Could Wine Tasting Ability Improve With Age?

old person drinking wineI know. That’s an unlikely headline. Few abilities improve with age. But one can hope.

My assumption based on reading the scientific literature has been that as we age our ability to taste and smell declines. For me, this has always been a depressing prospect to say the least.

So I was happy with the results of this study as reported by Becca Yeamans-Irwin that measured saliva flow in a young group (aged 18-35) and a senior group (over 55 yrs. old)  and correlated it with wine tasting acuity.

Here are the two main points in the conclusion:

Overall, this study showed that the older “senior” group exhibited lower salivary flow rate when compared to their younger counterparts, which was not at all surprising given the state of current research related to the subject…

Interestingly, this study showed that the older “senior” group showed significantly higher perception scores for both smokey and black pepper aromas. Specifically, the older group rated both these aromas as more intense and for lasting longer than the younger group.

Becca speculates about why the capacity to recognize aromas might be better in the older cohort.

There’s a good chance the older participants have had more wine tasting experience in general than the younger group simply based on their time spent on earth as a legal drinking adult, so perhaps they are just better able to recognize the aromas. Perhaps these two aromas in particular are “easier” to identify in general – perhaps the older cohort would not be able to identify other aromas as intensely (or maybe they could – no idea).

There are lots of caveats about this research. It’s a very small sample size, tested a limited number of aromas, and it would be better to track wine tasting ability for the same individuals over time to see if they improve or decline with age. In general, it’s not a good idea to rely on a single study to draw conclusions, especially when it contradicts other well-established empirical evidence.

But I need something to cheer me up tonight—and this study fits the bill.

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