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September 20, 2010

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Brilliant post. Well done. Palate fatigue has never ever been debated in a group of wine judges I've sat with. We all at the end of the event where we sip cold beer to revive our mouths, talk of how we combat the end of the day fatigue, and attempt to be fair to the whole lot. In the brief bit of Sommelier school I studied, we were even taught how to mitigate olfactory fatigue by smelling our shirts or other neutral items to "clear our nose". It works and helps immensely.

To deny these facts, is to suffer from an overblown ego. Fatigue happens in all parts of ones life, no matter what anyone says to the contrary.

To Ryan's point, this is not only well-written, but gracefully debated and humbly put forward. Allow to explain some thoughts why I love this article:

1. You immediately pointed out your weaknesses in your first article, admitting error in logic and argument. Despite the the onslaught of writers pitching that blogging is about being humble and admitting fault, as the technology allows for immediate retorts, few actually take to the task. For this, I give you a considerable amount of credit.

2. Your research is both poignant and relevant.

3. You use both contrary and supportive quotes to show both sides of the argument.

4. You make it a personal decision. People can take it or leave it, but much like the issue of accepting samples, it's a choice for you, and you alone, to make. Plus, Ryan and I would be lying if we didn't debate the very same issues ourselves on more than one occasion.

In short, thank you!

Gabriella,

That means a tremendous amount, especially coming from you. We'd be foolish not to celebrate the hard work of the many, many judges and competition directors. We've learned a lot. And if we truly love a good debate -- and we do! -- then we can't stake out an absolutist position.

Thanks for the kind words.

Ryan,

Again, I stress that some judges might say palate fatigue is a "myth" because there are so many factors that might affect a person's palate, and it's hard to assign blame, but by and large they concede the challenge facing judges. I remember the last day of Taste Camp in May, when several dozen writers told me some variation of, "I hope I can go one more round. My palate is nuked!"

Ryan and Gab: Coming from you, we obviously appreciate the comment and the compliments. Occasional bravado aside, we're still learning about every aspect of wine, and I hope we are ALWAYS learning. It'd be awfully boring otherwise.

Evan: You make an excellent point re: TasteCamp. You and I taste a lot of those fresh, sometimes-high-acid whites regularly, but I had never tasted that many in succession over almost three days before. My gums ached. Any question I may have had about palate fatigue was answered that weekend. It is probably true that mental fatigue was in play as well though.

Evan,

A well thought-out and researched extension of the original post. On the subject of fatigue, I embraced the idea a long, long time ago. I agree with Ryan on how he characterizes those who would deny the facts.

You said above:

"The best competitions build in breaks and take measures to mitigate fatigue."

May I add that, in my view, the better competitions should also evaluate the acuity of judges with random multiple tastes of some of the entries. I know of one competition in which I used to participate that did it regularly. When and if a judge starts to go off the rails, it should become evident.

In this conversation there seems always to be the camp that sees wine competitions in service to the consumer and a camp (small as it has become) that sees wine competitions in recognition to the winemaker. The former camp will of course dislike blind tastings--the latter, however, should embrace blind tasting, where the only context would be the merits of the individual wine and neither its history nor its future.

Thomas,

Did you witness judges ejected or suspended, based on lack acuity? Fascinating concept...

Evan,

No suspensions, but the organizers would take the judge's responses into consideration when evaluating results.

It is not uncommon to test acuity that way. Can't be done unless the tasting is blind, and should be done if the system seeks to test its integrity.

I loved reading about those competitions and officials that take great pains to share their results and process with the world, such as Robert Whitley. We casual consumers only tend to hear about medals when we visit a winery or a liquor store, and then, we usually hear nothing more than that the wine won a gold medal. Through these outlets, we can hope to learn nothing more than the name of the competition awarding the medal--and if I'm remembering correctly, some wineries do not even provide that much information. Knowing of websites like Whitley's and Foster's provides me with a way of better understanding why wines were deemed medal worthy. I look forward to checking them out.

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