Spitting Wine...Why?

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I enjoy reading The Finger Lakes Wine Gazette and I always read it cover to cover. Usually my only complaint is that it lacks balance. Everything is always presented as wonderful and perfect. But I understand that its job is to promote promote and promote some more. However, a recent article titled "Wine Niceties: Learning to Spit" extolling the virtues of spitting out your wine tasting sample struck me as just wrong.  The author starts by describing how spitting wine in a tasting room can be "the height of sophistication".  Then suggest having parties at your home and inviting friends to come over and practice spitting too so that you'll be comfortable doing it.  The author then goes on to claim that the wineries will recognize you as a real wine fan and thank you for your good behavior.  I'm sorry, this is a fantasy perhaps from some other wine region, but not the Finger Lakes.  I live in the region and both for my own pleasure and research for my guests, spend a fair amount of time at the tasting rooms of the wineries in the region.    In seven years, I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen someone spit out there tasting.  It is not the rampant craze that the author makes it sound like.

The Gazette author's arguments:

Wine Tasting can and should engage all of your senses: She recommends Seeing, Smelling, Swirling and Spitting.  Seeing is fine, no problem there.  Smelling is also fine.  Swirling is used to augment the seeing and smelling so no problem there either.  The spitting is part that gets me here.  Does that really augment the taste?  Not so much...if you want to taste it twice, take a second sip, no need to reuse the first sip.  The sense she leaves out is the hearing, and spitting has a sound to it, but does the sound improve the tasting experience?  My answer to that is "NO" but I'll leave that up to you.

Real wine tasting is about education and appreciation: Says who?  I'm not sure how "real" wine tasting compares with unreal tasting, but I think many people (the ones that the wine industry has intentionally and unintentionally excluded for years) look at wine tasting as a method of finding what they like.  It may or may not be related to the history of the grape, or the land, or the method of production.  Some people care about those various aspects and some people don't.  If it is about education and appreciation, couldn't part of that also relate to how it feels going down the back of the tongue as opposed to how it feels going back out the lips?

At judgings, professional wine tasters usually spit:  Good for them.  They do that for a good reason, they might be tasting 40 wines that day to decide which is the best of the best Cabernet Sauvignon.  They need to be as consistent as possible and need to keep there wits about them for as long as possible.  That does not mean the rest of the wine tasting public has to try to emulate the wine judges.  I've been to dog shows and have seen the judges check the male dogs' testicles (for falsies I think).  That doesn't mean we should all inappropriately fondle the next dog we see at the park. 

Wine trails are not a pub crawl:  Certainly intoxication on a wine trail is a concern.  Many people do mistake the wine trails for pub crawls with just a continuous flow of wine.  These people will not be the ones to spit their wine, nor will they stop using the wine trail as a pub crawl because other people are spitting their tastings out. 

You need a clear head to remember what you tasted: This is the best argument and I more or less agree with it.  You do need a clear head if you are looking to purchase wine.   You do need a clear head drive (which is why I highly recommend a designated driver).  The only way to keep your head clear is to consume less alcohol.  Spitting is certainly one way to do that.  However there are other ways that might not be as effective as spitting, that don't involve spitting into a public dump bucket or into your own plastic cup.  My way you also get to experience the wine in a way that spitting will not allow. 

Ways to reduce your wine consumption without having to spit

  • Plan your visit to hit specific wineries that target the kind of wine you like. You don't have to hit every winery on the trail.
  • Choose wine from the offered tastings that most closely match your taste in wine.  You don't have to taste everything they are pouring that day.  (if you are unsure, tell your server what you like and have them guide you)
  • Don't consume the whole sample.  When you've had enough to decide whether you like it or not, dump the remainder in the dump bucket.
  • Plan your trip over several days and don't overdo any one day of wine.  If you are coming to the Finger Lakes for 2 days, you can spend a whole day racing through wineries and probably get to 10-15 wineries if you push it.  But likely you won't want any more wine the next day.  So a better approach is to hit a few wineries in the morning (most open by 10am) , then do some hiking or exploring of the area, then hit a couple more wineries in the later afternoon (most close by 5 or 6pm).  The next day you will feel more up to doing it again.  This will let you get to 10 wineries in the weekend without losing half the day to the nap you will need if you hit 10 all on the same day.

The end result is that you will enjoy your visit to the Finger Lakes a lot more and you won't have to do something your mother worked very hard to teach you not to do - spit in public.

The Finger Lakes wine region has made great progress in starting to break the illusion that wine is only for wine snobs and that in order to enjoy wine you have to do it in a specific manner and fully understand all aspects of wine history and its rituals.  So in line with the Zen of Wine Tasting , you should drink what you like and in a manner that makes you happy (and safe).  If that means you have to spit, more power to you. However, if spitting doesn't make you happy, then don't let anyone tell you it has to be done in order for the wine servers to recognize your great admiration for wine.

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