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 Ptui! If you expect to rate around here, please use the dump bucket: Manners meet common sense on the wine road.
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Sometimes when I'm visiting wineries, I get so happy that I could just spit. Forget the manners your mother taught you: When you're visiting wineries (or sampling extensively at a wine-trade event), it makes sense to expectorate.

Competition spitting
A wine enthusiast, wearing an apron for protection, spits for distance in a tongue-in-cheek wine-spitting competition at Wine Australia 2000 in Melbourne.

Photo by Robin Garr

Responding to my list of wine-travel tips in Monday's Wine Advisor, reader Tom Rutkowski, a wine-loving research scientist in Michigan, sent along a thoughtful note adding another important tip: In a word, spit.

That's good advice, and it raises an important topic that's surprisingly seldom aired in wine-education circles, perhaps because most of us are taught that it's impolite, even a bit gross, to spit in public.

I would submit, however, that drunken driving is even less socially acceptable. While winery tasting glasses may seem small, if you visit even three or four wineries and polish off several glasses at each, you really shouldn't be getting behind the wheel of a car ... or even hanging out in the kind of polite company in which people are taught never to spit.

The advice from here is simple: When you're on the wine road, especially if you're driving, but even if you're not, don't feel obliged to finish every glass. Take a taste, dump the rest, and consider spitting out most of that taste, after proper swishing, slurping and contemplation. You don't have to emulate Uncle Festus chawing terbacky at the old country store with heroic expectorations ... a quick, discreet move on the handy dump bucket can be accomplished without offending anyone.

In fact, Tom Rutkowski correctly points out, tasting-room staff may well recognize you as a savvy professional if they see you discreetly spitting, and this can pay dividends. Recalling my comment that taking notes on wine or asking intelligent questions may often earn a waiver of the tasting fee, he added, "I've found that spitting the wine will often get the same benefits as well, because then it is abundantly clear that one is not going to wineries just to get 'buzzed.' ...

"There are other benefits as well: in my experience, at least in California and Oregon, some wineries that otherwise offer only limited tastings (say, three wines) will expand that to allow for several if they see you spitting, partly because it is clear that the taster is more serious about wine and also partly because this presumably makes the winery worry less about its liability should someone get behind the wheel intoxicated."

On the U.S. West Coast, in Europe and Down Under, I've found that tasting rooms almost invariably provide a bucket or urn for spitting out or dumping unwanted wine. (Those who've seen Sideways will recall the unforgettable scene in which the character Miles, angry at being denied a generous pour, upends and tries to chugalug a tasting-room spit bucket.)

In less wine-savvy regions like Eastern North America, though, Rutkowski correctly points out, "Unfortunately, spitting seems to be an incredibly uncommon practice." In winery tasting rooms east of the Rockies and in Ontario, dump buckets seem to be more the exception than the rule, and a request for a bucket will be met with responses ranging from mute incomprehension to a look of disgust.

"The lack of other people spitting, and a few giving strange looks, can be enough to make someone reluctant to spit," he said. "But I found that once I got over the hangup, the rewards in more intimate conversations with the people at the bar, often getting more tastes at a given place, and being able to drive home lucidly outweighed the slight awkwardness.

"Of course, wineries don't make spitting a very easy thing to do; often there are very few buckets, and the counters are too high to make them reachable by most people; but I got around that simply by carrying an opaque plastic cup. I actually wish that wineries, whenever they began pouring for a visitor, would as a matter of course point out where the bucket is and that people may spit into it if they desire."

I couldn't have put it any better myself. If you expect to rate around here, please use the dump bucket.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Copyright 2005 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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