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Dear Dr. Vinny,
I sometimes see in tasting notes comments about a "long finish" or "heat" from excessive alcohol in the back of the throat. If you taste and spit, how can you acquire this information?
—Bill T., Decatur, Ill.
There aren't any taste buds in the back of your throat, so you don't have to swallow to taste a wine. The finish will ricochet around the retronasal passages even if you don't swallow. Most of what we taste is actually what we smell. Try this experiment: Take a sip of wine while pinching your nose shut. Keep the wine in your mouth, and then let go of your nose. You'll get a better sense of how these retronasal passages function.
As far as the physical sensation of alcohol that seems "hot," or burns when it goes down, high alcohol will burn the tender lining of the mouth, not just the esophagus. If you don't believe me, try gargling with some bourbon.
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