May 01, 2006

'Scuse Me While I Spit This Wine

The 2006 Philadelphia Wine Festival is tomorrow, so I thought it would be useful to write about the art of wine spitting. Since childhood we’ve been programmed not to spit at all; spitting is offensive, disgusting and messy. Not to mention how wasteful it is to spit out food or drink (there are starving people in Africa, after all). So, it’s sort of ironic that at an allegedly high-brow event such as a wine tasting spitting this expensive liquid is not only tolerated, it’s almost required.

Spitting wine at these events does make sense, though. The reason you spit instead of swallowing the wine is to remain sober. If you’re there to actually taste the various offerings, you want to keep your wits about you so you can appreciate (and remember) what you’re tasting. Otherwise, you just spent $95 to get drunk on about $10 worth of wine. Talk about a waste.

But even if you manage to reprogram yourself to get over the indignity of the act of spitting, the question remains: How do you do it without making a mess? The most practical advice I’ve read comes from a 2002 Slate article written by Michael Steinberger entitled “Cold Shower: How to Spit Wine Like the Pros.” Steinberger recounts his meeting with Daniel Johnnes, the wine director at Montrachet, who gave him the following step-by-step advice:

It is essential, he said, to put the right amount of wine in your mouth; he recommends between one-quarter and one-half ounce. Once you have tasted the wine and are ready to expel it, you pucker your lips, tighten your cheeks, and press your tongue up against your top teeth, broadening the tongue so that it extends past the molars on each side. This pools the wine between the top of your tongue and the roof of your mouth. The key, Johnnes says, is muscle control and force: You need to generate sufficient power to push the wine out while maintaining your form throughout the process.

Easier said than done. Clearly, this technique is something that should be practiced at home before debuting in public. And remember: if you can’t spit well at home, it’s probably best not to do it at all. Because, regardless of how much we like wine, nobody wants to be on the receiving end of a Chardonnay shower.

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