted that scenario and unloaded a few years back a large part of those wines that fit that description, alongside many Bordeaux that I no longer thought did much for me any more, maybe they never did.

Sometimes I think we over complicate our choices in wine buying, we become so immersed in the whole region grower terroir expert opinion trends and whatever else is out there we forget it is just a drink to enjoy, sometimes that enjoyment can come from a surprisingly simple bottle, but that of course would not be something to admit to for many, simple simply cannot be good, it earns no brownie points.

There is of course a double whammy in that not only has your taste changed but many aged wines you have may have evolved so far away from what you initially purchased they no longer appeal, but that is a separate subject.

If you go onto Cellartracker and look through certain collections, they are totally dominated by specific regions and you do wonder what the owners would do if their tastes change, I also wonder how the same, and many do, comment on other wines when according to their cellars they having nothing but Bordeaux, but I digress, would they persevere or would they sell off and buy according to how they felt about wine at that moment in time and to suit their change in taste.

My own much reduced collection is there on Cellartracker for anyone who cares to look, it is short in certain areas like Burgundy that I simply refuse to take part in buying such is the ridiculous prices being asked for anything that can attach itself to the Cotes however tenuous, and my Italian section needs a big boost compared with the past, but still considering the size now it is still pretty widely spread with the exceptions of areas that do little for me, it is a pretty fair reflection of my tastes at this time of life, I have weeded out most of those wines I no longer automatically go to.

As for everyone else tastes do change, it would be interesting if in the future we could see if those who say they only drink x actually keep to their word, or will age have its affect on their choice, or indeed is that change of taste only confined to the older drinker?

In Bordeaux falling sales have resulted in Château making changes to the wine they make, are people really bored with Cru class wines, have the Château simply made a commercial decision to jump on the bandwagon that is the changing tastes of the younger drinker, something can be gleaned from this comment from a Bordeaux Château……….

“Château Carsin is looking to a younger clientele by producing wines that are more affordable — and less complicated “

The age demographic shows a distinct change among the young wine buyer, it is hard to believe from those early heady days of Mateus Rose then seen as the pinnacle of wine taste? And how we then ridiculed our drinking habits of the time to now see rose wine outselling white wine in France today, and it is the young who are mainly buying it.

Much of what we drink is affected by suggestion of what is perceived to be good, but is not necessarily so, drinkers are persuaded not by their own experiences but by others either peers or critics who many believe represent their own tastes, do they or is it a crutch to lean on when buying wine that you cannot sample or taste, it is always interesting when reading the ‘what are drinking today’ comments how people up tick wines that are hard to find and perceived to be good and don’t up tick others more readily available but in a lot of cases have equal merit as a drink, this line starts to stray into the should all wines be tasted blind category so I wont extrapolate any more on that but it shows how taste can be manipulated by belief not facts.

So yes our own tastes do change but so to do the general wine public in their choices, has it actually ever been any different.

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Cheap wine is better than it ever has been. It’s more available than it ever has been and it’s available from more places than it ever has been. You can pick up something that (we may not like but) is fundamentally drinkable from any corner shop and a few quid in a discount german supermarket can get you something actually very good. The same sentiments can be applied to expensive wine too. Producers who’ve been doing the same thing (give or take) for centuries are having to (at least try to) adapt. Some are doing it very right, some are doing it very wrong.

To take your Claret example. Wine won’t sell purely because it’s from Bordeaux any more. There is so much other good wine, so much mediocre Bordeaux Superior with prices and labels so similar to far better wine that why bother. You can get something special from elsewhere for the same money and know that it is special. Applying Darwin, some of them will need to adapt to survive as there really isn’t a place in the market for all of them right now. I’ve not tried (or heard of) Château Carsin, either before or after change, so can’t comment on that, but I’ve had some of these “for the younger market” (being as I am “the younger market” as a lot of times they still mean white men in their 40s). They’ve been far better than standard line drawn château on beige paper Superiore/Cote du Bordeaux. Pom’n’rol springs to mind, which really isn’t cheap but is excellent! It’s still hugely complex/complete wine that I’d serve to the most dyed in the wool claret fan, but it’s also far more fresh, vibrant and interesting.

I actually think that there will be far more changes to come. The oft thrown around stat is the average length of time between buying and drinking of a bottle of wine. The coupled with the (this past year not withstanding) the massive decrease in people buying wine by the case (particularly non-mixed). I think to really adapt age-worthy, and age-required wines are going to need to be sold in smaller units and with a lot more age on them. The Spanish have a far better handle on this than the French do already where even the finest of wines are often available at a drinking age buy the bottle (e.g. you can if you’ve got the money pick up a Vega Sicilia, Pingus* or Ermita on decantalo). A lot of current Spanish releases are floating somewhere around 2010, but I’ve just had to buy my 2019 Rhone that I’ll not be drinking for a decade.

All of this would also counter the “my tastes have changed” issue as you’d not need to buy and keep wine for years, you could just buy and drink the wines you like. Have the times a changed? Yes. Have they changed enough? Definitely not.

*Pingus being a whole other related issue about wines without history or track record demanding HUGE amounts of money, which seems to be something the Spanish/wine producers in Spain are getting rather good at.

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Nice piece with lots of considerations.

  1. Our own taste may change
  2. The wines themselves change when ageing
  3. The wine making changes over time
  4. The climate changes and impacts on the wines.

For me the obvious conclusion is we should keep trying different wines, and enjoy that journey, I certainly do. But so far my preferences have been confirmed rather than changed.

I like the robust full-on reds from the Rhone particularly syrah based wines, nebbiolo, left bank bordeaux blends, ribera del duero tempranillos, new world bordeaux blends and similar ones. I have tried pinot noir and similar lighter varieties e.g. from piemonte many times, and will continue to do so, but I do not generally seem to enjoy those that much.

Same with white wines, where I like the more complex wines, like gewurztraminer, viognier, ribolla gialla, meursault type chardonnay, and various cuvee’s, and versions of riesling, semillon, gruner veltliner either from older vines or well-aged.

I hope though that if my taste changes, it doesn’t change too quickly, given my extensive cellar with these types of wines, it would indeed be a shame if I would not be able to enjoy the wines that I have been carefully cellaring over the years. In CellarTracker my name is Zoekerdutch.

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Tastes change - that’s life. I suspect most people eat food in adulthood that they wouldn’t touch in childhood - the classic “l don’t like x” having never tried it. I would expect our tastes to change as we get older. I, for one, used to love those high alcohol jammy Australian Shiraz of the 80/90s but I can’t imagine drinking one now although I know people who still enjoy them. The same goes for big oak Chardonnays, nothing worse but if it’s thing it’s your thing. It takes time to decide on what styles you like and boy is it fun working that out.

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Okay, so I’m not sure if this will be a response to what has gone before or a general ramble (which now I think of it is a sort of a response).

The thing about “one gets so bored of good wine” made me think. Why is it that most of the experiences which stick in my mind are of wines which I think non-winos would think of as ‘bad’ wines? Old wines mostly, Burgundy, Claret, a few other odds and ends.

@strawpig mentions the increased quality of wines at lower end of the price range, this is true but I think it comes at a cost. The cost being uniformity, blandness. The purpose of such wine is similar to WKD, it is designed to taste nice and get you drunk. And for me that is the opposite of wine.

Wine is about intoxication but to soar it must be alive and speak to you. All my great wine moments have that in common, and in that sense my tastes do not change, whatever the label may say.

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Tastes and the market change. Back in the early 90’s we started getting exposed to Australian wine partly due to escalating French wine prices and partly due to actions of people like OZ Clarke. In 1993 I got married and sourced the wine for my wedding after several tastings courtesy of Oddbins at the time. Red was Lindeman’s bin 50 (Shiraz), white Lindeman’s bin 65, Champagne Heidsieck Dry Monopole. I remember the 65 being big and buttery vanilla which we loved. Several years later we gave this wine a large steer - changing tastes and I now understand potential quality drop. In 2019 I was in a Booths supermarket and they had the 50 and 65 on offer for £5 so for a memory trip I bought them. My wife and I were pleasantly surprised and the 65 was no longer a big oak bomb. I will not say it was as good as I would have rated it as my younger self and 26 years of TWS membership between these experiences but for £5 I would not complain.

I suspect as my tastes and that of countless others have changed the Australian have adapted. I know we have changed as we in the same year tasted California Bread and Butter Chardonnay as a WSET sample wine and we will be staying well clear of this apparent popular wine.

I would definitely say sitting WSET level 2 and 3 has enhanced my enjoyment considerably as I study what I drink much more. Now more open to try a lot more but was a Bordeaux and Rhone fan 26 years ago and still am but much better educated to know the producer/bottle/vintage to go for these days.

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Just as a side piece tastes may change but prices certainly do. I have the wine menu for the Edinburgh Royal Overseas club where we had our wedding and reception and a bottle of Chateau Giscours 3eme Cru Class Margaux 1982 in 1993 would have set you back £16.55. In context we were charged £13 for 2 courses and coffee and mints for our lunch guests and £4.59 per head for the evening buffet. Alas I have not been able to track down my original wine bill but suspect the Lindeman’s would be under £4 a bottle. Price inflation modest on this compared to the Giscours if you assume 2* minimum mark up.

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Two things got me into wine. The first was. 6th form job at one of John Lewis’ staff clubs where the Deputy Manager introduced me to the different styles of wine. Part of my role (which was mostly washing up) was to bring wines up from the cellar each morning for the dinner service. Occasionally, he would also ask me to sweep in the cellar, not to collect the dust but to get it to settle on the older bottles in order to create a bit more drama when a special bottle was ordered!
The other thing, slightly later, was the purchase of a bottle of 1982 Chateau Rahoul from Graves. It was delicious and I joined TWS shortly after that. Unfortunately, I did not get into EP until 6 years later and so missed the mid to late 80’s buying my first EP case of Leoville Barton 1990 - I have one bottle left.
In terms of what has changed, I reflect back over the last 35 years of enjoying wine and membership of TWS and find myself thinking about the growth of supermarket ranges, the rise and fall and subsequent rise again (and perhaps fall again now) of independents. The enthusiasm of Oddbins and Majestic staff and general growth of wine knowledge. The expansion of wine publications and books. Visits to wine regions. The arrival of New World wines from Australia (Bin 389 at £6 a bottle!), New Zealand, Chile and Argentina. Super Tuscans and their equivalents in Spain. The Asian demand that pushed Bordeaux First, Second and Third class growths out of my reach but which were replaced by EP offers from regions that did not traditionally have access to these funds.
However, I think the most significant change has been the translation of knowledge into the production of wine, assisted by technology and climate change. It is now rare that a vintage is written off. In fact, a greater problem for many is heat and lack of water. Alcohol levels have increased by at least 1% whilst winemakers in countries like Argentina are now seeking vineyards that are either higher in altitude or further south. UK sparkling wine is one of the beneficiaries of climate change but so are German white wines in my view.
In terms of the market place, clearly technology is having an impact but, because TWS was already ‘mail order’, the way in which I order my wines has not really changed, except that I use a web page now rather than the brochure and telephone. I do suspect that large corporate owned brands now dominate supermarket shelves (even if individual wines have catchy names and labels) but with greater access (certainly pre BREXIT) to European online shops and producers, direct purchase is possible and both TWS and good independents still stock small producers of lovely wines.
Personally, I think COVID has filled a potential loss of wine drinkers as younger people not only had more time to explore the online blogs, lectures, courses, YouTube, etc, but also found providers like TWS and started to explore wine in the same way as the ‘Oddbins’ generation. Maintaining that engagement is now the challenge.

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