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ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

Is there anything special that Wine Spectator reviewers do to prepare themselves (mouths, tongues, sinuses, etc.) for a tasting?

—S. Roberts, Salt Lake City

Dear S.,

Good question. All of the tasters at Wine Spectator have their own individual pregame rituals, but there are some common threads among them. The first is that they like to taste when they can focus and have a clear mind, and for many that means first thing in the morning when they are most alert.

Most avoid brushing their teeth any time close to tasting, and yes, that can mean skipping the morning brush if there’s an a.m. tasting. The minty favors can interfere with the flavors and recent brushing can make your teeth more susceptible to acid damage and tannin buildup during tastings.

Healthy, light, neutral breakfasts or meals beforehand are recommended—garlic fries, spicy foods and tuna salad are saved for another time. I remember reading somewhere that our senses of taste and smell are sharper when we are hungry, which is no problem for me—I’m always hungry! But tasting on a completely empty stomach can be distracting. It’s best to not eat or drink anything besides water about an hour before going into a tasting.

When they sit down to a flight of wines, there are definitely some things lined up: a clean wineglass, plain water, plain crackers and a spit bucket. Each flight starts off with a benchmark wine—something previously rated that we taste non-blind as a reference point, which helps calibrate a taster’s palate.

—Dr. Vinny


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