• Simon Reilly

Spit or swallow?

Yesterday was a big day for a burgeoning wine writer like me. Yesterday I attended my first trade tasting. Its not that I've never been to a wine tasting before. Far from it. I have regularly enjoyed tasting an array of great wines courtesy of London's finest wine merchants. But those have all been as a customer.

These have typically involved spending an hour or so with my mates wandering about drinking free wine after work, chatting about wine and whatever else and maybe even meet a few winemakers. The only thing I needed to think about was whether I liked the wines enough to buy any. I'd then head off into the night feeling rather merry, onto dinner or the pub.

This was different. For starters the opening hours were different. 10.30-5.30? I'd have to be innovative here...

So I nipped out for my "lunch break" and headed over to Mayfair for the tasting, arriving about 1pm. I had to be back at the office by 3pm so a quick nip round should be doable, shouldn't it?

I checked in and rather than just ticking my name off on a list as I was used to, I was given my first "press pass". Woo hoo! A press pass! I felt like Clarke fucking Kent!

Pumped up, with this vaguest of labels on my lapel I marched confidently into the tasting hall. My first thoughts on entering were:

"Shit, theres a lot of wine in here (126 to be exact). How do I taste all these wines and not turn up at my 3pm meeting pissed?"

"Everyone looks a bit serious, as if they are at work or something. Why are they all so miserable?"

Then, I saw the answer to both of these questions. The spittoon....

Now this is not something I have a lot of experience with. Yes, all the merchants have spittoons at their tastings, but my use of these things to this point had been limited to emptying unwanted wine directly from my glass before moving onto something better. Clearly, if I was going to get to my 3pm meeting on time and sober, and not get sacked, I was going to have to develop my spittoon skills.

As I pondered this dilemna, I turned to see what can only be described as spittoon showboating.....

A dapper gent, who had obviously been to more tastings than he probably should have, was standing a full 6 feet from the spittoon and spraying the smoothest fountain of discarded wine through his front teeth into the centre of the spittoon. He was like a cross between Michael Jordan and Jordan Spieth. Okay, he was a little more portly and he was wearing tweed and a bow tie. But he looked pretty cool nonetheless.

It was effortless. I stood entranced for a good five minutes as he moved from wine to wine. After each mouthful, with a turn of the shoulders, a swing of the hips or a jar of the neck he would hit the middle of the cup every time.

I had something to aspire to, but easy tiger.... slowly, slowly catchy monkey. My first trade tasting was not the time for showboating. Just lean towards the spittoon and spit the wine out. I did struggle with a bit of straggling gob initially, but after a few wines I felt I had a routine that was, at best, not embarrassing....

All was going well until I met Jane Eyre. Now, the reason for my attendance was actually to meet Jane and taste her wines as I am writing an article about her and a couple of other Aussie winemakers for my next Root + Bone article. So I was there to taste her wines and attempt to interview her as she showed her wines to the other tasters. The fact I could try the other wines on show was an added bonus.

Anyway, all was going well. Jane was very kindly answering all my questions whilst engaging with other tasters, opening bottles, checking the wines, etc. That's when disaster struck. Behind the tables of wines there were other spittoons which Jane and the other winemakers were using. She had just opened a bottle and tasted it before spitting into the spittoon. I had just tasted a mouthfull of her excellent Savigny-Les-Beaunes 1er Cru, so I followed suit and spat into the same spittoon.

As I spat I looked down in horror to see it was less a spittoon as a bucket of wine and gob without a funnel in sight. On hitting this red sea of gob, my gob caused a minor tsunami and the backsplash hit my notebook, white shirt, tie and face. As I mopped the wine from my brow and notebook I looked at Jane and, bless her, she carried on talking as if nothing had happened.

She knew. I knew. She knew I knew she knew that I had made a complete tit of myself but she didn't mention it. For that I am eternally grateful.....

While I go and practice spitting, I shall leave you with my favourite wines from the day:

Domaine Corinne Perchaud, Chablis 1er Cru Vaucoupin, 2014 - this had real character. Really steely and pure with a powerful salty finish which I found really exciting and different.

Domaine Stephane Aladame, Cremant de Bourgogne Extra Brut, 2013 - you may think its mad with all this great burgundy to write about a cremant but I really liked this. With 12-18 months on lees this is a blend of chardonnay and aligote. It has a tropical fruit nose moving into crisp pear and rhubarb fizz. Really refreshing.

Domaine Borgeot, Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru "Clos St Jean", 2014 - this is more defined than the village Chassagne and rounder and more complex than the Puligny on show today. This wine for me highlighted how good a vintage 2014 is for Cote de Beaune white wines. Rish nose of straw and citrus with fine acidity and great energy. The sort of wine that makes you want to close your eyes and smile.

Jane Eyre, Corton Renardes Grand Cru, 2013 - unfortunately there was no 2014 made as she couldn't get the fruit, but this 2013 was amazing. Aged in 1/3 new oak, this has a really aromatic nose of dark cherries. A really pretty wine which finishes with beautiful sweetness and length. A wine to ponder on. This was one wine I didn't use the spittoon for!