I can still clearly recall the first time I knowingly, willingly and very publicly spit a sizable quantity of liquid out of my mouth. It was at a wine festival, with over 700 wines being poured at various booths, and it was my job to taste through as many as possible in a planned, methodical manner. And survive to tell about it. As for actually drinking the wine, well, do the math: a half-ounce sip, swallowed, of 150 wines per day would mean drinking roughly the equivalent of three bottles—not really a manageable per diem. Each booth had one or two buckets, sometimes alarmingly full, in which to discharge the wine you had smelled, sipped and swirled. Nothing for it but to bend over and pucker a bit, like a 15-year-old kid at the county-fair kissing booth. And, well, spit with gusto.
There is a lesson here. Do not be timid in the spit; embrace it, embellish it if you must, but give it your all. Use water and practise, even. I know I did. There are as many techniques for it as there are people drinking wine, so just use the method that suits you. Many of the most experienced spitters make quite a lot of noise, so don’t worry about that either. I have found it instructive over the years to watch winemakers in their wineries doing barrel tests or taking wine out of fermenting tanks to aid and abet a discussion. They always spit, and it is always forceful, a mini jet stream that seems to always hit the mark, usually a little grill covering a trench in the cement floor.
Education is the true point of all this. Over the course of a wine tasting, the aim is not, as some folks think, to get your money’s worth in actual ounces drunk. That is a pretty easy target to hit. The point is to establish your own taste preferences and determine which characteristics you enjoy or dislike, or are indifferent to, in a glass of wine. So you can try, for example, a dozen champagnes, and start out thinking they are all quite similar. You will discover nuances that are magnified into profound differences as you taste through. And you will surely find at least one or two that seem to be the best of the bunch to you. And all of this is done without swallowing any of them. It is done, in fact, because you are not swallowing, since the last half-dozen wines could not show nearly so well if you had consumed six to eight ounces of wine already.
There are those moments when you come across a fabulous wine that rings all the bells, and it seems downright disrespectful to spit. The wine might be worth $100 or more for the bottle. Still, be patient, make notes and come back to that wine later, after the useful, educational aspect of the evening is over and you have 15 minutes to actually drink an ounce or two of your favourites.
During such tastings, the spitting is prodigious, elaborate and not always polite, and neophyte tasters might even be chastened with an experienced taster’s deliberate aim, hitting you on the laces of your shoes and thereby telling you to hurry up. Still, for most of us, a few hours of leisurely sipping, swirling and spitting is just about the best way there is to learn a lot about wine and our own tastes. So don’t be shy, don’t wear a tie and always make sure you are not in anyone’s line of fire. From there, it’s easy.