"Better than I expected," he said. "But if you noticed, I lost my form at the end. The finish is the one flaw in my spitting; the pressure drops, and I get just a little dribble at the end. I'm working on it."
Now it was my turn. I gathered my thoughts, took a good sized sip, and let it fly. As I pulled my head away from the bucket, wiping my mouth with my fingers, Johnnes handed me a paper towel. "I think you just created a new category—cascade spitter," he said, chortling. "That was awful. You get a D. But I've seen worse, if it's any consolation."
It wasn't. As I set my glass down, Johnnes began a step-by-step explanation of how to spit like a pro. It is essential, he said, to put the right amount of wine in your mouth; he recommends between one-quarter and one-half ounce. Once you have tasted the wine and are ready to expel it, you pucker your lips, tighten your cheeks, and press your tongue up against your top teeth, broadening the tongue so that it extends past the molars on each side. This pools the wine between the top of your tongue and the roof of your mouth. The key, Johnnes says, is muscle control and force: You need to generate sufficient power to push the wine out while maintaining your form throughout the process.
With his instructions in my mind, I refilled my glass and gave it another try, struggling to keep all the parts in place. "Better," Johnnes reported. "A little spray, but tighter, better." Feeling emboldened, I poured some more wine and repeated the drill. Johnnes shook his head. "Bad. You're really going to have to practice. To be honest, the way you are spitting right now, I personally wouldn't want to go into too many cellars." I asked him if it was hopeless.
"You are never going to be great, but you are clearly willing to work on it, and that's half the battle."
I am working on it, every chance I get. Even spitting out mouthwash has become an opportunity to practice. If all this strikes you as a bit asinine and pathetic, you may have a point. After all, stylish spitting does not improve your ability to appraise wine; it only keeps your clothes clean and the floor dry. But the wine world is a clubby, often catty one, with its own rites of passage. If you want to be seen as legit by the Crips, it helps to have a drive-by shooting to your credit. If you want be seen as legit by wine geeks, you need to be able to shoot a mouthful of Chardonnay in a clean, straight line.
No doubt, spitting's importance is amplified by the fact that so much else about wine is subjective. One man's elegant Cabernet is another man's tannic beast. There is no accounting for taste, nor is there much sense in arguing over it. Among the few aspects of wine that can be assessed with some degree of objectivity is spitting. The wine is expunged either in a tidy package or a centrifugal mess—and the tablecloth never lies.