Spit the Dog

“I like the way you spit”.  One of the seedier chat up lines I have heard.

Go to a morning tasting, with work in the afternoon, and you’ll soon realise why spitting is necessary.  If you don’t then you’ll end up drunk which, even (especially?) in the business I work in, is not good form at your desk.  Moreover, if you’re tasting with work in mind, if you’re seriously appraising what you are tasting, you just can’t do it with a few glasses inside you: you lose your judgement and everything is either sublime, ok, or undrinkable.  Very little in between.

I learnt this on the ground, at the coal face, at my first trade tasting.  My employers had their own portfolio of exclusively French wines; I had rocked up to this tasting to see if there was anything worth listing in our tiny non-french section.

I arrived at 10am, and was booked in for lunch.  There were maybe 50 wines to taste.  I dived in.  By 10.30 I was in my stride, chatting confidently about balance, questioning the price.  By 11 my confidence was waning.  By 11.30 I was pissed.  Useless.  I made my excuses and missed lunch.  I still don’t know if I had made a fool of myself but what I did know was that I had (a) not done my job, missed an opportunity to maybe find something we could sell and (b) missed an opportunity to make a few contacts.  I didn’t quite go home with my tail between my legs but not far off.

Lesson One learned, I embarked on Lesson Two.

Go to a big tasting and look for the pros.  Not the sales guys, not the hosts, but the old-school wine trade guys and the serious journos (think Broadbent and Coates, not the young turks).  Watch them spit.  And it is a status thing.  Your amateurs will bend over a spittoon, a bit like a child leaning over a bowl of soup.  Your mid-table guys (including me) can generally get the contents of their mouth into a spittoon without stooping, and without looking like they are trying too hard.  Your pros can do it from a couple of feet plus, at any angle, and with a nonchalance that can border on the arrogant.  It is something to behold.

This is Lesson Two.  It’s what we used to call “a practical” at school, though all you need is a bath, a pint glass, and a tap.  And some time.

Style notwithstanding, it can still be a challenge.  With a mouthful of 2005 Margaux (see meeting God; this was another theophany) are you seriously going to spit?  Le Musigny from Mugnier?  No way.  It’s easier, I think, in Bordeaux but in Burgundy, where some wines can be so beautiful from the barrel one can wonder why they even bother bottling it, it’s tricky.  If at all possible (read: if I’m not driving) I do not spit grand cru Burgundy.

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