The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

The Ins and Outs of Spitting

Posted on | March 20, 2013 | Written by David Klay | 2 Comments

RKO illustrates the sniff

RKO illustrates the sniff

When I think about what it takes to properly taste any wine, I think of the four steps: swirl, sniff, taste, and spit. My favorite step in the process has got to be the sniff and my least favorite is the spit. Here’s why. The swirl is the encounter.  When I sniff the wine, it’s like giving the wine a handshake, a formal introduction to a wine tasting. The sip is like giving the wine a hug, a more intimate look at what is before you in the glass.  The swirl intensifies the relationship. In an ideal world, I then get to swallow.

Spitting is not essential to wine tasting if you only taste one or a few wines, but if you are at a wine event where you have multiple wines to taste and so many flavors and notes to pick up on, you have to spit. You can’t become intoxicated.  It’s just common sense, really.

RKO illustrates the sip

RKO illustrates the sip

I admit it: I am not very good at spitting. I find that if I spit too quickly or incorrectly, I don’t get the full enjoyment of the wine. I’m also worried about getting reddish-purple stains on my shirt. My first encounter with spitting wine at a tasting was bit of a surprise. My initial thought was that it felt as if I was pushing away the person to whom I just gave a hug. I didn’t want to shove them away,  I wanted to act as if to say, “Thanks for coming, it was lovely to meet you” or something to that affect.

RKO illustrates the spit

RKO illustrates the spit

I recently read an article entitled “The Masters of Wine-Spitting,” which talks about what it takes to spit and how it affects blood-alcohol levels. The author notes a recent Dutch research study that compared the blood-alcohol levels of spitters and non-spitters. It found that by spitting, you prevent your body from absorbing close to 95 percent of the alcohol. Quite useful if you are tasting through ten or more wines in a short period of time.

My biggest hang-up about spitting during a tasting is that if I do it improperly, it can look rather crude. Many wine experts say that the trick is to purse your lips tight enough so that the wine comes out quickly in a straight line. After all, you want the wine to get in as much contact with the inside of your mouth as possible. This way, the wine gets around the front as well as the sides and along the palate. Also, it looks neatly and you won’t get the wine on your shirt. The other key is not to take in too much wine, or you increase your chances of spillage. This too is a matter of self-restraint.

The all-important spitoon

The all-important spitoon

I find it amusing how in a poised setting like a wine tasting, spitting is encouraged. In almost all other contexts, spitting is considered crude. What’s more, the experts I have read note that spitting can be a pleasurable part of the tasting; there’s satisfaction in hearing the ring of the spittoon bowl or cup as you aim your target.

Still, I wonder, Is there an elegant way to spit? Several wine writers have convinced me in fact, yes. Just remember, don’t sip too much, aim well, purse your lips and release forcefully. If you do it right, you will be able to get the full wine experience, spit the wine and keep your cool and your shirt clean, all at the same time. In the meantime, I’ll keep practicing.


2 Responses to “The Ins and Outs of Spitting”

  1. Todd - VT Wine Media
    March 20th, 2013 @ 4:32 pm

    Spitting is certainly a skill that needs to be practiced, and even when one gets good at it there are some risk management techniques that can be employed:
    1) Dark clothing (just in case) I have Burgundy and Black shirts and sweaters that I keep for such occasions.
    2) The tasting catalog or note book many folks carry can be used as a chest shield when one leans towards the bucket.
    3) While missing the bucket may be a concern, getting too close, with too much ejection force, can mean back splash…watch the distance.
    4) Some folks carry a cup or small spittoon of their own for spitting into, and then pour from there to the communal spit bucket.

    I’m interested in hearing any other ways folks manage to do the deed, cleanly, and with some class.

  2. David Klay
    March 20th, 2013 @ 4:41 pm

    Hi Todd,

    Thank you so much for the detailed comment and the suggestions. I will definitely take into practice using a notepad as a wine shield. Great idea!

    Best, David

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