I have recently developed a new habit when wine tasting which has been around for centuries, is commonly practised by professionals, but rarely by us amateurs: spitting. Believe it or not spitting wine after slushing it in your mouth is not as easy as it seems.

To begin with there is a social stigma associated with the act. It’s only slightly more acceptable to spit in a public place, than it is to loudly fart. How often do you see anyone spitting a piece of food for whatever reason? Before I trained myself to spit wine, I regularly spit out pieces of steak or lamb that were fatty or gristly, much to the consternation of my wife who took a dim view of my table habits whenever she saw these half chewed morsels landing on my plate. I took enough ribbing about this to restrain me from other indignities at the table. Now you might say spitting is an acceptable part of the wine tasting ritual; therefore it is perfectly allright. But no one does it. They politely swallow what’s in their mouths and discard the remainder of their glasses into what are usually called “spit buckets”. I presume this is because most wine tasters just can’t get themselves engage in the act.

There is a second reason for not spitting, one that caused me not to spit for many years. The tasting experience somehow seems less complete when you eject the wine out of where it belongs. You start with a good nose, you ascertain the upfront fruit and mid palate tannins, but then you fall short in the finish because the wine is not there. It’s like doing all the foreplay, engaging the sex act, and then not coming to a climax. A third reason why most people won’t spit, is probably the most common to all. Let’s all be honest. Wine tasting, as haughty and sophisticated as it sounds, is ultimately all about imbibing alcohol! What fun is there in spitting it all out and missing a good buzz, when everyone all around you are turning merrier with each sample, as they swallow them all?

The first time I truely enjoyed spitting was three years ago in Edna Valley. It was a Saturday morning, and I found myself working my way down the wineries there from 8 a.m. in the morning with my wife’s Uncle Bob who works as a tasting room attendant for the Coppola Winery. We were on our way to a wedding scheduled at 1 p.m., a “dry” wedding (if you can imagine such a dull abomination). Neither of us wished to spoil the special day of my wife’s niece, the bride, by appearing drunk and obnoxious at the ceremony. So we drove fast, tasted even faster, and spat everything. We were also handsomely dressed, ready for the wedding, making a peculiar sight for the winery attendants who were not accustomed to see two men in formal-wear, speed-tasting and spitting so early on Saturday. They thought we were surely professionals and treated us as such (and Uncle Bob, technically was a pro). I discovered that I enjoyed this transient theater we played quite a bit. Besides, after the wedding I broke open several 2005 Talley Pinot Noir’s I discovered there, and made up for the lack of libation during the festivities.

But upon returning home I fell back into the same habit as before of swallowing it all. It was not until the summer of 2010 when I took up spitting for an entirely different reason. I was on a quest to lose weight and I simply could not inhale as much wine-calories as I had done in the past. I trained myself to keep each tasted wine in my mouth longer and swish it around a lot more than I had previously done. This way, when I spit, I actually did have a finish lingering in my mouth, as well as a sense of the alcohol content, most often more easily determined as the wine rolls down your throat. Once I got into the habit, I soon discovered what I should have known for years: there are many wines out there, especially in the kind of BYOB, brown-bag tastings we do, that are simply not worth swallowing.

I designated a large coffee mug as my personal, portable spit bucket, and started going everywhere with it. I quietly brought the mug to my lips and let the fluid ooze out into it discreetly, rather than ejecting it out as though it were a snot being blown out of my nose. No-one found it objectionable. In fact last week, at New Year’s Eve, where the number of really good BYOB’s lined up by our group exceeded anyone’s biological capacity to handle if swallowed, many of my friends asked if I could share my coffee mug with them. “Sure”, I said, aggreeable and friendly. Still, I watched them get shitfaced drunk, while I spit away, enjoying each new bottle that was opened well into the evening, especially the 1975 Riussec Sauternes, the final wine of the evening, otherwise wasted on most, who were too sloshed to know what they were tasting.

I lost weight. 25 pounds so far. And I found that without a buzz, I could appreciate and recollect the tail ends of long tasting line-ups much better. Spitting is here to stay with me in the long term, even if I reverse all the other habit changes I also acquired to succesfully carry out my weight loss plan. Now if only I can do something with the way I handle those offensive morsels of meat. Nah!