Saturday, 9 February 2013

Do you suffer from palate fatigue?

Is is possible to have ruined your palate and not be able to discern the taste and quality of the wines you are tasting?  The answer is a resounding, "Yes."

Several years ago, we spent ten straight days at The Hunter Valley and we tasted a lot of wine.  I was quite enamored by the 2007 Hunter Valley Shiraz' (and I still am) and we tasted a lot of them, in addition to expanding our search for some more aged Semillons and some good Australian Verdelhos.  We were relentless in our pursuit.

However, by Day 7 onwards, I really was not liking much of what I was drinking, and thought some of the wines were down-right tainted.  The combination of sampling wines every morning and afternoon and having wine with all dinners and most lunches, I had simply overloaded and ruined my palate!  We may have sampled over 300 wines during that trip!

It was only two to four months later that when trying some of the same wines, that I realized how great a few of them I thought tainted were.  In particular, I had passed over the 2006 Seppelts St Peters Shiraz (not all wines we were tasting were Hunter Valley Shiraz BTW!) as not being suitable, but when I tasted it again several months later, I realized how spectacular a wine this is.  I could not believe this and several other wines I had rated as insufferable only a few months earlier.

Not that I need to worry about this, but people who exercise regularly find they still need to take at least a day off every week to allow their muscles to recover and build.  And the same is true with wine tasting.  During our ten day trip to the Hunter, I had accumulated so much tannin on the inside of my cheeks and had saturated my palate so thoroughly that I could not discern readily one taste from another.  My palate had been ruined from excessive tasting.  Fortunately, it came right once again.

I drink a glass or two of wine almost daily.  I love drinking wine for several reasons, including that I love the taste, I love the experience of drinking a good glass of wine with a good meal and sharing a glass with friends, and I also find it lifts my spirits and attitude and helps me think, write and do other mental and emotional activities better.  But if I do not take a break of a day or two every now and then, I get to the point where I notice my palate is not working at 100%.  And this will diminish your wine tasting experience.

This is a rare situation where I am writing this blog without having a glass of wine to inspire me!  And I am planning to be wine-free for a couple more days.  By doing this over the last few weeks, I have noticed my palate is functioning better and I have been able to discern far better the characteristics and quality of the wines I have been drinking.  Last night, I attended a members dinner for one of the wineries in The Hunter Valley.  They had 55 wines to sample, but I only tried about a dozen.  By not having any wine the day before and by limiting my selection, I was able to better taste and appreciate the differences and quality of each of the wines I sampled, and was far more confident in my selections (I actually did not buy any, but was confident in my assessment in passing in on them.)

Wine judges have the (enviable!) task of having to judge many wines in a given session.  However, even with spitting out all the wine, they still can suffer palate fatigue which is why they don't judge more than a maximum of 60 - 80 wines for session.  And they keep their palates in shape and prepare for each judging by ensuring their palate is in optimal shape.  (They also make sure no mint toothpaste, lipstick or other impediments curtail their ability to taste.)

I have found my wine drinking experiences have benefited from following a few rules:
  • Take off a day or two per week from drinking any wine or other alcohol to rest and detox your palate
  • Every month or two, take a break of at least three to five days without drinking anything (or limit it to a glass during that time if you feel the need to imbibe)
  • If you are going to enjoy a great bottle or two of wine, make sure to not drink for a day or two beforehand, so your palate is in optimal shape to enjoy that truly great bottle
  • If you are going to taste or drink four to five glasses or more in any day, mix it up by having some whites and some reds and of different grapes, and follow that with a day of not drinking
I never get drunk while drinking wine.  I drink wine in a controlled manner for the taste and enjoyment and to be able to share the experience with others.  Yet, I still control my approach to wine drinking to get the most out of the experience.  If you are suffering from palate fatigue, give it a rest for a day or two!

Steve Shipley
Twitter: @shipleyaust
My other blog (on business, tech, world issues):  Steve Shouts Out!

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