Unexpected Factors That Affect the Taste of Wine: Avoid Smells and Tastes That Distract Your Palate

Factors That Affect the Taste of Wine

Although they were once a popular combination, researchers find that cigars negatively influence a wine’s flavor. Photo Credit: Pixabay CC user StockSnap

A few years ago, we thought about moving Vinfolio’s headquarters to a new location. The area seemed spacious and perfect, except for one thing: it was located next to a brewery. Inside the building, we could smell the funky yeast wafting from the brewery’s exhaust, and we knew that if we stayed there, it would impact the flavor of our wines. A lot of people’s palates are sensitive to smells, including mine–I can’t accurately taste a wine if my nose is filled with the scent of yeast. Knowing this, we opted for a less smelly location. You might not handle dozens of wine bottles every day like I do, but you should still be aware factors that affect the taste of wine and can ruin your palate. Anything from beer yeast to artichokes can transform the taste of your wine for the worse.


Since we mostly taste with our olfactory senses, even the slightest outside scent can distract from the wine in front of us. I’ve known plenty of collectors who keep a collection of cigars in their wine cellars because the humidity is ideal. However, if the cigar box is out in the open while they’re tasting wines, or worse, someone is smoking a cigar while tasting wine, notes of tobacco and even smokiness could make their way into their tasting notes when none of these flavors actually exist in the wine itself. This is why I avoid putting anything heavily scented in a cellar–it’s not necessarily because I’m worried the smells will leak through the corks, but it’s because I want my cellar to be a scent-free sanctuary for tasting.

Fruit flies, believe it or not, can also ruin the taste and aroma of wine. Just one tiny fruit fly has the power to ruin an entire glass of wine. When a fruit fly lands in your wine, it releases a panic enzyme that makes the wine smell a bit like skunk. After a few hours, the enzyme will dissipate on its own, but I’ve still had to dump perfectly good glasses of Champagne and other wines that can’t sit out in the open for hours. To prevent this from happening, drink your wine in a sealed room, if possible, and check for flies in the area before uncorking the bottle.


In my early days experimenting with wine and food pairings, I learned a hard lesson: never drink a nice bottle with artichokes. I had splurged on a bottle of Huet, thinking it might go well with the quinoa and artichoke salad I had planned for dinner. While cooking, I poured myself a glass, and it tasted like a dream, yet when I had my first bite of artichoke, the wine took on a strong steel wool flavor. The chemical in artichokes, cynarin, actually makes most wines taste sweeter overall, but for many tasters, this heightened sweetness can come across as a metallic flavor, especially in white wines. I suggest avoiding artichokes entirely when you’re drinking wine, however, if you must have them, pair them with something inexpensive (you won’t be truly tasting this wine for what it is, so leave the white Burgundy in the cellar) or a wine that’s exceptionally dry and acidic, like Sauvignon Blanc. The wine’s flavor will still be impacted, but the acidity will help cut through the sweetness.

Sights and Sounds

It’s almost impossible to eliminate every distraction during a wine tasting because all of our senses have the potential to disrupt us, even sights and sounds. For instance, researchers have found that whiskey tasters often subconsciously look for commonality between their environment and the whiskey’s flavors. Tasters who drank in a room filled with the sound of sheep were more likely to describe their whiskey as “barnyard-like,” whereas those who stayed in a room that looked like a forest and heard the sound of crunching leaves were more likely to find their whiskey “woody.” To prevent this phenomenon from occurring in your tasting notes, try drinking most of your wine in the same location, under the same conditions every time. Even if the room is full of distractions, when those distractions are the same for every wine you try, you can still create consistent notes.


Have you ever needed to take a round of antibiotics and found that all of your food tasted strangely metallic? When your body absorbs this type of medicine, a small portion can come out in your saliva, causing the odd taste. Drug absorption can impact every system that you use to taste wine. I know serious wine and food lovers who have asked their doctors to prescribe different medications to them because they’re no longer able to enjoy the wines that they love.

This is why most serious collectors and wine lovers are skeptical about the marijuana-infused wine trend. Not only can the plant change the flavor of wine, but the drug itself can significantly heighten your sense of taste and smell. Some collectors on the Wine Berserkers forum say that this is actually a problem, since marijuana can intensify some of the bolder flavors in a wine while the subtle notes are usually lost. Without the ability to taste every facet fairly, one forum member called pairing marijuana and wine “a waste of wine.”

Generally, you should avoid going into a serious tasting under the influence of marijuana or any other recreational drug. This is also why many critics spit their wine out during a tasting. Just like drugs, too much alcohol can impair your judgment and might cause you to rate a wine more highly than it deserves, or to misremember how a wine tastes. To get the most out of a fantastic wine, you always want to start with a clear head and a clean palate.

Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s best wine.

At Vinfolio, we help our clients buy, sell, store, and manage their most
treasured bottles of wine. But in our spare time, we’re just a group of
passionate and slightly obsessed oenophiles–we love sharing a great
glass of vintage Champagne, followed by a Burgundy, and then a
Bordeaux, to get things started. We’re always obsessing over the latest (and oldest) vintages, and we want to share that knowledge and passion with our readers.