The secret to tasting wine like a professional? Spitting
Getting the whiff
Spitting is frowned upon in polite society — unless the spitter is engaged in tasting wines. “It’s by spitting out the wine that you will be even more distinguished in society,” pleads Pierre-Jules Peyrat, a Paris sommelier.
Holding forth before a rapt crowd at a wine-tasting in the French capital, Peyrat begins by sticking his expert nose into a glass of chilled rose: it is important to get a good whiff before tasting the wine.
Once in the mouth, the wine is swirled around or chewed for a few seconds. The taster may then make a “duck face” to allow a bit of air in to detect further characteristics, a step called “grumage”.
Next, the mouthful of liquid is spewed back out in an unapologetic burst into a spittoon.
Tasting the structure
For professionals, tasting wine means assessing its appearance, or robe, its interaction with air, its aromas and finally its taste, as well as its “structure” in the mouth.
The first step is to identify the wine’s basic quality: is it bitter, sweet, salty, acid or umami — that elusive taste between acid and sweet that is prized in Asia?
The appraisal then turns to the tactile sensation the vintage creates: coarse, astringent, effervescent? Spitting the wine out is intrinsic to a tasting.
Waste or taste
Some object to the sight of good wine seemingly going to waste; others fear looking boorish or foolish, or staining their clothes.
Spitting, when the wine mixes with air coming from the nose, can bring out "other prevalent aromatic notes", Pierre-Jules Peyrat says, calling the phenomenon "retro-olfaction".
France, the world's leading wine exporter in terms of value, welcomes around 10 million oenotourists each year -- and their sophistication is growing.
About 12 percent of the students taking wine-tasting short courses at Olivier Thienot's Paris school are foreigners.