battling palate fatigue

Monday, February 20, 2012

It may sound indulgent, or simply trivial, but palate fatigue is a regular visitor to the taste buds of those for whom tasting wine is a vocation, not a hobby. Of course, in extreme examples, such as wine judgings, where 10 flights of a dozen wines would not be out of the question for a day’s work, it is truly inevitable. There are a small number of traveling reviewers whose vast geographical territories require them to constantly taste dozens of wines, often blind, often for days on end, in order to keep up with the relentless deadlines.

How they can do it is a complete mystery to me.

For myself, I find that I am about maxxed out tasting 15 – 18 wines in an afternoon. These are not splash and dash tastings! These are tastings that require frequent re-visits to each wine, that result in scores that will certainly impact sales, and that can lead to a lot of extra time spent working on the details of the actual verbiage, even though it is the scores that seem to matter more.

Given that methodology, I find that tasting just 15 – 18 wines in an afternoon (that’s three blind flights of 5 or 6) actually feels more like a quick run-through of 60 or 70 wines, where all you are doing is making a buy or don’t buy assessment. And no matter how carefully you spit, palate fatigue sets in.

It may come from tannin build-up. Or in the case of certain white flights, tooth-scraping acidity. It may be the result of too many 15+% fruit-bombs. Or it may just come from sheer boredom, when that last bottle of generic plonk gets washed down the pie-hole.

What do you do? I’m not talking about munching on crackers, or mushrooms, or celery, or carrot sticks. I mean when the very thought of a glass of wine is unappealing. Do you go to beer? That’s the strategy that has gotten many a winemaker through blending trials.

For myself, I find that a couple of days off from wine tasting altogether is sometimes required. Have a beer, or a cocktail, or an alcohol-free day or two. No harm there. In warm weather I like a good gin and tonic. In cold weather, as we are having currently, my new favorite, thanks to my good friend Jim German, is a Sicilian.

Over ice pour one jigger of gin, and a half ounce each of a chinato and an amaro (Averna is preferable). Mix in fresh Meyer lemon and fill with sparkling water. That lovely cocktail enlivened my Sunday, and set me up for a fun jam session with friends at jimgermanbar.

What’s your tongue-tickling trick to fight palate fatigue?


Dave Larsen said...


I eat a piece of bread or a plain cracker and may drink some water to refresh my palate. Another problem with tasting a lot of wine at one sitting, even when spitting it out, is enough can slip down the pie hole and get absorbed into the body to cause quite a buzz.

Peter Rosback Sineann said...

Something basic in nature is best for me (that is, greater than pH of 7) as that "balances" all the acids we ingest tasting wine. Carrot juice serves nicely, and both white and reds wines taste great afterwards as a double bonus.

Anonymous said...

When the thought of a glass of wine is unappealing then it is your subconciousness letting you know to stop.

Stop till the sensation goes away.

Fresh air, and a nice walk and whatever food seems to appeal as refreshing at that time and having a glass of water too can aleviate the problem.

I do know that there are times when I have been tasting/sampling/judging wines and I have to pause before the next one. I think it takes some time to let the senses recover. If you have tasted a really wonderful wine the sense and memory of it may linger and influence the next one. A person could make an unfair judgement on a wine if the previous one tasted was magnificent and the next one if shy of the same magnificence but very good in its own right.

Bob Neel said...

When at a tasting event, there's nothing like a bright Viognier to wash away the tannin fatigue of too many massive Bordeaux monsters.

Anonymous said...

I remember a few years ago Geoff Kaiser of Seattle Beer News decided he needed to recalibrate his taste buds and did a month (~November) where he drank no beer over 6%, and no highly hopped beers (couldn't find a link to it, sorry).

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