Why do professionals cleanse their palates?

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Apples, water, bread, plain crackers and biscuits, or even carrots can all help you to fairly judge the quality of a wine.

The idea behind this is that you need to cleanse your palate before tasting a wine, so that both the characteristics and defects of a wine become more detectable. If you have ever been to any of Decanter’s tasting events, you will see wines served with plain crackers and water.

Apples also play their part —during the judging week of Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA) and Decanter Asia Wine Awards (DAWA), sometimes our judges will request a plate of peeled apples during the tastings of red wines. The refreshing acidity in an apple is very effective to freshen up taste buds when tasting powerful, tannic red wines and weighty sweet wines.

However, as our judges will tell you, the last thing they want when tasting white wines is apple. The extra acidity will do no good to those already acidic white wines and can make them taste unattractive.

There is an old French wine trade saying ‘buy on apples, sell on cheese’, meaning wine merchants use apples when they are buying wine, and serve cheese when they are selling it.

It’s safe to say that cheese has always been a good and ‘safe’ pairing partner with wine, as it can smooth the rough edges of a wine and make it easier to drink. The reason lies in the fat and protein in cheese—they coat your taste buds so that the sharp tannins and flavours become blunt, making even a lesser wine taste better! But as it disguises the flaws of a not-so-good wine, it may also shield some stand-out characteristics of a wonderful wine.

Therefore you need to be tactical when pairing cheese with wine: for the light and creamy soft cheese, you may need a wine with backbone, such as Chardonnay or Chablis. A more pungent cheese requires a wine with acidity but some aromas such as Sauvignon Blanc. Red wines are best to pair with harder cheeses that have stronger flavours. The residual sugar in sweet wines is a delicious answer to balance the salt in a blue cheese.

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