Just Say No to Palate Fatigue
As many of you have experienced, wine tasting can be an exhausting endeavor. Last night at my ISG Sommelier class, we focused on wines from Rhone, Piedmont, Tuscany, and Northeast Italy. I was able to taste a few Barolos, Hermitage, Barbera d’Alba, Amarone, and several Chiantis.
These wines are all highly acidic and most have strong tannins. During the first few tastings of Chianti and Barolo, my senses were heightened and sharp. But about half way through, I could noticeably tell that my palate was beginning to fatigue, and it became more and more difficult to distinguish their characteristics.
I did my best to avoid this situation by spitting and drinking plenty of water in between each tasting. But the onset of palate fatigue had begun. This is something that I have experienced many times before and can hamper any extended wine tasting experience.
So I decided to ask my friend why this happens, and what he said shed light on my dilemma.
“The taste perception of wine can be broken down into sweet taste, acid taste and bitter taste. The balance between the three looks something like this:
> Sweet Taste (sugars + alcohols) – Acid Taste (acids) + Bitter Taste (phenols)
To understand why palate fatigue occurs, it is necessary to take a deeper look at sensory perception. The tongue contains millions of little sensors called papillae. There are different types of papillae which sense different kinds of molecules. For example, some will sense sugars, while others sense acids or tannins.
When wine enters your mouth, the papillae on your tongue will be exposed to all of the molecules that make up the wine. When a molecule interacts with a sensor (papillae) on your tongue, an electrical signal is sent to your brain; and your brain will register that sense. For example, when a sugar molecule binds to a papillae, an impulse is sent to your brain which you register as sweet.
This is happening on a molecular level, and the sum total of all the impulses make up your sensory perception of that wine. But each time a molecule binds to a papillae, it becomes more desensitized. This causes the electrical signal to your brain to decrease in strength, causing your overall perception to dull. This is the physiological reason for palate fatigue.”
So basically, the more you taste, the less sensitive your palate becomes. Some strategies that experienced tasters use to combat this unfortunate occurrence include:
*- drinking white wine first; – limiting tastings of acidic, tannic wines; – drink baking soda and water between tastings; – eating a water cracker between tastings; – extending the period of time between tastings.*
Hopefully the next time you go wine tasting, this will help you prevent palate fatigue.