Is Wine an Acquired Taste?

I recently read a post in the online Financial Times (the British publication) by a well-known wine writer. He wrote: “Newcomers to wine often describe their first impressions of its taste as ‘vinegary’ and ‘sour’. My younger brother and I agreed, having tentatively sipped champagne in our early teens, that its taste was similar to that left in our mouths after we’d vomited.”

This is why, the writer continued, “Beginners often prefer sweet wine.” A dry wine’s acidity (natural or added), which is one of its fundamental components, is simply too much for some new drinkers.

I myself never liked wine when I was young. The only wine my household ever saw was Manischewitz, a sugary-sweet red wine we drank at Jewish holidays, like Passover. I loathed it, and it turned me off to wine until I was an adult.

I know a lot of people under 25 or 30, and a lot of them don’t like wine. It’s not because they don’t like alcohol in general, because they do like beer and cocktails. There’s just something about wine they don’t relish. So it makes me wonder: Is wine an acquired taste?

In this country, of course, we have no tradition at all of giving little children wine. It’s not only illegal, it’s morally frowned upon by a segment of the population. In European wine-drinking countries like France, Italy and Spain, tradition has long held that offering children wine almost from birth helps them appreciate wine’s proper place in the household and in life. European parents were said to give baby a pinky dipped in wine. After that, the child got one teaspoon of wine, in a glass of water, for each additional year of life, until at age 12 or so, he or she was consuming a glass with the meal.

So for European children, you can’t really say wine is an acquired taste, if they’ve been drinking it since they were born! On the other hand, if somebody never had wine in their entire life until they were of legal drinking age, then they might find it sour and unpleasant. Don’t forget, we’re a nation that’s addicted to sugar. Kids grow up drinking Big Gulps, soda, frappuccinos and things like that, so when they taste a wine that’s not only high in acidity, but also entirely dry (where all the grape sugar has been fermented into alcohol), it’s not hard to see why they might wince at the taste.

Wikipedia says an acquired taste is an appreciation for a food or beverage that is unlikely to be enjoyed by a person who has not had substantial exposure to it.” I’ve always loved food, but the one food I had to acquire a taste for was mustard. Now, I love the stuff. Whenever I have a friend who says he doesn’t like wine, I try to offer him a sip of something fantastic, especially with food. I figure that anyone in their senses will love wine, if only they’re exposed to it enough, and have someone enthusiastic nearby, who can excite them about it.

Steve Heimoff is one of America’s most respected and well-known wine writers. The former West Coast Editor for Wine Enthusiast Magazine and a contributor to Wine Spectator, he has also authored two books on the subject of California wine, including “New Classic Winemakers of California: Conversations with Steve Heimoff,” published in the fall of 2007.