Oeno Files

A Stupid Question for a Sommelier

The wine director at Willows Lodge likes to chew his wine.

February 18, 2010

“There are no tasting faculties in your throat,” says Jeffrey Dorgan. “So you do not need to swallow to taste wine.”

The questions in this series aren’t really stupid. But the whole wine thing can be so (unnecessarily) intimidating. Good thing for you I have no shame.

If you live in Woodinville, lucky you. You get to hang out and drink wine at the Willows Lodge and Barking Frog restaurant with funny, modest wine director Jeffrey Dorgan—the kind of oenophile that gives the whole enterprise a good name.

A Seattle native, Dorgan was introduced to wine while waiting tables at the Space Needle in the 1980s. “It was back in the day when white zinfandel was king,” says Dorgan. “But we would take field trips to Chateau Ste. Michelle through work. I began to realize there were some pretty amazing wines in our own back yard.”

Here, a stupid question for Jeffrey Dorgan.

When I’m attending a wine tasting where everyone is spitting, does etiquette require I spit too? Is there a proper way to spit into the bucket/cup (without making noise or spraying, for instance)? Also, how long should I keep the wine in my mouth before spitting?

If you are attending a tasting and everyone is spitting you are more than likely at a trade tasting. The majority of wine professionals spit—consumers do not. Most of the time when I am at a consumer tasting I am the only one spitting. I do get a few dirty looks and even comments like: “What a waste of a great wine.”

My staff accuses me of “chewing” my wine in order to make sure I get the full effect, but there are no tasting faculties in your throat so you do not need to swallow to taste wine. As a Wine Director I taste 30 plus wines a day. If I did not spit I would be drunk by the time dinner service started and would probably be passed out in the corner before service was half over. But if you have a designated driver or plan on catching a cab, by all means drink away!

You can always practice in the shower if you are a novice to spitting. Here’s how to do it properly: Make sure when you taste that you get a good-sized mouthful. Swish it all around for around 5 to 10 seconds so that the wine hits all areas of your mouth and tongue, then purse your lips and spit with force. Do not worry about making noise, it is totally acceptable. Aim for the center of the bucket—do not get too close as you might get backsplash. If you are spitting in a cup, hold the cup up to your mouth and place your lower lip inside the rim of the cup.

One final note: If you are at an outdoor venue with grass it is acceptable to spit directly on the ground, but be watchful of others around you. At an outdoor tasting I turned and spat without looking and ended up spitting a large mouthful of red wine all over a man’s tan slacks. A little embarrassing.

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