What's the best way to cleanse the palate of flavours from food, chewing gum or toothpaste that spoil the taste of wine?
Great question. Plain white bread is the answer, or at least the best answer I've encountered. You want something absorbent and relatively flavourless. Go with the most neutral fresh bread you can find – ideally not whole wheat or tangy sourdough or a sugary mass-produced sandwich loaf (save the latter for peanut butter and jelly). Plain crackers work well, too. If you're gluten-intolerant, a rice cracker is a good alternative.
I find bread more effective than water as a neutralizer, though a sip of water can help wash away doughy particles once you've performed the bread procedure.
Yours is a good question because it addresses a much-overlooked aspect of wine adjudication. At professional tastings, people have been known to make a fuss about extraneous odours in the room, such as perfume or cooking smells. While it's true that foreign aromas can distort the aroma or flavour of a wine in front of you, what's already inside your mouth – garlic, fish or even subtler residues – can make a bigger difference. I make a point of never judging a wine based on the first sip, preferring instead to let the first sip act as a mouth rinse in preparation for the "real" sip.
So, if you've got particularly strong flavours in your mouth, try the bread trick, or your wine could be toast.
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