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Wine Tasting: How Do You Stop Palate Fatigue?

Erin O'Reilly - Certified Specialist of Wine

Tasting a Bunch of Wines Without Getting Palate Fatigue

If you’ve ever gone wine tasting, or better yet attended a wine festival, you’ve probably experienced a point in the day when the wines begin to blend together. You can no longer tell the them apart - one Syrah tastes like the next. Even the Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc start to blur.

This sensation, referred to as palate fatigue, affects novice tasters and masters alike. But a few simple tricks can help keep your senses fresh during your next big tasting event.

What does palate fatigue mean?

Palate fatigue involves two sensory processes that work together when drinking wine:

  1. Your brain’s ability to interpret what’s in the glass.

  2. Your mouth’s ability to taste the wine.

man smelling a glass of red wine

Interpreting Wine Aromas and Flavors

Picking out a wine’s profile is a complex process, one that can be undermined by basic physiology. Your senses are constantly working to adapt to your surroundings.

A simple analogy is the loud ticking of a clock when you first enter a room, but 30 minutes later that annoying ticking has faded into the background.

Likewise, palate fatigue can set in when your mouth adapts to the sensory inputs in your wine. You may get strong notes of mandarin and fruit cocktail in the first two sips, but then find those flavors muted as you continue drinking.

Why? Your brain adapted to the wine.

What’s happening in your mouth?

With each sip, your body physically reacts as you tease out the different sensory inputs.

woman drinking red winePhysically, wine has more acid than your saliva. Acid helps preserve wine, giving it the impression of fresh fruit. As you sip wine, your mouth’s pH shifts, affecting your taste buds.

Another wine component that affects your taste buds is tannin. Found in the skins, seeds, and stems of the grape, tannin is mainly limited to red wines. Fundamentally what happens is tannins bind with protein molecules on your tongue, pulling them away. The result is with every swallow you take, those tannins strip the molecules and creates that drying sensation in your mouth. Like acid, this affects your perception of taste.

Your mind’s phenomenal adaptability, along with the chemical shifts in your mouth, change your sensory perceptions of the wine as you’re drinking; just like a ticking clock, you can quickly lose the ability to differentiate between wines. The flavors may be powerfully-evident at first, but then blend together.

What Is a Palate Cleanser?

wine with bread

Resetting your mouth’s baseline with palate cleansers can help overcome your body’s natural tendencies to adapt.

Professional wine judges use small bites to cleanse their palate during wine tasting. The best palate cleanser for wine tasting is bland and neutral in flavor.

What foods cleanse your palate? Try any of the following:

  • White or sourdough bread. Don’t add any butter, olive oil, or jam. Plain bread works best.

  • Wine crackers. Simple, unflavored crackers act the same way as bread to cleanse the palate.

  • Sparkling water. Sparkling water can refresh your mouth, lifting away the last wine you tasted.

In addition to any of the above, canned black olives in water or rare roast beef are perfect palate cleansers when drinking red wine. The fat helps coat the tongue and keeps those wine tannins from drying out your mouth.

How to Cleanse Your Palate

You may find yourself nibbling on your palate cleanser at different points when tasting wine. But if your brain is adapting to the wine you’re drinking…when exactly is the best time to cleanse your palate?

While this is not a hard and fast rule, it’s helpful to take a small bite of food in between sips of the same wine, especially if you’re trying to focus on structural elements.
a variety of water glasses
More commonly, though, you’ll want to sample your palate cleanser when you switch to a new wine. This is the best way to start fresh and avoid wine tasting fatigue.

Bonus Tip: Hydrate

It may seem obvious, but alcohol dehydrates and can slow your senses. Wine professionals consciously hydrate before and during tasting. Your mind can get just as tired as your palate, but drinking of plenty of water will help keep you alert and focused during your next wine tasting event.

Put It to the Test!

Not sure whether to believe us or not? Don't take our word for it, put it to the test.

Get yourself one of our wine combo cases that contain 6 bottles of award-winning wine. Next, pick your favorite style of bread, cracker, or sparkling water and see if it helps you differentiate between the flavor profiles. If it's too easy for you, that might be a sign that you need another glass! As always, drink safely and have fun with it. Cheers!

Erin O'Reilly Author Bio Image Author Bio: Erin O’Reilly, Certified Specialist of Wine, is a wine writer and educator. She pens her work from Monterey wine country where she raises a glass to the growers and producers dedicated to crafting great wines.