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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Prior to an official day of a blind tasting, what "pre-game rituals" do you or other tasters go through? I would think toothpaste, morning coffee, and breakfast foods would corrupt the palate.
I took an informal poll of Wine Spectator tasters and found common threads, and—as you might imagine—a lot of personal preferences. As far as tooth brushing, you're right that it is a no-no to morning tasters, not only because of lasting minty tastes but because brushing can make your teeth susceptible to acid weardown or tannin buildup during tastings.
Everyone who normally drinks coffee still drank their coffee, though most said that an hour or so before tasting, they stopped eating or drinking anything that might interfere with wine. And let me speak from personal experience here: tasting on an empty stomach is a bad idea unless you like to listen to tummy rumblings, so a healthy, neutral breakfast is key.
Just about everyone mentioned the importance of a clear mind when tasting. For some, that means tasting first thing, when they feel most alert. Others are more comfortable tasting in the afternoon, when their palate is broken in from breakfast and lunch. I think most of us avoid things like overly spicy foods, excessive garlic or onions, and tuna fish sandwiches for lunch on tasting days.
Finally, when tasters sit down to a flight, they are presented with a benchmark—that is, a previously rated wine which is tasted non-blind as a reference point. This helps them calibrate their palate, no matter what they had for breakfast.
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