Spit or Die

Sooner or later, you are going to have to spit. Eventually, you will find yourself at a wine tasting event where everyone is spitting and that is the expectation. It would be unmanageable to do the opposite – swallow. Tastings can easily include 40 wines, and at 2 oz. a pour that would mean drinking 1.5 bottles per hour and ensuing blackout. Now you may think that you can hold your alcohol, but spitting goes far beyond intoxication and silly puns.

The point of spitting is to maximize perception. Swallowing in not necessary for tasting and should be reserved for recreational enjoyment. In the wine trade, it is very important to maintain keen senses in order to discern qualities of wine. Your job depends on it. And if you’re drunk, then the senses are off and one cannot simply taste with authority.

Plus, spitting is cool. After taking a sip, swish the wine around the mouth, give a suggestive yet pensive look, and spit! Don’t put too much thought into it because it will come with practice. For decades, wine professionals would spit in cellars and vineyards with simple rules: spit away from the person serving wine; spit with pride; aim with excellence; dribble is embarrassing; and splattering the barrel or product in general is taboo. See the video below for visual demonstration.

What’s more, nowadays spittoons (spit buckets) are commonplace no matter the location. The diversity of spittoon products ranges from a $100 artisanal handmade craft to an extra bucket lying around. My suggestion? Be the artisan, and make one based on what you already have in possession. Nonetheless, if offered the opportunity when attending a wine tasting event, spit in the spittoon as a common courtesy, and not on the ground.

Much more concerning than spitting with finesse, is over-consumption leading to death. If you expect to drive after tasting wines it is of course best not to swallow. As one can imagine, wine consumption and driving do not go hand-in-hand. From wine merchant prespective, Neal Rosenthal explains such precarious situations:

There is a sensual pleasure in the act of spitting wine, and spitting is an important part of the process of tasting and selecting. When one is tasting all day long, day in and day out, it is obligatory to spit out what one tastes. Failure to do that can result in the inability to discern good from bad as the effects of the alcohol dim the senses and take a toll on the liver and kidneys. There are many sad stories of wine merchants who were immoderate in their consumption, not to mention even more gruesome tales of injury or death on the road after a day spent drinking rather than spitting. Once again the myth of the merry wine merchant is exposed. To drink while tasting, or even in certain circumstances when dining, is to commit a cardinal sin. 

Neal Rosenthal, "Relfections of a Wine Merchant" P.82

So the next time you're deciding whether to spit or swallow, ask yourself, "Is it worth my wine-life?”