Why Do Wine Tasters Spit Out Their Wine?
It often astonishes people that those whose business is wine spit out more than they swallow when they are sampling. But it must be so: to taste 100 or more wines – my own master would taste up to 300 in a day – would be quite impossible unless the samples were spat out. Some of the wines may not be attractive anyway: many – as far as fine wines are concerned – are certainly not enjoyable to drink if tasted while they are young. Also any wine undergoing the process of fermentation will go on fermenting in the stomach if it is swallowed. No human being can swallow even minute quantities of several dozen wines without being affected by their alcoholic content. Those whose business it is to ‘taste’ fortified wines, also those who are occupied with the selection and blending of fine brandies and Scotch and Irish whiskies, do this mostly ‘on the nose’, without necessarily putting the liquid intotheir mouths at all: indeed, there was one famed blender of Scotch who was a lifelong total abstainer – he worked entirely by his highly-cultivated sense of smell.
Spitting is routine in the world of wine and no one should therefore be squeamish about it. Either a spittoon of some kind is provided for those tasting or, as in a cellar, one spits on the floor: should this be concrete, when the splash-back can spatter shoes and clothes, the aim should be for any space between the casks, where the floor is more likely to be gravel. There are times when everyone else spits and therefore no one should be shy about doing so. There are also times – around the table – when it is pertinent to drink, and everyone does so. If in doubt, see what the more experienced are doing. It is fair to say that, in many instances in Germany, people will ‘taste’ sitting around a table with no sort of spittoon in sight: they do swallow the wines. It should also be possible for the serious – and careful – taster to ask for a spittoon on such occasions, even if this is only an extra glass. The same applies to tastings where the spittoons are few and difficult to reach – spit into a spare glass. 1 have known people shudder at such an idea. It is better than risking an upset stomach or getting drunk!
When I was beginning to learn about wine, I was told that the way to learn to spit was to lie in the bath and try to hit one’s feet. It is possible to spit tidily: take only a little wine into the mouth and, when you want to eject this, push it out, making a sort of funnel with the tongue and sending the breath behind it. Don’t just open the moutn – if you do, you must lean over the spittoon to avoid splashing. Keep your head up because, if you bend your neck, you will almost certainly miss the spittoon and possibly spit onto your own feet.
Although many modern tasting rooms provide individual spittoons into which the taster can silently eject the wine, it is impressive to see someone who really can spit do so. On some occasions I have known people spit over the shoulders of those who were blocking the spittoon. The port trade possibly spit better than any other branch of the wine business, though I do not know why. Can it be because the additional viscosity of the port makes a long trajectory easier to achieve? One establishment in Gaia has a spittoon running underneath the tasting bench, so that it is necessary to stand back and project the wine into this from afar (unless you cower down and bend your head). It was the chief taster of this establishment who is supposed to have established the record – lift 6in (3.5m) – that still stands for spitting, and there is a photograph to prove his feat.
However it is reasonable to say that anyone attempting to learn seriously about wine must be neither shy about spitting nor messy about doing so. It is not necessary to be self-conscious. In all the years during which I have been tasting I cannot remember ever having been affronted by seeing anybody spit.