Which foods or beverages should I avoid before a wine tasting?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Which foods or beverages should I avoid before a wine tasting? And is there anything that I should be eating or drinking before a tasting?

—Claire, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Dear Claire,

Good question—professional tasters have a variety of pregame rituals. This is also a good time to bring up that before (and while) tasting wine, it’s smart to avoid heavy scents, like perfume, smoke or even lotions and soaps. It’s also important to pay attention to certain supplements or drugs, prescription or otherwise, that might interfere with your taste buds (or be contra-indicated with alcohol, even if you are spitting). Some antibiotics can cause a bitter aftertaste, for example.

Every taster has their own list of foods that might personally clash with wines. For me, things like Brussels sprouts, raw garlic or onions and cauliflower tend to repeat on me, and that aftertaste can be very distracting. I also avoid the foods that are known to fight with wine: asparagus, artichokes, oily fishes (no tuna fish sandwiches!), vinegar and pickled items. Some tasters avoid coffee and tea, which both also have a lot of tannins, before a tasting. Bitter and spicy foods can also sensitize taste buds, causing tannins or acidity to seem harsher.

In general, professional tasters tend to make sure to stay hydrated (with water), and most stick to healthy, neutral meals on tasting days. I also like to taste when I’m a little bit hungry—I feel like it heightens my perceptions—but it’s a fine line, because I hate to taste when I’m starving, because I find a grumbling tummy distracting. Some tasters also like to eat plain crackers during a tasting, which can help alleviate tannin fatigue.

—Dr. Vinny

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