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Taste wine in this order

Adjust your palate to taste the gamut

Recently a party goer commented that a particular bottle wine was completely flavorless. Later, when we were surveying the wine table, she pointed out the pinot noir I had brought to the party as being the culprit. This pinot noir was a favorite that night. It was a very complex new world wine, brimming with nuances of fruit, flowers, and spice.
      Why was this particular person so unimpressed with the wine? Prior to sampling the pinot noir, she had polished off an ample pour of the most extracted wine on the table. This was the wine she had brought as her contribution, an inky, smoldering shiraz that tasted like tar and balsamic reduction.
      Drinking wine in the wrong order can be a recipe for disappointment. Tannins, residual sugar, acidity, alcohol, and ripeness can overwhelm the palate and can diminish or change flavors that follow. When wine is poured at a wine tasting, thought goes into what order the wine should be poured. Lightest to heaviest is generally the rule, with crisp white wines poured at the onset and the dense, astringent, oaky reds poured at the end. Dessert wines are usually saved for the finale.
      Some wine tastings offer several tables where salesmen arrange each of their products from lightest to heaviest. Each table suggests that you start with white wine as you move around the room. Finishing up one table, then to move to another means you've sampled a high alcohol, tannic red and then move directly to a wispy, acidic white. This type of set up in not uncommon for public, as well as professional tastings. There are a few things you can do to allow your palate a chance to enjoy all the wines as they were meant to be.
      Try treating the room like one big table. Start with whites and scour the room for all the white wines, or as many whites as you feel like tasting. Don't forget to cover bubbly and rose before moving to reds. Move onto reds after you have satisfied your study of the white wines offered.
      Sample the lighter bodied red wines next, such as pinot noir, tempranillo, Beaujolais, barbera, and cabernet franc (although cab-franc can offer ample tannin too). Depending on the size of the tasting, this might be a good solution, or cause absolute confusion. At large events, rely on the order the salesmen pour the wine. Cherry picking can lead to a skewed representation of each wine.
      Another solution is to cleanse your palate between heavier wines, especially when you move from the heaviest reds to anything else. Intensely extracted reds, with prominent tannins or lots of oak aging, can overwhelm the flavor of anything that follows it. Highly tannic reds are cabernet sauvignon, mourvedre, petite sirah, nebbiolo, and syrah, to name a few. Try eating a bit of cheese after partaking of a highly tannic wine. Fat molecules grab the astringent tannin molecule and pull it off the tongue. This allows you to start over again, with a delicate, lighter wine.
      Sparkling wine can also cleanse your palate. A trip to the bubbly after completing the mouth coating end of the table can right your taste buds for the lighter wines at the next station. Remember, white wines can be tannic too. A California styled chardonnay can have plenty of oak tannin and might not be a good warm-up act to an elegant albarino. Save those oaky chardonnays for the end of the white wine review.
      Learn to recognize when a wine doesn't taste correct. If my friend at the party had known, she could have taken a sliver of cheese to remove some of the big Aussie tannins from her mouth. Sometimes this is the perfect fix.
      Sometimes a wine is flavorless. It could be corked; the first sign of a corked bottle is a lack of fruit flavor. It could be suffering from bottle shock, a condition that closes the wine's flavor, after being bottled or being shipped far distances. It might be too young to drink and require sitting in a wine cellar for a few years.
      Other times, the wine tastes bland because of what we just had in our mouths (food and wine). Giving a wine the benefit of a doubt, by re-calibrating our taste buds is sometimes all that is needed to enjoy its flavors at the their fullest.
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