The evolution of a wine lover's palate, in 10 steps (GIFs)

Jan 26, 2016 at 1:30 p.m. ET
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Are you one of those people who like wine? Or are you one of those people who aren't really people, but lizard-like aliens dressed in people suits?

If so, chances are you've noticed that a lot has changed since you turned 21 and wanted to buy vino but were kind of at a loss as far as what to do with your newly acquired booze-buying superpower. 

Every oenophile goes through a set of stages that starts with crappy sulfate-ridden stuff and peaks somewhere around their midlife crisis. Where are you on that journey?

More: Become a beer nerd in 20 minutes (INFOGRAPHIC)

1. If it tastes like fruit, it can't be bad, right?

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Boone's Farm? Why, that sounds positively delightful! And what's this? A peach- and blackberry-infused zinfandel? What a lovely shade of neon pink! This is the stuff you drank as you were trying to step up your classiness game following a full year of nothing but pink drinks at the bar but didn't know where to start. You just knew you wanted to be a Person Who Drinks Wine.

What's more likely is that this is the stuff you had in high school and loved, which makes sense, because you were a baby, and babies love juice.

2. Riesling. All of it

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Then you start transitioning out of the wine-but-not-really stuff, because A) you start to notice it tastes an awful lot like cough syrup mixed into Kool-Aid, or B) you told someone you like wine, they asked you what kind, you told them "Arbor Mist," and they laughed and laughed and laughed.

But you're not yet ready to take the training wheels off, so you go bananas on sweet wines like riesling and Madeira or, heaven forbid, port.

3. The accidental sampling of the dry stuff

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OK, so you puked.

It was bound to happen, and it's nothing to be ashamed of. Enough Pacific Rim has a way of doing that to a person. But then you're out with friends, and someone's all like, "Let's get some wine! Cheryl (or whatever your name is, we don't know your life), you like wine, right? Let's split a bottle!" And your stomach gets all churny.

But you really want some booze, so you say nonchalantly, "Sure! Anything you want, just no riesling. I'm not really a riesling drinker." Which is totally true in the moment, like when you love sushi, but then you get food poisoning after eating some, and you honestly think you will never have sushi again ever.

So they order a dry Chardonnay or a basic sauvignon blanc, and it's like the blessing of saltines on a post-norovirus stomach.

More: 10 Things to eat when you've had too much wine

4. The first tentative steps away from the bottom shelf

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After that, if you try your favorite sweet wine, it just doesn't turn your crank the same way, so when you go into the grocery store, you start picking wines from the eye-level selections instead of the $4 options near the floor.

But nothing above a Robert Mondavi. You're not made of money.

5. That time you tried to switch teams

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After a while you start thinking, "Hmmm... red wine looks classier" or, on a warm summer's evening, "White wine sounds nice," so you pick some up, but you don't really know what you're looking for, so you end up with some Chianti or maybe a really tart pinot grigio, and then basically just dump that down the drain and never speak of it again.

6. Becoming everyone's least favorite dinner guest

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Someone's been creeping up to bottles in the $15 to $20 region and doing things like ordering wine paraphernalia off the Internet, haven't they? Everyone can tell, because you start to get really grating by turning down wine selections you don't like in people's actual homes and trying to smooth over tensions by saying something unbearable like, "It's not bad or anything, OK? I guess I'm just kind of a wine snob now."

Bonus points if you brought your own because you had a feeling your hostess had pedestrian tastes.

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7. The "one-time" splurge purchase

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You got a promotion! Or a divorce! Or some real estate! If there's ever a good time to splurge on a $50 bottle of wine, it's to celebrate your provorcestate, right?


Oh. Oh, it's actually pretty good, koala pee notwithstanding. And lookie here: When you buy a case, you get 10 percent off each bottle. You'd be crazy not to.

8. Attempted moderation

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OK, you're spending way too much money, and you can't remember the last time you didn't have a glass in the evening. Six ounces is becoming eight. You have a crazy tolerance for the stuff. You won't live forever, and maybe it's time to finally pick up jogging or cycling or whatever.

You make a rule. One bottle a week, under $20, and that's it!

9. Desperate times

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Jogging sucks. You can at least take your mind off it with wine, right? But then, when you run to the store, all they have is that stuff you liked in stage 4, so you bring it home and decant it into something fancier. You tell yourself that two bottles of $10 wine — oh oh! Four bottles of $5 wine — a week isn't technically cheating.

You start the long, arduous task of liking cheaper wine again, if only for your retirement's sake. You're never quite the same again.

More: 3 'Secret' Frappuccinos you can get your sweetie on Valentine's Day (PHOTOS)

10. Whatever, box it

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Years later, when you've matured even further, perhaps become a mother, or a grandmother, or a doctoral candidate or just someone who has more important s*** to spend money on than wine, you'll be in the grocery store with a box of pink Franzia under one arm and a value-priced case of Go-gurt/Ensure/Advil under the other.

You will glance across the spirits and beverages section on your way to the CoinStar machine and see a woman who reminds you of your former self, gingerly cradling an $80 bottle of Moët & Chandon, and for a brief, magical second, your eyes will meet. Perhaps you'll smile.

"Don't do it," you'll mouth at her from across the room. "There's no point. You'll just pee it out later anyway."

You'll gesture wisely to all five liters of your Sunset Blush, and she'll quickly avert her eyes and pretend to be really interested in 10/$10 barrels of cheesy poofs so there's no risk of you talking to her again.