The Influences That Formulate Our Opinion of Wine

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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

How often does this happen to you? You’re at a dinner party and the host opens a bottle of wine. Everyone sips it and marvels at the aroma and flavor of such a fine wine. You sit there quietly thinking that Mother Nature must have had a bad hair day when this wine was produced.

Conversely, you’re at a restaurant and a dining mate orders a bottle of wine. You sample the wine and become flush with a rush of excitement. Ah, a new experience that you will remember even when dementia creeps up on you later in life. You look around the table and everyone else is nursing their respective glass; nary a one, not even the person who ordered the wine, is asking for more.

Has this happened to you?

Are your sensory elements out of line with the rest of society? Have your senses of smell and taste been permanently affected by those massive quantities of extra spicy chicken wings you inhaled during college? Or are you the true connoisseur in the group, with a palate that can detect resplendent scents of herbs and spices grown in exotic lands?

It happens to me all the time.

As I’ve learned through trial and error, there are no prescribed rules to follow in judging a wine’s merits. My perception of wine is just that: an individualized experience that differs from person to person, from palate to palate.

Why is this? What causes such a broad band of opinion when it comes to wine? We don’t typically find this dichotomy when we experience other gustatory pleasures in life. After all, barring any allergic reaction or intolerance, doesn’t everyone enjoy pizza, mint chocolate chip ice cream and pigs in a blanket?

There are three reasons for the distinct elements we bring to our individual interactions with wine.

  1. Perception. If you read a wine critic’s review of a particular wine, the tendency is to accept it as the de facto essence of the wine. It is etched in our subconscious as an ultimate assessment. However, these notes are simply one person’s palate speaking. For this reason, I disdain the concept of blind tastings. A critic brings a lifetime of personal perceptions to an individual tasting moment. Why should we arbitrarily rely on this evaluation?
  2. Experience. Each palate is the repository of the four senses of taste and thousands of senses of smell. No two individuals possess the identical memory footprint of taste and smell. The best way to determine the caliber of a wine is to sample it. Over time our cerebral storage cells capture the subjective elements of wine and build an internal data bank. Each time we sample a new wine, these data elements come surging to the forefront of our palates and our sensory neurons. In this way we “remember” the citrus aromas of Sauvignon Blanc and the peppery mouthfeel of Syrah, and apply these memories to the wine at hand.
  3. Genetics. Yes, some of us have more taste buds than others, some have more sensitive olfactory senses, and some can assimilate elements of aromas and flavors better than others. It’s a function of our DNA. Be it ethnic or evolutionary, some of us just have a predisposition to the finer elements of the physiological make-up of wine. If you’re in this elite group, capitalize on it. Use these innate skills to discern amongst the sea of mediocre wines in the marketplace. If you’re like the rest of us, follow Theory 2 above; drink your way to an educated palate.

The most difficult question posed to me by inquiring minds is “what wine should I be drinking?” Invariably my response is “whichever wine you enjoy.” Remember: “Continuous experimentation results in instinctive behavior.”

Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.




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