ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

I disagree with you about the difference between spitting and swallowing wine. Few people realize that the tissues inside the human mouth can absorb chemical compounds like alcohol faster than the stomach. If you take a whole mouthful of wine and spit, you are are accumulating a lot of alcohol into your bloodstream. If one tastes 20 wines and swallows 5ml of each, that person has only consumed 100ml of wine. Hardly enough to intoxicate anyone. Declaring that "you really don't need to swallow" also ignores the universal truth that everyone tastes everything differently. In promoting greater appreciation of wine, it is unwise to discourage individuals who prefer to swallow. Restricting the size of the taste, and consuming enough well-paired food are the correct recommendations.

—Robert M., East Hampton, N.Y.

Dear Robert,

I agree that alcohol can be absorbed in your mouth, but I'll stand by my statement that with training you can evaluate wine without swallowing. And I believe that for most people, myself included, tasting and spitting keeps one more sober and sharper for longer than swallowing. This is important information if you're a professional wine taster, or you're at at a large tasting when you want to try a lot of different wines and remember them.

I also agree with you that everyone tastes differently, and I've always said that it takes practice to learn how to spit and taste. Your advice to restrict the size of a taste is good, and I'd add to that to stay hydrated and to learn to rely more on your nose. I think you forgot one important element in your equation—sure, if you're swallowing 5ml of each taste, the alcohol in that 5ml is going into your bloodstream. But as you pointed out, your mouth is also absorbing alcohol, so you may be getting more than just the 5ml of wine as it moves through your mouth and tongue. If I had to choose between training myself to swallow exactly 5ml of wine, or learning how to appreciate a wine when spitting, I think the spitting skill is more useful.

—Dr. Vinny


Do you have a question for Dr. Vinny? Ask it here...

Wine Basics

We break down the basics—how to taste, serve, store and more. Plus:
» Maps of major wine regions
» Grape variety characteristics

How-to Videos

Learn to taste wine like a pro, pull a cork with flair, get great wine service in a restaurant and more

Wine Spectator School: All courses are FREE for WineSpectator.com Members

Learn from the experts and get the most out of each sip. Take one of our online courses or take them all—from the ABCs of Tasting to in-depth seminars on Food Pairing, California Cabernet, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Sensory Evaluation and more.

Browse our course catalog
Check out the professional wine sales and service courses
Learn Wine Forum: Got questions? Get answers

MEMBER LOGIN

= members only

Keep me logged in      Forgot Password?

Free Email Newsletters

Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions

» View samples
» Or sign up now!
» Manage my newsletter preferences

Classifieds

The marketplace for all your wine needs, including:

Wine Storage | Wine Clubs
Dining & Travel | Wine Auctions
Wine Shops | Wine Accessories