I hate tasting notes. Okay, maybe that’s too harsh. I dislike tasting notes – intensely.
Actually, I’ve written hundreds of tasting notes. I’ve written them on restaurant coasters, on the back of business cards, on program guides, and on god only knows what else. I have also spent many evenings in class writing tasting notes and have committed to memory the WSET systematic approach – I’m sure I can now write a note so anyone who has taken the WSET program would be able to pick out the wine I’m describing.
And I read other people’s tasting notes. Books on evaluating wine fill my bookshelves – lots of pages and hundreds, more likely thousands of hours of reading. I peruse glossy wine magazines, newspapers, and the Internet although many of those entries make me want to cry – bad grammar and a total lack of information. I’ve discovered Wine Spectator even has a game: match the wine with the tasting note plus a silly tasting note generator – fun for a while but the novelty wears off soon.
The problem with most tasting notes is that they don’t actually tell you anything. They don’t put the wine in any context. Is it typical of its type or region? Is it a wine for sipping or one that needs food to be enjoyed more fully? And is there something horribly wrong with saying whether you actually liked it or not?
Most tasting notes are all very politically and technically correct. You put the wine in a glass – preferably the same ISO glass every time so you have a benchmark for comparison. You go through the list for whatever system you use, dutifully comparing what’s in your glass against a series of standards. At the end of the exercise, you allocated points or stars or say it is – or isn’t – technically correct.
Sure, what you’ve just written will remind you, at a later date, whether the vintage you just had tastes like black pepper and blackberries, whether it has some sweet vanilla overtones, or perhaps the zing of lime. But when you get right down to it, most of your efforts have basically been useless.
Where in all these notes is the soul of the wine, the “Ahhhh” that is a truly outstanding wine? Where in these notes is the terroir, the art of the winemaker, the joy and pleasure?
Give me some indication of how the wine affected you. Did you love it or hate it? Was it perfect for sitting on the front porch on a sunny afternoon? Would you buy it for your wife or for yourself? Is this a wine you would take to Mom’s for dinner?
The notes I write for myself tend to descriptors and adjectives that aren’t techno or politically correct. They are about the people I had the wine with, the food or the music that went with a particular bottle of wine. My favorite Amarone I describe as “Sophia Loren dressed in silk and eating black cherries.” Another I describe as “Callas hitting a perfect high C in a Rossini opera.”
Emile Peynaud, writing in his book The Taste of Wine, is able to put techno and art together. He talks of how Bordeaux tasters describe their wines with references to their mistresses, while those from Burgundy use analogies about their wives. Alas, this style of comparison is no longer seen as “correct” although his techno notes still set a benchmark in the wine world.
Most of the wines I drink for pleasure are ones that come from a special “someplace” or are made by small wineries. I guess I am looking for the art of the winemaker. Maybe one day I will find a way to put that in a tasting note.