Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
The Food & Wine Classic rolls into town at the end of this week and, for those of you attending, the question arises: “Should I spit my wine out?”Spitting is standard practice for those in the wine trade who are sampling dozens of wines at one time. It is a matter of self-preservation for professional tasters who want to keep a clear head as they evaluate a multitude of wines.If you have driven to the Classic and plan on driving home, then the answer is simply and emphatically: Hell yes, you spit! And make sure you eat something during the day to help absorb the wine you taste.When you drink wine, the liquid passes through your mouth, down the esophagus to the stomach, and then into the small intestine. About 20-25 percent of the alcohol is absorbed in the stomach and the rest is absorbed by the small intestine, where it enters the bloodstream. There is evidence that minute amounts of alcohol may be absorbed by the membrane in the mouth, but if you spit out the wine before it reaches your stomach you should be able to taste all day without reaching the 0.08 blood alcohol level that is considered legally drunk in Colorado for drivers of non-commercial vehicles. If you do pilot a commercial vehicle by the way, the limit is 0.04. Just so you know. As a rule of thumb, four glasses of wine, say a 5-ounce pour, would likely put a 175-pound man over the 0.08 limit. Two glasses would have the same effect on a 125-pound woman. Sorry, ladies.The good news is that, other than the buzz, you can extract everything you need from a glass of wine without swallowing. The smell, the mouth feel, the flavor profiles are all experienced in your pie hole. Once the wine is headed south, it is just alcohol to you. Your stomach does not differentiate between Two-Buck Chuck and a 1959 Chateau Ausone.So, if you have decided that you are going to be that guy who maintains decorum and responsibility by means of expectoration, then what, exactly, is the best way to do it? This may seem like an obvious question. “You just spit it into the bucket, man!” you may say. But like just about everything else in the world of wine, there are right ways and wrong ways to spit.First, keep in mind that that, unless you are on the streets of Beijing or a professional baseball diamond, that the practice of spitting is frowned upon as crude and vulgar. Also, consider that the liquid you are spitting is often a deep purple and can stain not just your clothing, but also that of all who may be in back-splash range. So it is imperative that you do this right. Clean, pure and precise with minimal extrneous drizzle.In 2002, writer Michael Steinberger interviewed sommelier Daniel Johnnes for an article he wrote on Slate.com titled “Cold Shower: How to spit with the wine pros.” (That attribution should keep me out of Maureen Dowd territory). In the story, he asked Johnnes how the big guys go about the practice of spitting. It is a great piece that is frequently cited by wine writers and can be found at slate.com/id/2071619/. Here is an excerpt:”It is essential,” he (Johnnes) 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 is muscle control and force: You need to generate sufficient power to push the wine out while maintaining your form throughout the process.”Johnnes, who by the way won the James Beard Award in 2006 as the top wine and spirits guy in America, will conduct seminars at the Classic this week on Burgundy and wines of the Rhone.I plan to attend just to see him pucker and spit.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and a black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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