Context Is Everything

The five generally agreed-upon human tastes are bitter, salty, sour, sweet and umami.

I propose a sixth: Context.

Dodger Dogs don’t taste the same at home as they do at Dodger Stadium, even if it’s the same dog, bun and relish. Guinness tastes different at the brewery than it does from the tap at your local. Lox and bagels taste different at your kitchen table than they would have at the deli.

I find the same is true with wine. On more than one occasion, my husband and I have bought for our home cellar a wine that we’d found transcendent when we had it at a restaurant or wine tasting. And yet, when we tried it at home, that same wine – same vintage, same everything – tastes only okay. Definitely not transcendent.

Why is that?

I argue it’s because of where we were, with whom we shared the experience, what we were eating at the time – in short, the context in which the wine (or food) was originally consumed. Was it on vacation? A romantic outing? With friends celebrating a joyous occasion or accomplishment? All of those things can affect the physiology of taste, as well as how we recollect the taste.

I’m not suggesting it’s always true that a wine you find outstanding on first taste won’t be so wonderful the next try, not by any means. But I’m offering context as an explanation of why something – that Dodger Dog, that beer or wine – can be so absolutely perfect when you have it once, and then disappointingly average when you return to it at a different time or place.

It doesn’t mean you should doubt yourself or your taste buds. But it does mean you might want to think carefully before buying an entire case of that wine you loved so much at that dinner party or at the tasting room you visited with your best friends. Make sure it’s the wine you love, and not just the Context in which you tried it.

If it iS the wine you love, buy all means buy it. In addition to being delicious in and of itself, it’ll always bring you back to that wonderful experience in which you first discovered it.


  1. this pink drink called Rooh Afza in Pakistan. we dont even know what it’s made from. a drop of it turns milk a hue of rose pink. tastes like shower gel anywhere outside of Pakistan.

  2. Totally agree with this Wzzy. It is all about the context and what happens around a person when they are experiencing something.

    For example, Las Vegas to me will always represent TFF. In the future, every single time I go there will bring that back.

    Great blog. 🙂


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