When and how does "palate fatigue" kick in at a wine tasting?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I’m new to wine, and I find that after my first glass of red wine, the next glass doesn’t taste so good. Am I getting palate fatigue?

—Rolly, South Africa

Dear Rolly,

The term “palate fatigue” is typically used in large wine tasting scenarios, in which, after tasting many different wines, they all start to taste the same due to both the physical and mental exhaustion of concentrating on how wine tastes. There are physical parts of palate fatigue, including the consumption of alcohol, which is absorbed in small amounts through the palate even if a taster is spitting; the molecules of wine binding to the tongue’s sensory papillae can also desensitize taste buds after extended tasting. Wine tasting is also very mentally taxing due to the intense concentration required to give each wine one’s full attention. We keep this in mind during Wine Spectator’s official blind tastings, ensuring our tasters aren’t trying to review any more than a few dozen wines at a time.

But it’s possible that what you are experiencing could also be considered a form of “palate fatigue”—I’m guessing either the alcohol or tannins are drying out your mouth. First, make sure you’re serving your wines at optimal temperatures—a too-warm red might seem extra astringent. Drink plenty of water along with your wine to stay hydrated and avoid cottonmouth. You might also see if pairing your wine with a snack might help—something like cheese, bread, crackers or even chocolate or fruit can help keep your salivary glands going. Other things like smoking, medicines and toothpaste can also get in the way of enjoying a glass of wine.

And remember, there’s nothing wrong with having just one glass of wine!

—Dr. Vinny

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