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In This Issue

Cleansing the palate
Wine Lovers' Voting Booth: What wines don't you "get"?
Correction: Source of the Rhone

Cleansing the palate

A Canadian correspondent recently asked, "What does "cleansing the palate" really mean? What are you really accomplishing?"

Good question! First, though, it should be noted that when a wine taster talks about his palate, he doesn't mean exactly the same thing as a doctor does: In winespeak, the "palate" isn't just the physical roof of your mouth but your entire tasting apparatus ... your sense of taste, as distinguished from your sense of smell.

But why should it need to be "cleansed"? This comes up most often in the context of wine judging at formal competitions, or people in the wine business tasting samples to decide what to buy. In such cases - or even when you're tasting wine analytically for your own pleasure or hobby interest - you want to be able to judge each wine separately, without having the flavor of the previous wine lingering in your mouth - er, "palate" - when you go on to the next sample.

So it makes sense to eat or drink something to clear the taste of the previous wine from your mouth before going on. In my experience as a wine judge and at trade tastings, the "cleanser" of choice is simple: Plain water and white bread. There's a good reason for choosing this simple fare: If you have something good to eat like a bite of beef or a couple of shrimp between wines, the pleasant combination of wine and food might alter your impression of the next wine.

This is why the hosts of a social wine tasting, where the purpose is focused more on enjoyment than analysis, often be served cheese or other tasty snacks.

An old joke in the wine trade goes, "Sell with cheese, buy with bread (or fruit)," suggesting that when you're trying to sell wine, you want to make it taste as good as possible; whereas it's in the buyer's interest to examine the wine as objectively as possible. Although I hope this wisdom is uttered more with humor than with cynicism, there's truth in it. It's worth thinking about, and examining the snack trays, the next time you attend a commercial wine tasting.

Wine Lovers' Voting Booth: What wines don't you "get"?

Most of us have had the experience of tasting with wine-savvy friends who are enraptured by a particular grape variety, wine region or style - often one that has earned a loyal "cult" following - but that fails to move us. Whether you actively dislike the wine, or simply find it just "all right," whatever it is that inspires others to devotion simply eludes us.

This week the Wine Lovers' Voting Booth invites you to enumerate the wines that win enthusiastic support from many wine enthusiasts but that simply don't charm you, as we ask, "What wines don't you 'get'?"

I hope you'll take a moment to drop by the Voting Booth,
and add your opinions to the list.

Correction: Source of the Rhone

Many thanks to Belgian reader Mike Carpentier, for correcting me - and doing so with such gentle kindness - about my comment in Wednesday's article that Lake Geneva is the source of the Rhone river. In fact, as Mike correctly pointed out, the Rhone enters the lake on the eastern side, and leaves it in Geneva on the western side.

Specifically, he said, "I consulted
the greatest online map resource, and traced the Rhone back to the Rhonegletscher, close to the Furkapass and the Gotthardpass, at approximately 3,000 meters altitude, not far from the Jungfrau and the Finsteraarhorn, some of Switzerland's highest mountains, and really, really close to a source of another great wineriver ... the Rhine."


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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.

Friday, Oct. 11, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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