Tasting etiquette in Bordeaux

I have visits scheduled to several important left bank estates next month and have a question about what is expected of guests. On the website of an estate we aren’t visiting there was a snarky comment that “Tasting is not drinking; spittoons are provided for your use.” Is spitting “de rigueur” everywhere? I have never been in the habit of doing it, and would not look forward to the prospect of tasting wine from three first growth estates and spitting it out. We will have a driver so that is not an issue. I would appreciate advice from the experienced.
With thanks,
David Kubiak

I imagine that some degree of restraint is encouraged in most cellars. Spitting, at least partially, communicates to the producer or winemaker that you’re not just there to get a buzz. I nearly always spit in the cellar or tasting room if there’s a bucket or trench available. I’m not of the opinion though that you absolutely have to swallow expensive wine.

It’s not Napa. Practice your spitting.

I do not find the comment snarky. In France, there is a zero tolerance for drinking and driving. In fact, in most wineries all over the world, there are spitoons. The only property I think that at one point did not provide spitoons was Le Pin. I cannot remember if that is the case today. Yes, even at Petrus and all the First Growths, they provide spitoons.

All that being said, there is no obligation to spit. If you like the wine and you are are no driving, why not drink it?

Thanks very much, especially to you, Jeff. Part of my dilemma is not having any expectation for how many wines an estate normally presents. With the last three years being less than stellar representations of quality my hope is that they will open at least one more distinguished vintage. If so I can reserve swallowing for it.
Thanks again for the advice.
David Kubiak

I think there is more here than potentially driving while intoxicated. While I’m certain that the producer appreciates that someone has a car service, I doubt they want an intoxicated person in their cellar or estate. Spitting suggests to your host that you are legitimately interested in the experience of tasting and are mindful of impairment. It’s the clearest expression of your intent as a taster.

If there’s any doubt in your mind what’s courteous then it’s better to err on the side of caution. Depending on the size of your pours, having a swallow or two initially, then spitting the rest allows you to get a complete grasp of the wine without overdoing it.

Unless you have a good introduction it would be very hard to get drunk at any Bordeaux estates…

From the one poster who so kindly relayed all his dozens of Bordeaux visits, it sounds like you taste 1-3 wines at most of them. I don’t know the pour sizes, but they probably aren’t large.

I would like to think you could convey your bona fides as a wine lover (and as not being some crass tourist whose only objective to get some free booze) through conversation and overall attentiveness and demeanor, and without having to spit the two small pours of wine they give you. Plus Jeff Leve has probably done more tasting visits in Bordeaux than the rest of us combined, and he seems to think it’s okay just to drink in your situation.

But I haven’t been tasting in Bordeaux myself, so I don’t know really know how it goes there.

David - just as a matter of curiosity, why would you think that they’d open any more distinguished vintage? I take it you’re not in the business or you’d probably have a better idea of what to expect, nor are you a close acquaintance of anyone at the various chateaux. On top of that, the places are unlikely to worry much about any review that you or anyone else puts up on Yelp or some wine forum.

Seems that Taylor has it right. Moreover, the fact that you spit indicates to them that you’re more serious than a guy who just walks in to drink down whatever they’re pouring. FWIW, I’d advise spitting at any winery visit. It sets you apart from the average tourist and paradoxically may in fact get you that more distinguished pour you referred to. At least that’s always been my experience whenever I’ve gone to a winery as a tourist rather than on business. Just something to think about.

Anyhow, enjoy!

Correct. Unless something has changed in the last few years, an “important” Bordeaux estate will give you one or two wines to taste. An unimportant one, maybe two or three.

We just came back from Bordeaux and while we did spit a fair amount of wine, I didn’t feel that it was required. It wasn’t unusual for one of us to drink a wine that was poured for us, particularly an older vintage. At no time did I feel that our hosts felt that we were being rude by drinking the wine when we did so. However, at a number of wineries, we were tasting barrel samples (in special bottles) or 2011 wines, so the temptation to drink all the wine that was poured was less so than when tasting something with a bit more age. I do agree that it is important to make sure that the driver is not drunk. The wineries are limited in the amount of their pours because of the drunk driving laws, so you’re not going to get a lot of wine normally.

Wine tasting can almost get stressful if you read enough WB. You’re a bad guy if you don’t buy some number of bottles after your tasting. They often don’t charge you for tasting so you’ll feel obliged to make purchases or join the wine club. If you don’t spit, they’ll think you’re some crass tourist just looking to get drunk.

It used to be so simple!

Hey Chris - wine itself used to be so simple! Not any more. Imagine if you went to a winery and they make big fruity wine and you’re a member of the AFWE. Or vice versa. Gotta watch out!

This shit is what draws people to beer culture.

You know… I love beer. LOVE it. But I don’t think those who are heavily into beer are any less difficult than those who are heavily into wine. :wink: I am also in wine production… and when I’m seriously tasting wine, I spit. It’s really not that big of a deal. You can expectorate a wine and perceive everything you need to know about it. I like to get a buzz, get drunk, enjoy life. If I’m out tasting wine, I taste wine… but if I’m out to get a buzz or what have you, I’ll go to some place and order a glass or a bottle. I have never been to Bordeaux, but I imagine what they are after is some sort of a distinction between those who simply want to go out and drink some wine and those who are tasting to purchase bottles and cases. I can’t fault them for trying to filter out the best customers to spend their time with.

That’s not to say that there’s anything inherently wrong with drinking while you’re tasting. Rather, I think there is at least some fiscal merit for a winery to seek out those who are are tasting to buy rather than those who are simply out to drink.

What’s wrong with spitting? I’ve spat Montrachet at Sauzet, Musigny at de Vogue and Monfortino at Conterno and never felt that as a problem - or that I was missing much in the sense that most of the wine experience and appreciation of the wine comes before swallowing it. That said, drinking a little is never a problem either, and if you say “this is just too good to spit” most winemakers will appreciate that. You’ll get a feeling from what’s correct from the atmosphere and what others are doing; I’ve never experienced this as a problem but with a caveat: I have never tasted in Bordeaux either!.

Reminds me of the saying - not sure from where and probably not well quoted but here it is. “In Bordeaux everything is for sale and nothing is for tasting. In Burgundy everything can be tasted but nothing is for sale”.

Yes, Anthony, much truth in that. I would hate to have to buy Burgundy (i.e. for the trade). Must be maddeningly frustrating - but perfectly understandable in light of the volumes they produce.

As for spitting, this is what professionals everywhere do. Should a wine buff without professional experience swallow, no one will be upset, but it will be indicative of his status. Furthermore, tasting a wine that’s just a year old, when it’s meant to age for twenty more is not necessarily such a pleaureable experience.

Best regards,
Alex R.

Went to Bordeaux in late March, but had a driver. Tasted everything…poured out the young/less stellar stuff…drank every last drop of the good/aged stuff. All of our hosts were gracious.

Well, I have been at many major Bx-Chateaux (but it´s been a while since it is far less interesting that tasting in Burgundy or Rhone Valley due to the only 2, 3 or 4 wines usually presented: last vintage, last bottled vintage, 2nd wine … maybe now some 2007, 08 still on stock [wow.gif] )
… and I have always spat (correct form?)

This is also depending on the number of producers visiting per day … I often had 6, 7 dates - and drinking 20 to 25 glasses would simply have been too much.
Moreover with spitting the last wine will get the same attention as the 1st one …

In Burgundy, where there are often 10, 12 … up to 18 different cuvees to taste at a property spitting is absolutely essential, moreover it is good habit to return the rest of the glass back into barrel - or at least to the winemakers glass (Burgundy is rare, often only 6, 4, 2 or even one barrel produced - compared to the 150, 300, 500+ barrels in Bordeaux).

So I recommend practicing spitting - at least part of the served quantity for politeness … If you do it well you will absolutely have the same experience as drinking the stuff (exept the effect … [tease.gif] )