Wine Tasting – To spit or not to spit, and others

Everyone loves to try out a product before buying. This is especially so for wines. Fortunately, many retailers today are organising theme-based wine tastings (by varietal, region or same producer across different vintages) so that we can test their wares before committing to purchase. Travellers are also putting scenic winery visits into holiday itineraries; once you’ve worked your way through a cellar door tasting, you’ll find it’s a highly addictive and enjoyable process.  In a restaurant setting, however, a tasting is a very different thing. Because –when ordering by the bottle–you can’t just move on to the next wine if the one you tried isn’t to your exact tastes. Every kind of tasting has its own set of rules.

Volume difference between wine tasting and drinking
Left glass holds around 100 ml, while right holds around 40 ml

First rule of wine tasting, never get drunk. A drunkard doesn’t look good, especially when the wine samples are free. A standard tasting portion is usually one to two ounces (about 30 to 50 millilitres), which makes getting intoxicated a very unlikely proposal. However if the plan is to taste many wines in a short session, don’t be shy about using a spittoon or an opaque cup for spitting wines. I have friends who spoke of wine makers who spat with an impressive trajectory from mouth to spittoon.Don’t do that, please.Wine stains are one of the hardest to remove and it is extremely embarrassing if the wines splashes on someone nearby. Either lower your body or hold the spittoon closer to expel. Some wine writers argue that it is not possible to enjoy the finishing touch of the wine when spitting it out. But, for everyone’s good, I would choose spitting as the lesser evil over intoxication.

Second, tasting in a restaurant is to find wine faults and not for preference. Trained restaurant staff usually offer a tasting portion after opening a new bottle of wine. By statistics, about three to five per cent of all wines bottled with a natural cork suffer from a fault known as ‘corked’. Known as the ‘wet card board’ smell, this is a taint imparted by the cork chemical reaction. Other common signs of wine fault caused by sulphite related reactions include ‘rotten egg’, ‘garlic’ and ‘burnt matches’. If any of the mentioned faults are prominent, tell the staff and they are expected to replace with a new bottle.Slight hint of fault is usually debatable which makes it difficult to be replaced. If diners are certain of wine fault, the best approach is make an offer to buy another bottle for comparison. If the fault is correctly identified, the restaurant will not charge for the faulty bottle.

Some consumers are unaware and mistake the wine tasting sample as an opportunity to decide if they like the wine, often resulting in misunderstanding and a spoilt evening. You cannot return or reject a perfectly good wine just because you don’t like the taste. If in doubt about food and wine pairing, always consult the service staff or a senior staff who manages the wine.

Third, don’t rush to give an opinion. One man’s treasure might be another man’s junk; personal preference does not apply to everyone. Forcing people to accept your opinions shows a lack of sensitivity and respect for others. Furthermore, serious drinkers usually take a couple of minutes to form their opinions. Throwing out your own may distract them, and may also make your next wine tasting invitation disappear. Give a nod of acknowledgement and move to the next wine.

While these three rules are not exhaustive, they should suffice to avoid most social unpleasantness. Feel free to share your thoughts and experience via comment or via email to Lastly, stay safe and avoid drink driving.

Wai Xin is the original author of this article. This was first published on Chubby Hubby.

About the author

Picture of Chan Wai Xin

Chan Wai Xin

Singapore based. University lecturer, wine educator, wine writer. Systematic, analytic, and at times pedantic. Mostly irreverent.

© 2023 Wine Xin. All rights reserved.