Tasting, Spitting, Drunk Driving

Obviously if you are spitting then the majority of the wine is not entering your body, the fact that you taste it must mean at least a small amount does.

What is the general consensus for amount of wines you taste and spit without becoming impaired in any way, ie not pushing the legal limit or ones own judgement of being impaired I mean keeping below say a .02 count if the limit is .08. Im not sure if my .08 is accurate but you get the idea

There are way too many variables for anyone to accurate tell you the answer to this. Person’s size, what they ate, how quickly they consumed, drink strength, metabolism, etc. all play a part in the equation.

Here is an example:

To show just how dramatically BAC can be affected by these factors, let’s take a look an example. Bill, Suzie, and Raymond all went out for pizza and drinks last Saturday night. Over the course of 90 minutes, each of them consumed the same exact thing: 2 slices of pizza, 1 pint of beer (containing 4.2% alcohol), and 2 glasses of Pinot Noir (13% alcohol). Bill weighs 215 lbs, Raymond weighs 175lbs, and Suzie weighs 150 lbs. Bill’s BAC is .047, Raymond’s is .064, and Suzie’s is .097

The “rule” that they generally used to teach to people in PA high school health class was that more than 2 drinks* in an hour and you’ll probably be over .08. Caveat - this was 15+ years ago and they probably can’t say that anymore.

*real drinks: 1.5 ounces of 80 proof liquor (40% alcohol), 12 ounces of beer (4.5% alcohol), or 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol)

To answer your question, I would say you can probably taste all day and not consume enough to significantly intoxicate yourself.

But, breathalyzers are super cheap and you can get ones that even interface with your phone if you really want peace of mind.


If u strictly spit, you can taste pretty much all day. Your palate will tire out long before you will be impaired I think.

No scientific evidence to prove that, just anecdotal.

this…trade tastings mean you need to taste what you want to know best first. My palate crashes in 3-4 hours w/ 200+ wines.

Alan: I go to Napa/Sonoma with friends every year and we all taste/spit religiously if on driving duty that day. If you are serious about spitting, it means you spit everything. In that case, you’re absolutely fine to do it all day. At least that’s our experience. Now, the trick comes if you aren’t doing it seriously (which is what we often do when not on diving duty). For example, when not driving, I mostly spit because the last thing I want to do is get drunk on a day when I’m going to three or four places, sitting down and interacting with hosts, and trying to learn/understand the wines and the places. But when I’m not driving, I’ll take a small swallow now and then throughout the day. If you do that, are you okay taking 200 sips, spitting 185 of them, taking 15 small swallows throughout the day over seven hours? Probably. But I would never chance it. So my simple rule is if driving spit absolutely everything. And by the way, asking for a spit cup (if they aren’t already provided) is usually VERY welcomed by the proprietors/tasting hosts. They generally love it because they know that you are there to taste, not get wasted.

I used to work for a non-profit that did studies on how to prevent alcohol-based problems in communities. One of the PhDs had a breathalyzer and, just for the hell of it, we broke it out at Christmas parties to test the actual effects of drinking on each person there, and of course, it was all over the place.

If you’re really interested, get a breathalyzer app for your phone next time you do tastings. You can see for yourself at the end where your blood alcohol is simmering.

That’s the theory. But in practice I think most people take in more than they realize, even if spitting.

I thought about it and looked back, and even when on a “spitting day”, I realize that I did swallow way more small sips than I think I realized I was doing.

It’s pretty hard to taste properly without swallowing some wine, because the retronasal passage is at the beginning of the throat. Even swirling in the mouth doesn’t give you the full effect.

The amount that people take in while spitting at wine tastings varies quite a lot, easily enough to make the difference between staying well below the limit and becoming impaired. At big tastings, I make a concerted effort to minimize the amount i take in, then switch to drinking more water, talking to winery folks or friends in the second half of the event.

About 20 years ago, I was stopped at a sobriety check point about two miles down the road after leaving a tasting. I aced their various tests and blew 0.02 or 0.03.

i would not rely on a cheap breathalyzer or givmo that plugged into my phone. I suspect they aren’t particularly accurate and I don’t see how they could ever stay in calibration.


I have a different take on it, when I taste, I’m taking in big gulps, holding it and swirling for at least 25 seconds. I’ll spit it all, and repeat doing between 7-50 day on any given weekday. But when I go for more than that, I’ll still feel it. I’d say if I go past 120 I shouldn’t be driving. Not a problem since I’m normally in France being Chaufferred when that is the case… But still, I definitely feel it. Biggest issue for me is I religiously taste on an empty stomach, this doesn’t help, and I make sure to restate the best and the worst at least once. What I am not sure about is how much of the drunk feeling is a learned reaction from my body upon the introduction of wine into my mouth and how much of that translates into a BAC… nor do I ever want to push my luck.

100 doesn’t bother me. 120 is OK but I start to be quite aware of the booze. I usually drive when tasting in Bordeaux and Burgundy and 70-120 per day is the norm.

A couple of weeks back we did 96+ 2013 clarets before lunch and I then had to drive out of London to a course a couple of hours away.

Thanks for info, very helpful.

I have a related question, as a self confessed drinker with zero formal tasting training and no experience of spitting will this affect the process and this might seem like a very rookie question ( because it is ) but do u get as good a judgement of the wine spitting not swallowing ?

I’d say better as your judgement doesn’t become impaired over time. I taste professionally, have passed the MW and now coach MW students. I’m 100% conviced wed not taste more accurately if we swallowed!

If I am going to taste anything over 100 wines, the odds of me actually “tasting” 5% of them are pretty good. If I am hitting some upper tier reserve wines, I want a bit more than a quick rinse and spit - so I’ll revisit them.

I don’t like to taste more than 40 wines in a go. Sure, I’ve done more. But for me 40 is the top end, with 15-20 being near perfect. Then again I don’t like to spit and will wait hours before driving.


No arguments with anything said here but just remember that “critical consensus” doesn’t trump a breathalyzer or the cop that pulls you over… :slight_smile:

No, for the reasons in the diagram on my post #9 above.

An observation, having just returned from Rieslingfeier, where we tasted about 75 wines. I was trying to spit everything … until I realized that I wasn’t spitting at all because I was tipsy. And these weren’t particularly high alcohol wines (though most were dry and over 12%).

That’s right. I spit everything at every tasting. If I’m going to drink, it’s the end of the day and I’m having dinner.

At a large tasting or when travelling to see producers, it wouldn’t be uncommon to taste 100 wines a day or even more. You spit everything. But you end up swallowing a lot anyway. It’s not possible to completely empty your mouth each time. And it’s not a good idea to drive after doing that either.

Visiting three or four places across an entire day shouldn’t pose a problem unless you consume entire bottles, but who does that?