Spit or swallow: the great debate

Please don’t get the wrong idea. If you are a teenager who just googled the first part of this post’s title, I’m afraid you are going to be sorely disappointed. But if you are of legal drinking age, keep reading and you may learn a thing or two.

The question

Someone recently asked me why wine snobs bother spitting the wine that they are tasting. Doesn’t that impact on the taste? Do you really get the full flavour if it doesn’t go to the back of your mouth and down your throat?

The short answer is, no, you don’t really get the full flavour of a wine if you spit it out. That said, you can get a pretty good idea of the wine’s qualities by swirling it around in your mouth for about 5 seconds while sucking in a bit of air, hence the hilarious gurgling/slurpy sound effects that are a constant source of mockery for the rest of us.

spit fail

Awkward! For more amazing spitting stories and images, check out this appropriately themed article on Vivino: https://www.vivino.com/wine-news/how-to-spit-wine-like-a-pro

To explain why wine pros spit, let me tell you a story.


I was recently invited to a team tasting in April organized by wine writer extraordinaire Natalie MacLean. When describing the event to me, she said there would be at least 70  bottles to try and potentially review. 70. Bottles.

That is a lot of wine.

tasting nat maclean

So much wine! Picture from a previous Natalie MacLean team tasting. To see what I am in for, check out the whole blog post: http://www.nataliemaclean.com/blog/wine-team-tasting-reviews-ratings/

I have a confession to make: I rarely spit….when tasting wines (why did I feel the need to specify??). While taking my courses, I rarely drove to class so I could fully enjoy the various wines we tasted, which were often above my wine budget. No spitting there. Even at wine events, I may not finish a two-ounce pour, but I feel like spitting is sacrilege.

Case study #1

I have been to a couple of wine shows around town, the first being the Ottawa Wine and Food Show, back in 2012. That one was not a great experience for me. You pay $30 just for your ticket and the “privilege” of standing in line outside for an hour, then you have to buy drink tickets, with each glass going for 2 or 3 tickets, or as many as 10 tickets for Bordeaux wines you won’t find at the LCBO. Another issue is the people who attend these shows. Sure, you’ve got the industry reps and the people who are legitimately interested in trying new wines, but for the most part, it seems to be 20-somethings who want to get dressed up then get wasted, but on wine so it’s classy-like.

The day leading up to this big event, I followed all the rules: I hydrated well, ate a big meal before going, and wore comfortable shoes.

Buuuuuuuut I still got drunk.

Rookie mistake – I wasn’t just tasting the wines, I was drinking them. All of them. I think we were home by midnight.


Case study #2

This past November I attended another event organized by the Ottawa-based Savvy Company called Outstanding in their Field. This really fun event brought in wines from Niagara, Prince Edward County and even the Ottawa Valley.

However, with the price of entry, you received a tasting glass and free reign to try over 60 wines. Danger!

We were only there for three hours. In that short time, we found 6 bottles we wanted to buy (the minimum purchase for free shipping) and I managed to get…very social. Yup, I was definitely more than tipsy, and on a work night no less.

The answer

Going back to the original question: why do wine pros spit out their wines? As you may have guessed from the above case studies, the answer is basically this: so they don’t get drunk. Also, there is such a thing as palate fatigue. Wine tasting becomes a rather fruitless endeavour if you are so drunk you can’t taste the wines anymore. I discovered this at the Wine and Food Show, after leaving the aged Bordeaux as my last wine of the night. It tasted like…wine. What a waste.

So while I am looking forward to this team tasting in a month, I am also kind of nervous. I have always felt that spitting out wines is…rude somehow. So lately I have been asking myself all kinds of soul-searching questions, like:

  • Do I have to taste every single wine?
  • How do I decide ones which to pass on?
  • Will I have the strength, will-power and discipline to taste rather than drink?
  • What wine tasting note format am I going to use? Old school notepad or high-tech tablet? Or maybe just my phone?
  • Is everyone going to be watching me?
  • If I spit, is there a way of doing so gracefully?
  • What happens if there is a little dribble? (note to self: do NOT wear white)
  • Oh god, what if I miss the spitoon entirely?
  • Are all the other wine tasters going to judge me? They’re all going to laugh at me!

Clearly I am going to have to do some spit practicing as I seem to have some hang-ups in this department. Sounds like the perfect excuse to open some of those not-so-great bottles in my collection!

Wish me luck, and happy wining!

3 thoughts on “Spit or swallow: the great debate

  1. I kind of suspected the reason for spitting (… and yes, talking about wine here…) but your explanation is interesting, plus first-hand experience is always best, right? I’ve heard that actors in food commercials spit too because after 200 takes, that chocolate cake doesn’t look that good anymore 😆

    I keep on hearing negative feedback about the Ottawa Wine and Food Show…


  2. Pingback: Taste Ontario 2016 – Part one: Riesling, pinot and cab franc, oh my! | Wining with Mel

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