What does a 51-year-old woman have in common with her 21-year-old daughter? More than you’d think. At least when it comes to wine.
Prior to sharing my passion for wine with my mother, I used to believe that my lust for tannin-rich wines like Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon stemmed from my initial romance with Tempranillo, a wine that I first tried and fell in love with last summer on a trip to Spain. I’ve since enjoyed tasting and exploring the diverse varieties of wine with her. She appreciates many of the random and sometimes obscure bottles that I bring home with me when I visit, and her own collection is never disappointing either.
While she was also still an undergraduate, my mother moved from Pennsylvania to southern California for a summer internship. One weekend she traveled north to the beloved wine country of the Sonoma Valley, where she experienced her first real wine tasting. It was also the first time she was exposed to the endless aromas, tastes and qualities a wine can have.
“When I was your age, I knew nothing about wine,” she told me. “But when I tasted tannins for the first time, I knew I really liked them, and I’ve desired wines with them ever since.”
Now of course, everyone has different preferences for what they enjoy in a wine. Some people favor zippy whites like Sauvignon Blanc, and others are partial to fruity reds like Pinot Noir. But what exactly influences such inclinations for certain flavors?
For starters, it’s partially embedded in your DNA. The genes you inherited from your parents include tiny smell receptors that have a huge impact on how you taste things, whether it is food, beer or wine. Specifically, the ability to pick up on bitter tastes is of great interest when it comes to understanding your own genetic wine preference. One-quarter of people hardly taste bitter flavors at all, another quarter are extremely sensitive to them, and the rest fall somewhere between the two extremes.
Depending on whether or not you have this “bitter” gene, you may be overly aware of a wine’s bitter finish, or you could simply not notice any off-putting flavors at all. My mother and I seem to have similar taste buds, which recognize and take pleasure in the same mouth-gripping tannins. As it turns out, I was predisposed to favor big, bold red wines because they’re strikingly similar to the ones my mother also seeks out.
But your genes aren’t the only profound influence that determines what you like or don’t like in a wine. The wines you are first exposed to when you are developing your taste for it matter too. If you grew up in an Italian family that only ever served Tuscan reds with dinner, it’s likely that you’ll turn your nose up to young, fruity white wines at first. And if your parents only drank oaky chardonnays from California, you may have a difficult time transitioning to the flavor profile of deep, lusty and elegant reds.
In addition to your preferences for how a wine tastes, you’re also likely to buy wines that you grew up around. Not only did I inherit her skillful taste buds, but I also acquired my mother’s shopping habits. Companies may believe that flashy, loud labels are appealing to some young wine drinkers, but not to me and certainly not to my mother.
“I was taught to choose a wine with a simple label,” she said. “It’s a mark of a good vineyard because they don’t have to do anything fancy to get them to buy your wine.”
When she was taught the basic elements of wine at her first tasting in California, she also learned principles that she still uses today for purchasing wine.
Apparently you don’t have to still be in college in order to desire a high-quality yet inexpensive bottle, either.
“Just like you, I hate spending more than I have to in order to enjoy a bottle of wine,” she told me.
No matter how hard you try not to, turning into your parents in some way is inevitable. But with wine, maybe that’s not such a terrible thing. I’d gladly tell anyone about my lust for big, tannic red wines and how I got it from my mama.
Based on our shared taste preferences, here are three wines that my mother liked most from our most recent wine shopping spree, which I recommend as well.
Mouton Cadet White Bordeaux
Bordeaux, France, $8.99
12.5 percent ABV
Her go-to label during college, my mother classifies this as an easy-drinking white wine. Pale in the glass with citrus aromas and grapefruit on the palate with a tart but fruity finish.
Santa Rita Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
Maipo, Chile, $9.99
13.9 percent ABV
Perfumed with ripe cherry aromas that are followed by pleasant plum flavors, this deep purple wine has finishes with the feeling of subtle, soft tannins drying your mouth.
Viticcio Bere Toscana
Tuscany, Italy, $12.99
13.0 percent ABV
Originally noticed by my mother because of its “misspelled” name, but it has little in common with beer. This vibrant red wine is perfumed with ripe berry aromas and has a clean, dry finish.