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How to Spit Wine Like a Pro

It's hard enough for some people to make the transition to actually spitting out the wine, but when they finally do, they're faced with the daunting task of actually getting it in the bucket, which is harder than it looks, especially at crowded wine tastings where they're just as likely to get it all over themselves or someone else than the bucket.

Thanks to a tip from Professor Bainbridge, I'm happy to provide a lesson in spitting wine courtesy of Michael Steinberger in Slate Magazine this week. Despite the surface silliness of writing a column on how to spit, it really is a good lesson in a skill that easily differentiates the novice from the professional wine taster.

Enjoy, and remember to practice with water first.

Comments (16)

Fatemeh wrote:
06.14.05 at 8:57 PM

Yeah, I'll just keep my own personal spit cup handy, thankyouverymuch.

No "big weenie" competitions for me--I'm doing well enough to keep from embarrasing myself with my usually very "female" and "romantic" descriptions of wine in the presence of the pros.

Alder wrote:
06.14.05 at 11:09 PM

Ah Fatemeh,

Despite certain aspects of that story very much appearing like a pissing match, there's just no getting around the need to spit, and unless you're gonna carry that spit cup around with you everywhere, I'm sure there's gonna be an occasion where this skill would come in handy. Personally I prefer the surreptitious spit to the spectacle one, but I'm still working on avoiding that chin dribble every once in a while.

Andrew wrote:
06.15.05 at 4:38 AM

What gets me is the precision some people manage in spitting! While they can wip it out and deposit all in a spittoon with an opening the size of a 50p at 20 paces (in the face of a strong headwind) I have to be right over the darn thing; and still manage to dribble down my chin. Hence the goatee to hide the wine stains ;-)

06.15.05 at 1:01 PM

That is why I never stand by the spit bucket at wine tastings. Get your wine and move out of the way!

jens at cincinanti wine garage

Carly wrote:
06.20.05 at 8:23 PM

What I don't understand is the wine tasting bars who have chest high counters, and insist on placing the spitoon on top of them. Only Shaq could spit into it. I have to pull the damn thing off the bar, calling more attention to myself as I spit away.

If you want to practice your spitting technique, try it on your patio into various sizes of flower pots.

Jack wrote:
06.21.05 at 10:27 PM

I don't understand why almost all of the winery tasting rooms in California DISCOURAGE spitting. Many/most have tiny spit cups. Or hide them. Or keep them full. Or don't have them at all.

Someday a clever lawyer will sue some of them (related to a fatality), saying the wineries encourage drunk driving.

Alder wrote:
06.21.05 at 10:35 PM


This really bugs me too. I understand that they're just catering to what most people do, which is swallow, but they're in the wine business for pete's sake, they must know the difference between a good spit receptacle and a tiny little terracotta pint jar.

Jack wrote:
06.21.05 at 11:14 PM

Pint jars? Some may be grudgingly give you a 6-8 oz. paper cup. Maybe I should just starting spitting on their shiny floors when the spitton is inadequate. (Afterall in France, you'd be yelled at if you didn't spit on the ground at a winery there.)

And if they hassle me, "Oh, you mean this isn't a Wine Bar you're running?" Or do I have to withhold this line until I catch them pouring someone a full glass of zinfandel for a $5 tasting fee?

Rajiv wrote:
07.17.08 at 1:19 PM

Sorry, had to get this off my chest... it's gonna be a long one.

What's Wrong with the CA Tasting Room Culture?

The tasting room social atmosphere is quite complex, wrought with a myriad of interests - some conflicting and some aligned. Some tasters are there as serious buyers, making a brief and efficient examination of the wines before rushing off to the next winery. Some tasters are there to enjoy themselves, and maybe pick up some wine on the side. Some are there mostly to drink some wine. There is a wide swath of experience levels, and a correspondingly wide range of attitudes toward wine.

The pourers try to create a friendly atmosphere, perhaps educate people a bit about wine, and make personal connections with their customers. Most of all, they are trying to sell the wine. Here's where conflicts of interest arise: Wine connotes civilization, class and breeding, but it also gets you drunk.

When people are intoxicated, even just a little tipsy, they are more likely to enjoy the wine, and more importantly, the atmosphere that comes along with it. It's that strange mix of high-society and secret indulgence that Americans have a soft spot for.

Now serious tasters know this - they expect their judgment to be skewed, and so they religiously spit out the wines when tasting several. But what of those new to wine, who are willing to take it seriously but aren't sure about the proper etiquette? There are some very good reasons to spit - for one, it can remove the need for a designated driver. It allows you to keep your wits about you and detect more nuance in the wine; in a way, you enjoy the flavors of the wine more, rather than just the feeling of intoxication. It prevents rash driving (or buying!) decisions that you may regret later. However, there are many reasons not to spit.

1) It may not occur to you. Most people just don't think about spitting as an option.

2) It's considered impolite. Girls drink beer. Ladies drink wine. A lady does not spit.

3) It's a waste of wine - What a shame! All that nutritious juice down the drain. What, is alcohol now the fifth basic food group?

4) Look around the room. I've poured at two wineries and visited several more, and with the exception of Mr. Romero, no one spits. Not the pourers, not the vintners, [i]no one[/i]. The buckets are called "dump buckets." This is a problem.

I totally understand why. Spitting turns people off, and that's not good for business. Look at the Wine Spectator videos. All the spitting is cleanly edited out, even at the clips of massive tastings (I watched [i]very [/i]closely). In fact, none of the critics is shown even aerating or swishing the wine, with the exception of Molesworth's extremely subtle technique. Apparently that's too gross for wine enthusiasts. Well I think that culture needs to change. If only to keep the winding roads in wine country safe.

At one winery I poured at, the other two pourers poured between 3 and 4 ounces. I kept mine generous - around 3, trying to skirt the fine line between looking like a stingy pourer, and not giving them enough room to swirl (the glasses were small). It's not my problem, I thought, they can designate a driver. Anyhow it's good for the atmosphere and business. The atmosphere certainly was party-like and friendly. People came back to "re-taste" wines, and I filled 'em up without blinking.

I started noticing that very few people had designated drivers with them. I also started keeping track of how much individual tasters were consuming. My guess was that the average taster consumed 4-7 glasses of wine (4 oz). (there were six wines being poured. People came back for seconds. There were also several vignettes that really stuck out in my mind:

1. I accidentally gave a 2-ish oz pour to a woman (we didn't have pour spouts), who eyed me and then said plaintively "Oh c'mon, give me a decent pour!" I complied.

2. Several people asked for miniscule pours - less than half an ounce - saying they were designated drivers. I told them I was going to give them a larger pour, so they could at least smell the wine better, and then they were welcome to pour off the rest into the bucket. My thinking was, if they can't smell it, they won't like it as much and probably won't buy it.

3. One woman asked for a miniscule pour and I gave her the same schpiel. "But I feel so bad wasting the wine!" she protested. I reassured her that it's all part of the tasting experience, and she'd really smell the bouquet better with at least an ounce in the glass.

4. When I myself went to one of the other pourers, he filled my glass up with about 6 oz of Sauv blanc (apparently I didn't say "stop" quickly enough). He shrugged amicably and said "you can drink it slowly." I thanked him and then proceeded to taste 2 mouthfuls, write my notes, then dump the rest, trying very hard to not look disdainful or unappreciative of the wine in the process.

At other tasting rooms I've encountered opposition to spitting as well. In one very professional-looking tasting bar in a Palo Alto wine shop, there were no buckets in sight, and I had to ask twice to get a cup for spitting. I drove some friends to a nearby tasting room and as the DD I asked for a spit bucket. They were friendly, but the owner tried to talk me out of spitting based on my size and the size of the pours. As it turned out, even spitting religiously I didn't feel quite up to driving back until I ate a bit.

This is not a healthy culture, folks. Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying everyone should spit. I do appreciate the elements of old-fashioned hospitality in CA wineries. However I think that the tasting rooms should also promote a culture of spitting, of serious wine tasting, that can coexist with the party atmosphere. It's insanely irresponsible not to.

Rajiv wrote:
01.09.09 at 1:43 AM

Having gotten a bit better at spitting after several months of practice, I posted a video with some tips here:


Milrose wrote:
05.01.09 at 10:59 AM

Rajiv there are a number of wine tasters who are too cheap to spit it out, especially since most wineries charge for wine tasting, and whether or not they realize it, they are actually wanting to get buzzed.

It is also hard to believe there are Tasting Rooms where the staff are pouring more than 1.5 oz for a wine taste--as most professional pourers will put .75 to 1.25 ounces of wine in a tasting glass. To pour more reflects directly on management or the owners. They are too cheap to educate themselves or their staff in serving/selling alcoholic beverages including wine tasting. They also have never been involved in a liability issue regarding a drunk driver involved in an accident--the authorities will be looking for the last person and company or winery that served the alcohol. That's right, both the server and the company could be liable.

If a person ever looks at the card that DMV sends out with your automobile license renewal they would realize that many people are impaired after 5 ounces of wine. Most people who consume 14 to 20 ounces in a 30 to 45 minute period are drunk--even if they are standing up, coherent, and not slurring words, a blood test will show they are over .08 and that legally makes them drunk. And it also puts the server who did the last pour or two in a very indefensible position, along with the owner of the establishment. In a court room the question will always come up, ". . . and how often and when were your employees trained? Was the training on-going or simply an OJT when they first started?"

Free training is available from the California ABC in the L.E.A.D. Program, Licensee Education on Alcohol and Drugs; and R.B.S., Responsible Beverage Service. Either of these usually last about 4 to 5 hours and are very informative. A very few wineries in California's Central Coast wine regions require it of all of their employees and usually pay the employes for their classroom time.

Without some changes in this industry I think the wine tasting experience, as we know and see it, is going to radically change.

Rajiv wrote:
05.01.09 at 11:06 AM

Milrose -

Laws and training are all very well, but they don't get at the fundamental problem of attitudes towards wine tasting. Suggestions and changes in the attitudes of the pouring staff, such as positive reinforcement of spitting, would have a much greater and more immediate impact than trying to tighten or enforce regulations.

10.29.14 at 2:55 AM

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It will always be helpful to read content from other authors and practice a little something from their sites.

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