The question: My wife and I have just turned 70, and along with this comes false teeth that significantly affects your taste. Most white wines, unless very fruity, are not particularly distinctive, and the reds have to be full-bodied to really register. Do you happen to have any recommendations for wines with a strong rather than subtle flavour? My wife prefers merlot, while I tend to prefer a cabernet sauvignon. This getting old is not fun!
The answer: Your candour on this sometimes sensitive issue is appreciated.
Palate sensitivity, like a lot of things, starts to sag when you get on in years. It depends on genetics and health, of course. Some people can go nose to nose with a hound dog well into their 80s. But, generally speaking, once you cross to the wiser side of 65, taste buds lose their edge. I don't know much about dentures (yet), but I'll take your word for it.
I've received similar letters, including one from an octogenarian looking to offload his old Bordeaux treasures because – though otherwise in fine health – he simply gets less pleasure from his investment. Admitting you're off your game, taste-wise, is sort of like admitting you no longer have the reflexes to drive a car. It's a pride issue.
My suggestion: Explore New World wines. Sunny climates in many major regions outside Europe, such as much of California, South Australia, Chile and Argentina, tend to produce fuller-flavoured, highly fruity wines, the kind you seem to enjoy. You may have heard the term fruit bomb. Usually it's used as a pejorative to describe warm-climate reds. In your case, it may have appealing resonance.
I'd side with you over your wife on the grape issue. Cabernet sauvignon is one of the most full-bodied and powerful wines, though smooth and plummy merlot is another good option. British Columbia makes some gorgeous, full-bodied merlot-based reds. Two other good choices include shiraz from Australia, particularly from the hot Barossa Valley, and red zinfandel from California. Fruit bombs don't come any more explosive than Barossa shiraz or California zin. People who prefer white wines may want to try highly aromatic, fruity styles, such as New Zealand sauvignon blanc, Argentine torrontes, California moscato (usually semi-sweet) or gewurztraminer from Canada.
There's a trade-off with some of the reds I've listed, though. They tend to carry high alcohol, which contributes body and power. That can be especially unwelcome with advanced age. Hangovers are no way to spend part of your retirement. And a tipsy head won't cut it if you want to keep driving.
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