Puzzles About Taste

person-ge5445c5cb_640We know that beliefs influence what we taste. Our ability to evaluate a wine can be influenced by price, reputation, background music, mood, etc. This is why professional wine tasters taste blind and under controlled conditions. But I’m wondering whether such factors influence what we taste, or do they influence only our judgments about what we taste.

There is a common sense distinction between describing something and evaluating it. I can describe a book or a film without passing judgment on its virtues. Even some forms of evaluation don’t require an ultimate verdict. I have often walked out of film thinking “that was a good film but I didn’t like it.” It met the standards of good film making but it didn’t appeal to me.

Wine is similar. It can be described, even as having met certain standards of good winemaking, without it being enjoyable. What the wine tastes like is one thing, whether I liked the taste or not something else.

But the following three cases pull in different directions.

(1) The more we taste something, the more familiar it becomes until we eventually get tired of it. When we become tired of it, does it still taste the same, only our attitude toward it has changed? Or does it now taste differently?  I’m inclined to say it tastes the same; only one’s attitude has changed. But I’m not sure.

(2) Suppose I enjoy a wine. And then I taste a much better wine that I enjoy a great deal. And then, after sufficient time to avoid palate adaptation, I return and taste again the original wine. I no longer enjoy the first wine as much, given my memory of the second, much superior, wine. Does the first wine taste the same now or does it taste differently? Here I’m inclined to say the wine tastes differently—less vibrant, with flavors less pronounced. My judgment is influencing the taste.

(3) Think back to a time when you did not like a certain food—perhaps you did not prefer broccoli as a child. But now suppose you enjoy broccoli. Did the taste of broccoli change for you? Or does it still taste the same; only your attitude has changed. Here I am inclined to say the broccoli tastes differently. There are features of the broccoli that you did not notice as a child that you now are able to taste. It is not just a change in attitude, but a change in taste.

I don’t really have a point to make; I’m just curious. Does anyone share these intuitions?

Does the thing we used to like and now dislike taste differently, or does it taste the same and we no longer like that taste? Similarly, does the thing we used to dislike and now like taste differently, or does it taste the same and we now like that taste?

One comment

  1. Dwight ,

    i’m not sure if I can be anybody’s yardstick, but I would have to acknowledge that my tastes have changed, my palate has evolved, and when combined those have resulted in a greater appreciation and acceptance of how food tastes, wine taste, and how food and wine taste together. In the end, I believe it’s also a matter of awareness and attentiveness.



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