At first sight a spittoon can be intimidating. Offputting even. But a wine taster worth his salt must set aside the fear of ridicule - and dribbling - to master the art of spitting with style.
For the past four years the French Independent Winegrowers Fair, which took place last week in Paris, has staged a "Golden Spitter" test to spread best practice among wine buffs, with a zest of humour.
"To taste properly, it's true you have to spit - even if the word is unpleasant," said the fair's president Xavier de Volontat.
Lined up on the hundreds of exhibitor tables, the organisers have placed little buckets "so that people don't have to bend down to spit - at the risk of getting it all over their shirt or pants."
The biggest risk - naturally - is that "it runs down your chin," said Volontat, himself a winegrower from southwestern Corbieres.
Fourteen candidates line up to take the "Golden Spitter" test - all men except one, and most under the age of 40.
First a general knowledge wine quiz and some smells to identify. Then the top five contenders proceed to the spittoon, where they are asked to emulate a "model spit", demonstrated by a jury member.
"I didn't practice. Perhaps I should have. But I taste wine regularly," said 21-year-old Florent Kvot from the eastern city of Metz.
The technique is simple: a slight pinch of the lips, barely parted, and a sharp movement to propel out the stream as cleanly as possible.
One of the jury members, professional wine taster Michel Bettane who compiles an annual wine guide based on thousands of samples, says the spitting champions of Jerez in the far south of Spain hold the crown in his view.
"The length and precision of the stream are just unbelievable. They aim at a spot almost two metres away - it's truly impressive."
Bettane doesn't hold his own spitting style in high regard. "It's not much to look at".
But the hardest part, in his opinion, is to "roll the wine around in the mouth without swallowing it. That's what feels really unnatural."
His neighbour, the wine blogger and "sharp-spitter" Ophelie Neiman, is in charge of the test demonstration.
Her online video - "How to spit with elegance" - has been viewed more than 100,000 times on the Dailymotion video sharing website.
"It just goes to show people are interested. Some don't dare. They think it's ridiculous or disgusting. But for me, the key is to feel elegant and to be comfortable with the fact you have spit the wine back out."
Head held high, she shows the contenders how it's done: precise, clean, simple.
Follow the candidates one by one with offerings that range from quiet, bubbling fountain to high-pressure water jet.
The winner is easy to spot: the wine spouts from the centre of his lips, in a precise and regular stream.
"It's fluid, it's delicate, it's beautiful," rules Neiman.
Declared "Golden Spitter" for 2010, Eric Lebrasseur, a 38-year-old computer technician has only one piece of advice: "You need to practise - a lot."Reuse content