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Questions for the pros about tastings...

Several of us took part in a fairly large wine-tasting yesterday, and time spent googling doesn't answer some questions we had about our experiences....

1) We all ate a larger-than-normal breakfast, knowing what we were in for (a couple dozen wines in a 2-hour time span -- so not rushed, but not a casual doddle, either!). Despite this, we were all ravenously hungry by lunchtime....we noticed that other participants also made quick work of the fairly substantial buffet laid out for the participants -- the cheese table, in particular, was completely wiped out, although the proteins and carbs were badly damaged, too.

Does tasting:
a) truly speed up your digestion and/or metabolism, so you burn off the morning's fuel that much faster?
or b) is it just a trick of the mind -- your brain processes the wine and says "great, there's food coming!" so it gears up the hunger reflexes for something that never comes (well, not when your brain expects it to, anyway).

2) We were all very conscious of pacing carefully, as it's a lot of stimulus, and olfactory and palate fatigue start to set in pretty hard about 3/4 of the way through the series, even with lots of water and bread....we spit nearly every sample, only allowing a swallow or two of the wines we really, really liked.

Nobody felt they drank even a full glass of anything that was on the table...yet we were all definitely feeling the effects by the end of the tasting. Not drunk by any stretch, but a gentle buzz and a definite relief that we'd opted to take the train to the venue rather than drive.

I know that the tissues in your mouth are rich with blood vessels, and that there is some absorption through the mouth and tongue -- but is it that much? None of us are big people, but no one would be considered petite, either....so we were a little surprised to feel that much impact from that little wine actually consumed.

Did we drink more than we thought? (always possible, but I'm leaning to no...)
Do you really absorb that much through the tissues of your mouth?
Or is it more a mental issue, similar to the ravenous hunger above, that your brain is registering the presence of the wine...so it registers the *effect* of that same presence?

I was lucky yesterday to not have a headache -- but I have, in prior tastings, ended up with a raging headache that goes away as soon as I have real food (and a lot of it!) -- haven't decided yet if it's the wine, or the low blood sugar from just being hungry.

Don't get me wrong -- we thoroughly enjoy this tasting (for 2 of us it was a second visit, for the third, a first time) -- but we were pondering some of the physical reactions, and were just wondering if this is what the pros deal with on a regular basis.

It also hugely increases our appreciation of those who go out and taste dozens of wines on a regular basis for a living...we all had some extremely good and some extremely regrettable wines at our tables, but we all realized that as much as we enjoy it a few times a year, none of us would want to do this on a regular basis -- so thanks for doing what is an incredibly complex job to point us the right direction in choosing wines for our own cellars!

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  1. My tasting experience goes back many years when I wrote for a trade publication but "pro" tastings always involved tasting and spitting (and then water and more rinsing) and I do not recall any food present at any tasting--morning or afternoon. Maybe Jason can weigh in given his much longer set of experiences. "Buzz" after the events--I don't really remember anything of the sort you're referencing but I do think that yes, some of the juice gets down the gullet..

    1. Some thoughts, although not complete.

      Professional tastings won't have much in the way of food. Mainly stuff to "reset" your palate before moving onto the next wine. And professionals spit.

      Social mega-tastings need to have food. And when I've been to those, I've headed for the food spread before the wines because I know the food goes quickly. I don't know how much of that is due to biology v. psychology. I tend to side with pschology -- "I'm going to be drinking X number of wines, so I better load up on food."

      Some people also feel a need to taste EVERYTHING since they paid a certain amount of money to get into the tasting. And maybe the "money's worth" argument extends to eating a lot of food as well.

      1. I've noticed the same thing, so here are my guesses. There may be a post-consumption (post-prandial) hypoglycemia from consuming/processing all that sugar/alcohol. Secondly, processing alcohol takes an enormous amount of body energy and water -- it makes you tired, in need of restoration. Third, from that much wine tasting, your palate is warmed up to detect nuances in flavor; so when your palate tasted the food, all the flavors tasted larger, better, brighter.

        1. Just for clarification -- the buffet lunch was **after** the tasting -- so not corruption of the palate.

          At the tasting tables, only bread and water.

          1. I'm not sure "professional" is relevant here . . .

            "Professionals" TASTE (as opposed to ***drink***) for, primarily, three reasons: 1) tasting unfinished wine samples within the winery; 2) tasting finished wines for evaluation and possible purchase -- think wine shop or restaurant wine list; tasting finished wines for evaluation and judgement -- think competitions, fair, etc., as well as writing critiques/reviews for publication.

            There is an element of mental concentration that can be exhausting. You ARE working! Thus you do (or at least can) work up an appetite. Also, most winery tastings (blending trials) are done mid-morning -- allegedly when your palate is the sharpest -- and so you are normally hungry for lunch at the end.

            That said, YES, you can absorb alcohol through the tissues in the mouth -- though this, I would imagine, will vary among individuals. And I have no doubt that, among some people, there may be a "placebo effect" of *feeling* the alcohol even though there is little (or none) in your system.

            So I goes the short answer is, "Who knows?" ;^)

            1. Heh -- that definitive answer is very much what my googling turned up (or not, as the case may be...)

              But thanks for putting your two drops into the blend -- it's at least good to know that we're not imagining things!

              (the frustrating thing of this one is that you're not allowed to find out what you tasted...so you may never find your favorites!)

              1. When I'm involved in a serious tasting, I don't eat anything during the tasting except perhaps plain crackers to reset my palate. I do drink water in between tasting. And I never swallow. If there are some "great" wines there I would otherwise not get the chance to enjoy, I will go back to those tables after I've finished my analyses and enjoy a social tasting of those wines. But that's the exception rather than the rule.

                10 Replies
                1. re: ChefJune

                  nobody ate anything *during* the tasting except bread.

                  Everybody drank lots of water.

                  At this particular event, there are 4 tasters per table, and the sleeved, numbered bottles are delivered to your table by porters, so there's no going back.

                  1. re: sunshine842

                    I still wouldn't swallow. As I said, those opps to go back and retaste are not the norm.

                    Was this a blind tasting?

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        I cannot imagine a blind tasting of that size. How many wines did you taste?

                        1. re: ChefJune

                          this year it was 14 Côtes du Rhone. Last year it was 18 rosés and 16 Languedoc (which were far, far better than their reputation sometimes would suggest)

                          Sometimes you're assigned to a particular table, sometimes it's luck of the draw -- and everyone starts by tasting the exact same wine at all the tables to "calibrate" the impressions.

                          1. re: ChefJune

                            FWIW, I've attended blind tastings with 100+ wines . . .

                            1. re: zin1953

                              Hats off to you, too -- after a dozen or so, I'm starting to struggle, and by the end, it takes me a very long time to try to sift through the static to get to the flavors.

                              1. re: zin1953

                                zin1953: How many were you able to identify? Really.

                                1. re: zin1953

                                  NOTE: ChefJune -- according to MY email notifications -- posted a question to me which ***either*** she or the Moderators subsequently deleted. Why, no one knows. Well, OK, at least I don't -- so I am answering her question anyway . . . .

                                  Question: "zin1953: How many were you able to identify? Really."

                                  Answer: The object of the lesson (i.e.: tasting 100+ wines blind) was NOT to identify them, but rather to judge them professionally, and it's something I have done professionally for years.

                                  Identifying wines blind is something of a "parlor game." That is to say, it is often more about guessing correctly and being lucky than it is definitively knowing what's in the glass. As the legendary Harry Waugh said, "Have I ever mistaken a Bordeaux for a Burgundy? Not since lunch."

                                  That said, the best I can remember doing, on a percentage basis, was correctly identifying five out of six Bordeaux -- vintage, appellation, and château -- and missing the six only "slightly." That is, if I recall correctly, I thought one of the wines was a 1967 Château Léovile-Poyferré (a 2me Cru St.-Julien that is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, the balance being Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot), when it was in fact a 1967 Château Cantemerle (a 5me Cru Haut-Médoc that is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, the balance being Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot).

                                  But I will readily admit that I was damned lucky!


                                  1. re: zin1953

                                    Thanks, Jason. I didn't delete my question. :(

                                    I've never been very good identifying specific wines blind, and 100+ at a time would be more frustrating than I could imagine. I can identify varieties, and I can usually tell Left Bank from Right, but not often specific wines, unless I've been doing a lot of blind tasting -- which I don't.