The gentle art of spitting
By Bob Campbell MW
Spitting is an essential part of professional wine tasting. Most Australasian wine competitions involve tasting more than 120 wines a day. The judges would clearly be in all sorts of trouble if they swallowed rather than spat their tasting wines.
The researchers calculated that if we tasted 180 wines in one day, we are likely to have absorbed three-quarters of a bottle of wine.
I recall being part of a study by the Otago Dental School. They wanted to assess the dental damage incurred by professional wine tasters and were surprised to see us tasting 180 wines in a single day.
|There are no taste receptors in our throat so
nothing gained by swallowing a wine sample.
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No matter how carefully we spit, they reminded the judges, you will absorb some alcohol through the membranes of the mouth and are also likely to swallow a small amount of wine. The researchers calculated that if we tasted 180 wines in one day, we are likely to have absorbed three-quarters of a bottle of wine.
They tested that theory by taking blood samples from the judges at periodic intervals during a tasting. The judges had measurable blood alcohol for the first hour then non-measurable blood alcohol after that.
When we ingest even a small sample of alcohol we trigger off the production of an enzyme called dehydrogenase, which metabolises the alcohol. It takes a short while for the enzyme to get up to speed, hence the initial detection of alcohol.
The most wines I have tasted in a short period was at the International Wine Challenge in London where I sipped and spat 400 wines a day for 10 days.
I was judging wine at a Concours Mondial wine competition in Brussels when I noticed that the judge opposite me, a diminutive Italian, was swallowing every drop. I studied him closely at the morning tea break and he appeared to be as sober as a judge. Others also noticed, and he was shown a provision in the rule book which stated that all judges must spit.
There are no taste receptors in our throat so nothing is gained by swallowing a wine sample. When tasting beer it is necessary to assess bitterness. Our bitterness receptors are at the back of the tongue which is why beer judges swallow a little beer. Whenever I have judged beer the workload has been limited to just 20 samples.