food & drink

Spit or swallow?

When we read about or watch videos of professional wine tastings, the most surprising thing is the sheer amount of wine the tasters get through. Professional critics and wine writers have always been capable of dealing with vast quantities, and Tim Atkin for example, previously Robert Parker's man in Spain, thinks nothing of tasting 300 wines over a two-day session - with the emphasis on tasting. He drinks not a drop, as if he did, he would not be physically or mentally capable of such stamina, but the discipline involved is not something with which every wine enthusiast is gifted.

When I started in the business, one of the hardest self-restraints at tastings was to learn to spit out good wine rather than swallow it. What a waste, I used to think, almost an insult to the poor winemaker. There must be a better way. Even the very act of spitting in public makes most people uncomfortable, but in spite of consuming large quantities of water and unsalted biscuits between each wine sample, I finally decided there wasn't. This was how it was done, and it was a simple choice of either spitting it out or becoming increasingly legless as the tasting proceeded.

These days we have boring online virtual tastings by Zoom, and the limited number of real tastings feature individual spittoons and one glass per taster, rinsed out with water at each fill-up. Like everything else that is happening in these strange and uncertain times, an unfamiliar situation that we must learn to live with.