Buzz Management

“Don’t you get drunk?” Everyone asks this when they discover that I am judging a wine event. And they asked it with conviction after hearing that I was recently required to slurp hundreds of wines for the Bordeaux Wine Bureau’s 2007 “100 Top Bordeaux under $25” competition. (The results of the competition are available here.)

Friends imagine such an event to be an orgiastic feast of Hefnerian proportions: If one bottle gives pleasure, hundreds must yield sensual nirvana. The truth, however, is that the experience was more like taking the SATs — well, the SATs with a buzz.

First, the other judges and I were separated like test-takers, each situated safely out of copying distance of one another. Then there was a sort of proctor who had flown from Bordeaux to New York just to monitor the proceedings.  During the tasting, the weight of her displeased, jet-lagged gaze was enough to instill a chill in our glasses. Excusez-moi: Was I swirling satisfactorily? Did my slurps suffice? Would she confiscate my scorecard and make me put my head down?

This tense mood had a way of manifesting itself on the tablecloths.  Octopusing our arms over a sea of glassware, we did our share of spilling and staining.  At one point, my elbow inadvertently sent my overflowing spit bucket aloft, creating a spill that even ExxonMobil wouldn’t have wanted to clean. Tablecloths ended up looking like the tunic of a defeated gladiator.

Like the SATs, our marathon tasting required constant focus on a torrent of information. In this case, the information, if not carefully managed, could get you tanked. So you spit. You spit for survival. After each wine, you let loose into the shiny bucket at your side. For me it wasn’t pretty. My chin-coating projections displayed not the crisp, laser-line efficiency of my fellow judges but something Danny Bonaduce would muster after chugging a fifth of Smirnoff.

Inelegant expectorating notwithstanding, spitting works. After two days of intensive tasting, hocking a good one — along with intermittent nibbles of bread, washes of water, and occasional leg stretches — kept the palate surprisingly operational. Such buzz management makes wine competitions a breeze, even after your 200th glass.

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