There are three important things to learn to be in the wine business. 1. swirl a glass of wine without spilling it 2. spit straight and cleanly into the spittoon 3. not to feel bad when liters of wine get poured out.
It is not the learning of the skills that can be challenging, it it perfecting them and dealing with the less-than-perfect experiences.
I was once visiting a very expensively designed winery in Tuscany and was tasting from the barrel. The winemaker took pride in the perfect state of the winery which he said should not even smell like wine because that meant the precious scent of the wine was being wasted.
As the luscious red liquid was poured into my glass I started to look around for somewhere to spit. This was going to be a long day of tasting I could definitely not swallow. In Australia all winemakers spit into the drain or a spittoon or sawn off barrel with saw dust is proffered. In this art gallery of a winery there was no spitton but the hand-paved red brick floor offered a large and inviting drain. I carefully swirled my glass, sucked and tasted enthusiastically, searching for the right words to describe the Sangiovese nectar. To my horror I saw everyone else swallow and with my mouth full of wine I could not ask for a spittoon. Remembering the highly polished drain to my left I casually walked over and with perfect aim spat into the middle of it, just a few crimson splashes shattering the lustre of the hand scrubbed floor. Feeling proud of myself I looked up to see all eyes shooting arrows in my direction. Was there spit hanging from my chin, I wondered? My second thought was more spot on – in their mind I had just as well spat on their grandmother’s kitchen floor.
Turning the colour of the wine trickling down the drain I apologised and scampered about looking for a tap to wash away my faux pas. To a chorus of “it’s naaathing” and “no problemo” a spittoon miraculously appeared and my sobriety, if not my pride, was saved. The wine was so good I wished I hadn’t had to spit and show my Antipodean roots!
I was reminded of this story as we reflected on a week of tasting really bad wines. We got through 70 wines this week, many from Spain, Australia, France and South Africa. One producer sent over 9 variations of Merlot that tasted like tinned asparagus and another obviously thought that rotten bananas was something the Swedish wine consumer appreciated. Swirling and spitting our way through these examples of crimes against grapes, I had no trouble spitting and then throwing out the wine happy never to taste them again (and of course neither will our members)!
p.s. I went to a really great guys only dinner this weekend and coincidentally met some happy members who gave me a clear message : the wine has been great so far but don’t let us down in the future! Rest assured, we are swirling and spitting our way through a lot of wines to make sure we never do!