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 a wine characteristic (perhaps a flaw?) in reds that would cause my tongue to go slightly numb upon an initial taste? It is a rather infrequent occurrence, but when it happens I am dumbfounded to explain the mechanism. I suppose it could just be my imagination—but then again, I'm not expecting or even considering that my tongue might go numb with that first sip. Is it a phenomenon related to the percent alcohol in the wine?

—Maggie, Chicago

Dear Maggie,

I have two theories about the sensation you're describing. The first is what you're suspecting—that the alcohol is out of balance with the wine's other components. A wine like this is sometimes described as being "hot." It's similar to the feeling in your mouth after drinking a shot of whiskey or gargling with strong mouthwash—I'd describe it as a burning sensation, usually toward the back of the throat.

My other theory is that the wine may be what's called "astringent," which refers to a puckering, drying sensation from wines with high tannins, like you'd get from tea that's been over-brewed. Astringent wines are prickly, harsh and coarse. Perhaps there's a combination of factors—a wine high in alcohol with astringent tannins could result in your numb tongue.

—Dr. Vinny


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