Oeno Files

Video: Hit the Bucket

Why, and how, you should spit when wine tasting.

By Julie H. Case March 29, 2012

Last week, in discussing how to survive Taste of Washington with your liver and dignity intact, I talked about spitting. The exact phrase may have been something along the lines of “do it,” or “for God’s sake, please, please do it.”

I get it that for many the mere idea of spitting wine is intimidating. If your mother knew, would she ship you another copy of Miss Manners? Might Depression-era elders bemoan all that good wine going to waste? Silence the white glove crew: Spitting is neither déclassé nor tacky. It’s not offensive to the winemaker or gross. (Unless you’re the recipient of splashback. Then it’s gross.)

The truth is sommeliers spit, and winemakers spit. Distributors spit, and buyers spit. Even we wine writers—the lowly breed—can be found at the bucket.

Maybe it’s time for you to spit, too. The above video shows some members of the local wine community demonstrating their spitting talents. Some of the language toward the end sounds NSFW, but everyone’s just talking about wine, I swear. Have a look, then follow these instructions for spitting with style.

Why spit?
One spits wine not because it’s not worth swallowing, but rather to avoid consuming obscene amounts of alcohol. Think of it this way: The average pour at any wine event—be it Aspen Food & Wine, Taste of Washington, or spring release in Woodinville or Walla Walla—is 1 ounce. Sample—and swallow—a mere 24 wines and you’ve polished off a bottle.

Even when you spit, you consume some alcohol. This is because you’ll likely still swallow some, and because alcohol is absorbed through the mucus membranes: the second it hits the lining of your mouth a small percentage is absorbed.

How to Taste … and Spit
Eyes: First, visually exam the wine. The color, whether or not it stains the glass, how long it takes to roll down the sides, and other details can provide many clues to varietal, vintage, alcohol level, and even vinification techniques.

Nose: Next, you want to smell the wine. Stick your nose in the glass. Back off and smell with your mouth open slightly. Take a long, deep whiff. Not only do your olfactory senses help you determine if a wine is flawed (hint: if it smells like wet cardboard or Tacoma on a windless day it’s faulted), aroma or bouquet can help you determine a wine’s age, varietal, whether or not it has seen oak, and more. A good smell may also hint at whether or not you like what you’re about to taste.

Mouth: Put the taste buds to work. As you taste the wine, move it around in your mouth. Notice, among other things, if there are tannins that make your cheeks stick to your gums, if the wine has body on the front of the tongue and the back, if the acid level is high enough to make you drool or so low as to make the wine flat, and what fruits are coming through on the palate.

As you taste the wine, you might be trying to identify its fruit structure, whether or not it has oak, the varietal and vintage, and alcohol level, but mostly you should just be answering the question, “Is this wine worth next week’s paycheck?” followed by, “Where can I get my hands on another glass of this in Seattle?”

Now, expectorate: That bucket standing at the end of the bar isn’t just for decoration, it’s for the dregs. Position yourself near it for ease. Unbelievably, spitting is as easy as leaning over the bucket and dispensing the liquid in your mouth. (Caveat: you may have to shove someone out of your way, pull the bucket out from beneath some sod’s chin, or find an alternate pail if the one at the end of the bar is full to the brim.)

Other spittoons, other methods: There are solutions for the germaphobes, the prissy, and those just generally squeamish. (Check out some other innovative options in our video.) Carrying a keg cup is a cool. Spitting into your own cup, then emptying it into the public bucket prevents the exceptionally unfortunate experience of splash back—being hit with the wine you and dozens more have expunged.

If there’s no cup around and you’re worried about spatter, a good trick is to lean over the bucket and aim for a side. The less liquid-surface area your juice comes in contact with, the lower the chance you’ll get hit in the face with splashback.

Oh, and if you’re barrel tasting at a winery, don’t be ashamed to follow the vintners cue, and aim for the grate on the floor.

Hints for both sexes: Ladies—and longhaired hippie types—should pull back the locks before hitting the spittoon. Hair in the bucket means wet hair in the face and that’s never pretty. I also know men who carry a hanky for any dribbles that roll down the chin.

Finally, try not to worry about looking cool. Few—other than the men and women shown here in our video—do.

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