An encounter with the incomparable Oz Clarke at a wine tasting last week got Dominic Midgley pondering whether our ability to spit accurately into a spittoon increases in relation to our ability to taste what we are spitting out.
Dominic Midgley stands back and admires the best wine tasters and spitters in the business.
Simon Bladon of Jenkyn Place was sharing his concern about how, in a post-Brexit world, he’s going to get hold of 50 experienced Romanian wine-pickers for the three days it takes to harvest his 12-acre Hampshire vineyard when the man to my right projectile vomited into the spittoon on a nearby table.
The individual concerned was Oz Clarke and he wasn’t projectile vomiting, of course. But in all my years of attending wine tastings I have never seen such an accomplished piece of spittoon work.
A thin stream of Brut Cuvee 2010 made its way from the maestro’s puckered lips into the silver bucket with all the form and force of a jet of water from a child’s Super Soaker Scatterblaster.
Such was Clarke’s expertise that he barely had to lean forward in order to eject each mouthful with unerring precision. If a distinguished English sparkling wine is to be spat out rather then swallowed gratefully then there can be no better way for it to go.
Clarke’s masterclass in the art of upmarket gobbing took place in the drawing room of drinks business PR guru Rupert Ponsonby’s Westminster flat. Apart from Bladon and his Jenkyn Place vintages, he was hosting Mark Walford and his Le Soula wines from the Roussillon.
As I ran a sip of Le Soula Blanc 2011 over my tongue, I fell into conversation with the distinguished wine blogger Mike Turner, founder of pleasebringmemywine.com. It turned out that he was a fellow student of the spitter’s art.
“One of my joys is working out who’s an established pro at tastings by their spit technique,” he said. “Oz and Tim Atkin are prime examples, they must have practised at home or in the garden or something.”
His pet-hate is “people who think it’s a bright idea to congregate round the spittoon to have a chat so no bugger can use it – just bloody well move people!”
But it was Ponsonby who took the (water) biscuit for his favourite tale involving regurgitated wine. It concerned the occasion when someone forgot the spittoon when he took up a group of guests in the Champagne Taittinger hot-air balloon.
“So, instead, we leant over the basket and spat into clean fresh air,” he recalled. “And tiny frissons of Taittinger’s finest, from one mile high, drifted onto the well-coiffed heads of the Gloucestershire gentlefolk beneath. It was like the grandest of shampoos.”