Ramblings Tasting Notes

On Tasting Notes

August 19, 2015

Tasting Notes
Tasting notes play a vital role in being mindful of wine, and despite how much their role has been debated recently, they do serve a worthy purpose.

Having experienced the rigors of the WSET up through the Diploma level, I am used to creating tasting notes. But even well before I started any formal classes, I was using tasting notes as a way to focus my attention on the wines I was tasting. The practice of writing a tasting note, no matter how rudimentary, demands you at least be paying some attention to what you are drinking. Tasting notes also lay a foundation upon which true experience is properly built. When used properly, tasting notes allow you to understand a wine. They allow you to relate that wine to others you have experienced in the past. They build upon each other and play off of each other to help shape your wine knowledge. Tasting notes also provide some insight into not only the wine in your glass, but into yourself and how you approach wine.

A good deal of what you will find on In Pursuit of Winefulness will be my tasting notes*. But my intent is to not simply dump a bland and boring two-line description of a wine here along with some random two (or more recently three!) digits thrown together, as I do not believe there is much value in that approach. Instead my tasting notes for a wine will attempt to offer a complete description of the wine and the experience it brings. It is my hope that my tasting notes will allow you to experience a wine alongside me. My notes should give you a sense not only of the wine, but how it relates to the overall wine world. And more importantly, how it relates to my wine world. Reading my tasting notes should allow you to see, smell, taste and enjoy a wine through my eyes. No matter how objective one tries to be in writing a tasting note, notes remain deeply personal and reflect one’s personal views on the wine. My notes represent the building blocks in my overall accumulation of wine knowledge and experience. And in publishing them here, hopefully they can be building blocks for your knowledge as well.

The majority of tastings will not be blind, as I believe context is extremely important to the tasting experience. Knowing what type of wine you are tasting and who made it are important in understanding the wine you have in front of you. Similarly, having some background information on the wine (beyond what you find on the bottle) provides a canvas on which the particular wine paints its brush strokes. My notes, therefore, will incorporate information that I bring to the wine when I am tasting it. I will also include information that I learn after tasting the wine, which will help round out what the wine is providing. Lastly, I will give the environment and context in which my tasting took place. The type of moment you are in as just as important in being mindful about a wine as the amount of attention you give to the wine. Some settings are more conducive to quiet contemplation of a wine. Others highlight wine’s role in the celebration of life. And a wine tasted in isolation can be quiet different if it was tasted with food. I believe the environment of tasting is very important, and something that is largely missing from the many tasting notes which appear today.

Still, I am a recent product of the WSET, and their approach to tasting has greatly influenced how I taste wine. The WSET uses the Systematic Approach to Tasting, or SAT, looking to create a framework across which all wines can be judged. Students must learn to break down a wine into its various components, including appearance, acidity, tannin, sweetness, body, alcohol, development, intensity in both aroma and flavor and finish (with most components being graded on a pale/low to medium to high/full scale, including gradations of plus or minus in the scale), while also including standardized descriptions of both aroma and flavor. Students are then meant to wrap all these individual components into a nice little bow, generating a reasoned conclusion of the wine’s quality and price point. As students advance through the various levels of the WSET prgram, they are expected to do this in greater and greater detail and in a matter of minutes for any wine placed in front of them, and blind tastings using this method of analysis make up part of the testing at the end of each course.

Such rigorous analysis can be quite helpful in trying to understand a wine and how it came to be in your glass. It provides an excellent baseline against which comparisons can be made, and it demands a laser-like focus on the wine you are drinking. I have become a better wine taster using the SAT (thanks WSET and thanks to all the wonderful teachers at the International Wine Center!). And more importantly, I have learned a great deal about wine and the wine world using the SAT, more so than I would have learned if I had not been taught its approach to wine tasting. However, tasting in this way can veer into the robotic, and there is a risk that strictly adhering to its guidelines can strip the experience and enjoyment out of drinking wine. In the end, the SAT (or whatever tasting framework you use) is only meant to be a tool used in your overall experience with wine.

When creating my tasting notes, I use the SAT tools I have learned over these past few years as a foundation. But hopefully I sprinkle my notes with enough context, and with enough pieces of myself, that they can become bigger than a formulaic recharacterization of the flavored grape juice which sits in the glass in front of me. My tasting notes allow me to focus on a wine, remember the wine, and ultimately incorporate that wine into my overall wine knowledge base. They represent my mindfulness when approaching a wine. May you find them as informative and useful.


* As with any tasting note, the notes you find here are solely the personal opinion of the author, and are not intended to harm in any manner.


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