Ode To Terrior and Tasting Notes

 

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.

 

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About Frank Haddad

Advanced Certificate in Wine and Spirits from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. Professional Spirits from WSET. Certified Specialist of Wine and Certified Specialist of Spirits from the Society of Wine Educators. French Wine Society. International Sommelier Guild,. and WSET Diploma Student. Certified Sake Professional Executive Director Modernize Wine Assoc of BC
This entry was posted in Emile Peyaud, Tasting Notes, WSET and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Ode To Terrior and Tasting Notes

  1. Hello Frank,

    I appreciate the comment on my blog re Norman Hardie & Canadian wines. I do agree, there’s a lot going on in Canada right now and the producers crafting high quality, well-balanced wines should be marketing themselves via their respective regions and showing pride in that. Best of luck. Cheers!

    Jill

  2. I agree wholeheartedly! I would go further, however, and say that some tasting notes are just too over the top with their descriptors: ‘crushed watermelon jolly rancher on dew moistened slate’ (I just made that up).

  3. winingdaily says:

    I enjoyed this entry a lot. I feel the same way and always tell my story around the experience of each wine. While I love the experiences I’ve had at larger wineries and Chateaux, most of the wines I review are smaller local American wineries in my area that I visit all season long. I love the craftsmanship, originality, and dedication they have. Clearly they do it because they love it, and that’s as much the joy in wine as drinking it. My notes do not resemble my WSET notes at all either. But it helps knowing the systematic approach when you need it.

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