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.
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.
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