Sometimes spelled “ptooey,” it’s “the sound or act of spitting,” says dictionary.com.
Perfectly respectable American men in the 1800s did it in saloons and train stations, aiming vaguely at spittoons.
It’s been popular for decades in China, even on public sidewalks, though the government now is cracking down.
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Baseball players do it to calm nerves, thankfully replacing tobacco now with sunflower seeds. Be glad 300-pound football linemen never acquired the habit.
Etiquette arbiters recoil from it. “Miss Manners apologizes that she is incapable of imitating the noise,” she shudders.
In his book “Civilizing the Body Through Time,” historian Pieter Spierenburg ranks it right down there with picking one’s nose: “If you can’t avoid it … you shall do it into your handkerchief … and when you are finished, don’t look into your handkerchief.”
Wine fans on tasting tours mostly don’t do it. Probably they should. If a tourist tastes five wines at 10 wineries in a day of touring without expectorating, his or her palate will be dead before lunch, and the fan will be in no condition to drive back to the hotel at day’s end.
“Who spits?” I once asked the woman behind the tasting counter at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center in Santa Rosa, Calif.
“Only winemakers and journalists,” she said. “I’m glad most people don’t spit. I have to clean it up.”
I spit. I have to. I’ve spent decades in professional wine tasting competitions judging as many as 150 wines in a day. So I spit. In fact, after each sip of wine, I spit, then take a sip of water and spit again.
That way, tasters joke, you can go straight to the headache without ever getting the buzz.
At big competitions, wine judges spit into small plastic cups, then pour it into bigger plastic containers, which are regularly emptied by long-suffering volunteers. It’s not a pretty sight.
Wine tour fans, emulate the judges: Take a small plastic cup to spit in, then empty it into the plastic spit bucket you'll find on nearly every tasting room counter. (Maybe you should tip the counter agent.)
Among professional wine judges, spitting varies by country.
In Spain, I once tasted wines in a rudimentary wooden shack among rows of vines at Bodegas Torres winery with Don Miguel Torres himself. We sipped, leaned back and spat out the door into the dirt.
In Italy, the spit buckets were on the floor with an inch of sawdust in the bottom. I watched macho Italian tasters turn their heads slightly and spit over their shoulders at the buckets from five feet away. And they were no better at it than you or I.
In America, even hardened veteran tasters don’t spit every time.
I was at a rare tasting of Bordeaux red wines from the year 1961, sometimes called “the vintage of the century.”
Nobody spits a 1961 Chateau Cheval Blanc Gran Cru Bordeaux.
Here are some nice wines for spitting. Or even swallowing.
▪ 2013 Merry Edwards “Meredith Estate” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Calif.: deep purple hue, aromas and flavors of black raspberries, mocha and brown sugar, big, ripe tannins; $60.
▪ 2013 Hess Select “Treo Winemaker’s Red Blend” (33 percent petite sirah, 26 percent syrah, 22 percent zinfandel, 13 percent merlot, 6 percent malbec): hint of oak, aromas and flavors of black cherries and cocoa, hearty, soft tannins, smooth finish; $19.
▪ 2014 Trione Chardonnay, “River Road Ranch,” Russian River Valley: hint of toasty oak, aromas and flavors of pears and lemons, smooth, spicy finish; $34.
▪ 2013 Black Stallion Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Calif. (91 percent cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent merlot, 1 percent petite verdot, 1 percent cabernet franc, 1 percent syrah): inky hue, hint of oak, aromas and flavors of black plums and licorice, firm tannins; $30.
▪ 2014 Toad Hollow Vineyards Merlot, “Richard McDowell’s Selection,” Sonoma County, Calif. (100 percent merlot): hint of oak, aromas and flavors of ripe cranberries and cloves, smooth and complex: $16.
▪ 2014 Amici Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley (100 percent sauvignon blanc): lively and crisp, with aromas and flavors of apricots and citrus, full body; $25.
▪ 2014 Mirassou Winery Pinot Noir, Calif. (100 percent pinot noir): bright purple hue, aromas and flavors of red raspberries and vanilla, full body; $12.
▪ 2013 Columbia Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Collumbia Valley, Wash. (81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent syrah, 3 percent malbec, 3 percent other red varieties): hint of oak, aromas and flavors of black cherries and chocolate, full body, crisp acids; $16.
▪ 2014 Silver Palm Chardonnay, Mendocino, Sonoma and Napa counties (100 percent chardonnay): fruit blossom aromas, delicate apricot and lemon flavors, soft and lush; $15.