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Recommended palate cleanser for wine tasting

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We're hosting a wine tasting party this weekend ("guess the varietal" theme). There will be 15 of us and we'll taste about 7 or 8 wines (mostly reds but maybe 1-2 whites). What's the best way to cleanse our palates between wines? From my web searches, it seems that plain water and plain bread or crackers are traditional. But for me, those don't completely clean out the taste of the previous wine (especially bread). Are there other cleansers you've tried? What about cucumber water, or sparkling water, or celery, or .....?

Thanks in advance for your opinion!

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  1. "Guess the varietal" is a fun idea.

    Bread and crackers work, provided they're neutral.

    Water works, but do not rinse glasses with water (reduces the flavor of the next wine by up to one-half). I'd avoid cucumber and celery, were it me.

    When tasting a series of red wines, cleansing the palate and getting rid of tannins are goals. Graber olives (must be Graber) are often used. Rare roast beef (must be rare and not medium-rare) works like a charm, but not for vegetarians. Both are used in competition, when tasters often taste 50-100 red wines at a sitting.

    Avoid foods while identifying the wines, especially cheese, spices, garlic, etc. They'll eclipse subtleties that will help you identify the varietal.

    15 Replies
    1. re: maria lorraine

      Thanks ML and JBL, regarding the roast beef curious if a little sprinkling of sea salt might enhance its effects? Assuming pepper would not be advisable.

      [ETA] just noticed Midlife's comment on another thread about a little salt making a wine taste sweet, so apparently it should be avoided.

      1. re: PolarBear

        No to salt; no to pepper. And as ML said, it must be RARE roast beef, not medium-rare or medium . . .

      2. re: maria lorraine

        Instead of rinsing a glass with water, "prime" or "charge" it with the next wine.

        Castelvetrano olives are similar to Graber's and may be easier to find.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          "Instead of rinsing a glass with water, "prime" it with the next wine."

          I guess I don't get around enough, or maybe I just don't get around to the right places, but I first saw that done a few years ago during a tasting with a small wine producer in Tuscany. It was something of an "aha" moment for me -- it made such PERFECT sense.

          1. re: CindyJ

            It is common in IT, but uncommon in much of the rest of the world - unfortunately.

            Hunt

          2. re: Robert Lauriston

            <<Castelvetrano olives are similar to Graber's and may be easier to find.>>

            I vaguely recall a conversation during a wine competition that said the Castelvetrano olive didn't have the same "tannin-removing" properties as the Graber, even though they look similar. My guess is that the tannin-grabbing property of the Graber has something to do with the olive itself or the unique curing method. Can't vouch for this, but I never see another olive used.

            1. re: maria lorraine

              I think Graber caught on in certain circles because they were available and since they're canned you can keep them on hand without them going bad.

              Graber's olives are unusual in California because they're picked ripe, which is traditional in some places in Europe. Their curing process is secret but the end appearance and flavor is quite similar to the brands of Castelvetrano that don't use food coloring.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Might be something in the chemistry of the curing method that makes the Graber lift tannins but not the Castelvetrano. Don't have the research, just have heard the opinions of wine judges that other olives do not work.

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  Maybe they haven't tried Castelvetranos. They're relatively new on the market here and are the first I've found in the US that are as non-tannic as Graber's. I don't find that they affect my palate the way other olives we can get hereabouts do.

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    Nothing mysterious about Graber's curing process. Salt in a cement vat with a certain dimention. The trick is picking a fully ripe olive that's full of oil, something that no one else does apparently.

                    Here's a link to my post about Graber Olive House with links to photos of the curing room.
                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/853528

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      As usual, you are the source of so much good info. Thanks.

                      1. re: maria lorraine

                        Graber uses velvet lined picking boxes to hold the ripe fruit. After taking the tour and learning about their exacting standards, I had a much better appreciation for why these olives cost so much.

              2. re: Robert Lauriston

                "Priming the glass," is a practice too often lost on many, even "professionals."

                I could not agree with you more, and demand that my glass, in a trade tasting, be "primed," or "seasoned," for the next wine. I usually have to explain that to the person doing the pours, with some odd results - most get it, but some covet that 1 oz pour, for the purpose of tasting THEIR wines, at their best, and complain that I am wasting wines. Never, but they just do not "get it."

                Hunt

              3. re: maria lorraine

                Think of the scene in "Bottle Shock" where he guesses a 1947 Cheval Blanc passed off as a Califonian.

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  Spot on with Graber olives and rare roast beef.

                2. ML beat me to it, but . . .

                  GRABER olives. Definitely! Problem is few places carry them, and mail-order may not arrive in time. (Worth it though.) http://www.graberolives.com

                  Slices of RARE roast beef.

                  Those are the two best palate cleansers I know . . .

                  1. Pear slices can work well.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: law_doc89

                      I've never heard of rare roast beef being a palate cleanser. Please explain to me how that works.......very curious.

                      1. re: chloebell

                        I can't give you the scientific explanation, but there is something about RARE roast beef that removes the tannins from your palate. Whatever it is in the beef that does it gets destroyed with cooking in that, by the time the beef is cooked to medium-rare, it loses the ability to cleanse the palate.

                        1. re: zin1953

                          That is so interesting......thank you!

                    2. I've asked this question on a wine discussion board and a couple of semi-professional tasters swore by beer.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: SteveTimko

                        Half a bottle of beer at lunch. Not in between flights or sips of wine . . .

                      2. From the OP: You are all a fountain of knowledge and the info is much appreciated. I had never heard of the rare roast beef and Graber olives techniques. I don't recall seeing Graber olives (I'm in the SF Bay Area) but have seen the Castelvetrano at Whole Foods, so I'm going to try those. And regarding priming of the glass with the next wine, I've seen that done at a couple of wineries but never knew that was the reason. Great idea!

                        Thanks, everyone!

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: goodeatsgal

                          The only place I've seen Graber olives is at Corti Bros. in Sacramento.

                          1. re: goodeatsgal

                            Tried Whole Foods Castelvetrano yesterday, passed them around the office and got nothing but raves. Unfortunately, none made it home with me for any palate cleansing experiments.

                            1. re: PolarBear

                              Do a test, Polar Bear, if you can. I've heard the Castelvetrano olives don't work to lift tannins in the mouth, but I'd be happy if they did.