I love wine. I just don't know a lot about it. But I like to think I know enough not to spit out the good stuff.
Wrong. I was at the first International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration in the Toronto area recently, testing out wines at some world-class vineyards, where tastings go like this: You pick up a small glass of wine, swirl, hold up to the light, smell deeply, then sip, slurping to explore and embrace every beautiful note and nuance and then - you spit it out like a pro ball player ridding himself of chaw juice.
It's not pretty. I mean, here I was surrounded by really classy, well-mannered and well-to-do people who were leaning over a spittoon or a bush, whatever was handy, and letting fly like a drunken prom date. It grossed me out as much as fascinated me.
I was at lunch one day at Inn on the Twenty in Jordan, a gorgeous village in Niagara, with many people who knew wine, including Marc Chapleau, editor of Cellier magazine, a handsome, charming gent whom you'd assume just by looking at him, wasn't a habitual spitter. But there at the table were mini-spittoons, which Marc would occasionally use as they kept lining up endless samples for us to taste. I asked him about it, and he laughed, appreciating my morbid fascination about such things that quite frankly, I would think local boards of health would be eager to stop.
"I have to taste 30, 40 wines a day," he said in delightful French accent. "I cannot swallow all that or.."
And he waved his hand in an elegant French way to show he'd be completely blotto. Yes, I got it. But it didn't make it any easier when moments later, as someone took the floor to talk about wine, I heard him take a slip, slurp and then spit it into his personal tabletop spittoon, which I prayed I wouldn't accidentally reach for in search of my own glass.
All spitting aside, we saw some terrific vineyards during the celebration in an area that is rightfully called the Napa Valley of Canada, just a beautiful part of the country and home to a wide range of award-winning wines, including Cave Spring Cellars on the Niagara Peninsula, now in its 25th year with some of the oldest vines in the country, and the Tawse Winery, in aptly named Vineyard Ontario, which hosted a gala that included an appearance by Canadian-born folk legend Murray McLauchlan. My favorite was the Ravine Vineyard, where they held a Sunday brunch on a blue-sky day and where in the restored 1820s Loyalist Georgian farmhouse where they sell wine and I tasted what I thought was the best chardonnay ever.
And no, I didn't spit it out. At 40 bucks a bottle, my New England sensibilities forced me to swallow every delicious drop.
Top photo,Ravine Vineyard (note spittoon in middle of table), bottom photo Tawse Winery, both by Paul E. Kandarian