Friday, July 13, 2012

Writing Tasting Notes is not Easy.

It's hard to write a valuable tasting note. By valuable I mean a note that might help a reader actually understand something about the wine. I certainly haven't figured out how to do it. I used to try to include descriptors, and sometimes they still make it into my notes. But now instead I try to describe the style of the wine and offer something of an evaluation of its parts: is it light, medium, or full bodied? Is it balanced or not? Is there depth on the midpalate? But I read back over my notes sometimes and I feel embarrassed. "This isn't going to help anyone," I'll think to myself, "and I sound like an idiot."

So the other day I looked around the interweb to see what other folks are doing with their tasting notes. You know what - everyone has some doozies. Sure, some writers create notes that speak to me more often than others, but everyone has some that make me raise an eyebrow. I don't mean that as a criticism, but as a recognition of how hard it is to write a valuable tasting note.

Here are some tasting notes from my recent browsing. But in what I hope will be a fun twist, I am going to reproduce the note, and you can try to guess the wine and the writer of the note. I included notes written only by writers who have a visible presence on the internet (so none of these are written by my cousin Biff, they are all written by professional writers or mopes like me who crowd the web with our drivel for reasons that have nothing to do with earning money).

So, without further ado...

1) Light medium golden yellow color with 1 millimeter clear meniscus; intense, citronella, almond, safflower honey, lavender honey, white truffle nose; tasty, rich, lemon oil, white truffle oil, safflower oil, lemon oil palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points

2) Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of honeysuckle, wet stones and cold cream. In the mouth, flinty/stony flavors mix with what can only be described as an electric-kool-aid-lemon explosion, as racy acidity takes the wine on a jet boat ride through the mouth. Stony undercurrents can't stop the neon quality of the acidity and the lemon flavor that lingers for minutes in the mouth. Average vine age is about 60 years. Utterly kick-ass.

3) The wine is a strikingly deep amber color. The nose is expressive and intense, full of ginger and exotic fruit. Broad and rich but finely focused, and with incredible detail on the palate, this is a complete wine. And after about 90 minutes it was truly amazing - the things that stuck out previously, the intensity, the ginger, the richness - those things had blended so seamlessly with each other by this time that none of them on its own was evident. The wine had become a real thing of beauty, the kind of wine that can ruin you. Evocative of old libraries filled with leather-bound books and half-drunk glasses of sherry, and of attractive young couples riding motorcycles, rushing past you in a fleeting glimpse of what you wish you could be.

4) The color ranges from mild cherry at the rim to a slightly darker ruby-cherry in the center; the bouquet is a subtle weaving of dried spice and flowers with red currants and black cherries and a touch of plum and, at the heart, an almost ethereal gamy, slightly earthy aspect. The texture feels like the most delicate and ineffable of satin draperies, yet you sense, also, the structure of stones and bones and the clean acidity that cuts a swath on the palate. There is fruit, of course, red and black, a little spiced, macerated and stewed, yet nothing forward or blatant. The wine is elegant and graceful but very dry and draws out a line of spareness and austerity through the finish. Now through 2018 to ’20.

5) Boasting an inky/blue/purple color as well as an extraordinary, precise bouquet of minerals, flowers, blueberry liqueur, and black currants, this wine possesses fabulous fruit and great intensity, but what makes it so special is its precision, focus, and almost ethereal lightness despite substantial flavor intensity and depth. It is a ballerina with density and power. The abundant noticeable tannin is sweet and, not surprisingly, very finely grained. It should be cellared for a decade, and consumed over the following half century. 98 Points.

Okay, see what you think of those, and please feel free to leave any guesses in the comment section. I'll write back soon with the wines and authors.


jamie said...

1 and 5 are the only ones I'm sure about.

1 is Richard Jennings, easily identifiable from its meniscus measurement, surplus of odd descriptors, and almost nothing that helps one determine what it might be like to drink this wine. There are some savory descriptors, so maybe a Chenin Blanc or White Rhone?

5 is Parker. Parker likes wines that boast. The first word gave it away. My guess is a Bordeaux blend, Right Bank grapes, but it could be from anywhere.

2: Levenberg? This note is trying a little too hard, but I really appreciate that it characterizes the texture and weight and energy, which helps me to know I would probably like it. Austrian Riesling?

3: Probably Brooklynguy. Characteristically well written, and a reference to sherry. But it's only evocative of sherry, so it must not be one. I suspect this is a type of wine I'm not familiar with.

4: This is the toughest for me. I may not have read many notes from this writer. Galloni on red burgundy?

Anonymous said...


There is no way all
THAT drivel will Win The Future hearts and minds and wallets and palates of anyone interested in a good experience with the grape juice in its finest forms.

Samantha, save us !!!

Joe G said...

You did an excellent job compiling what must be some of the execrable wine-related writing in existence. Particularly loathsome: "Evocative of old libraries filled with leather-bound books and half-drunk glasses of sherry AND (emphasis mine) of attractive young couples riding motorcycles, rushing past you in a fleeting glimpse of what you wish you could be". Huh?
Close runners-up:"...a jet boat ride through the mouth.";"...the most delicate and ineffable of satin draperies...".
Of course #1 is laughably beyond recognizable English and #5 is either Parker or Jay Miller reciting the same rote descriptor of every big red wine they've ever consumed.
Who are these people writing for and why? Wine is a wonderful drink that these buffoons attempt to mystify and instead, make it farcical with their warped descriptors. What's needed is economy and precision, particularly when trying to convey the ineffable senses of taste and scent.

Brooklynguy said...

So um, to bring us back to someplace vaguely civil...The point was to say, as many have said before me, that tasting notes are not always helpful. I thought it would be fun to show some odd ones. That they have provoked this degree of incivility in your comments Joe G is your issue, but the style in which you've expressed yourself makes it hard to engage with the content. Instead, I just keep focusing on how rude and aggressive your comment is.

Samantha Dugan said...

I actually quite liked number 3 but felt it should have stopped right after, "A wine that can ruin you" that would have had me, the couple on the motorcycle, well that lost me. The others kind of left me with my face scrunched and thinking, "Whatever dude".

Wine writing, much like its subject matter, is so very subjective. Some people might be inspired by a tasting note with crap like lemon and truffle oil, cold cream and swimming pool in them. Long lists of obscure aromas and flavors that most will never, ever pick up in that wine. For me, I respond to things like:
"Light to medium garnet. The aroma very pronounced in the glass yet refined and entirely seductive. The aftertaste lasts for minutes, (should you succeed in holding out that long before taking another swallow)" Kermit Lynch

Kermit evokes emotion and that, that is something we can all relate to. Something we all desire. Cold cream in my wine? Not so much...

Anonymous said...

1 is ALMOST Jennings (great call, Jamie), but I've never seen him use a measure, like 1 millimeter. also he goes a bit more methodically.
2 may be Levenberg (again tip to Jamie) but, while he's capable of "kick-ass" in his more enthusiastic moments, he'd generally then also assign it a tremendous score, for which other CTers would complain!
3 is (by far) the best written, so it could by BG. But that last sentence is way too overblown for him (you), I think (I hope).
I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to drink a wine recommended by 4 or 5. I agree again with Jamie that 5 has that Parkeresque (buy this for your grandchildren to drink)hyperbole.

A truly great post, BG!

stephen said...

i wrote a proprietary tasting language devoid of any persuasive rhetoric for finding patterns in flavors and working on product development.

most all the metaphors try to describe once sense in terms of another. its kinda crazy, but here goes:

"If cross modal metaphors are employed, the aroma set within vermouth can be described as an overtone of olfactory-sweetness evenly competing for attention with intervals of olfactory-dryness. The round, olfactory-sweet side features an extraordinary overtone lying in the space between the brighter muscat and the darker orange as well as a subtle interval of anise. A “translucence” that does not overshadow characterizes the tonality of the olfactory-sweet side. The olfactory-dry side is felt to have the shape of a terrace and in dry vermouth lies in-and-around the herbs de Provence while in sweet vermouth, in-and-around cinnamon and the other mildly acrid darker spices. The gustatory-sweetness of sweet vermouth lies at a point that when diluted 2:1, spirit to vermouth, gustation seems relatively innocuous and an attentional path is flattened to perceiving aroma. The very low gustatory-sweetness of dry vermouth is such that the product can have comparable gustatory tension to dry, white “table wine” when constructed from a wine base (eventually fortified) that accepts low alcohol and high acid as a compromise for stable, fruity, olfactory-sweet aromas (“stable” implies aroma compounds that don’t break down and age so quickly). All vermouths are fortified with alcohol to the minimum of stability to impose as little sensory distraction from aroma as possible."

taken from here:

it has no place in the wine magazines, but i've found it useful in building products.

cheers! -stephen