This is the first in the series How To Taste & Talk Wine in which I will be sharing thoughts and ideas on how to write a tasting note, some of the tasting techniques you can use to better appreciate wine and gather the information you need to write a great tasting note. It seems only logical then to start at the beginning and that means we need to understand the purpose of a tasting note and why it even matters.
Wine can be a very subjective thing. I can't tell you the number of times I have been involved in a tasting and just about everyone at the tasting table smelled or tasted something different in the same wine. To some that can seem strange or frustrating but that is really one of the beautiful aspects of wine - that it can reveal so many different characteristics to different people and it is ever changing. Trying to capture all of those different characteristics on paper, or on video as we often do, can seem to be a very daunting task. So why do it? What is the point?
There are many reasons to write tasting notes and Rob MacKay hit on a few of them in his post recently. I take tasting notes for a few reasons and I think each of these reasons pretty much define the purpose of a tasting note. I am sure there are others but since this is my series I am going to go with mine
First, I like to document what I experience with a wine each time I taste it to capture my personal experience. This not only helps me to go back and sort of relive the experience through my words but it also allows me to track a wine's development over time. I have a number of wines in my cellar that need a fair amount of bottle aging in the cellar before they hit a peak window for drinking. I often buy 3-6 bottles of each of these so that I can open one up pretty soon after receiving it to get a sense of what it is like very young and then, based on what I learn at that time, I open the remaining bottles over many years, each time documenting my tasting experience. These tasting notes on the same wine over many years are like a written photo album of the wines life. A written documentary of the seasons of life the wine has gone through. For those wines I only get to experience once, a detailed tasting notes will allow me, perhaps many years later, to recall the experience in vivid detail and to some degree relive the wine.
Second, I like to write tasting notes to share with friends, family, those in the Cellartracker community and the readers of Pulling The Cork. By no means am I an expert. I have tasted and written tasting notes on thousands of wines but I believe this is a constant learning experience. That said, the best education in wine is to taste and drink a lot of it and write tasting notes to help better understand what kind of wines you like, how different wines age, what is the difference between regions that make the same varietal etc. Over the years my wine tasting notes, along with others whose tasting experience and notes I have come to respect, have served as an amazing education in wine. Again, there is no better wine education then to taste as many wines as you possibly can from all over the world and write tasting notes on each.
Third, the very act of writing a tasting note forces me to focus on a wine and its characteristics in a way I wouldn't if I were just drinking it. Simply tasting, even using good tasting techniques like what we will show you in this series, isn't enough. The fact that I am committing myself to writing about all of the wine's characteristics forces me to go through the tasting in steps and stages, carefully focusing on each of those phases and using my senses and mind to associate the characteristics with other things within my frame of reference. Then gathering those thoughts and putting them into words allows me to experience wine in a way that is really a thing of beauty.
Of course, I love to just drink it too and I don't suggest you have to go through an entire formal tasting process each time you open a bottle. That said, I do think once you get into the habit of doing it right it is a very hard habit to break no matter where you are drinking wine or the occassion. I have been known to write tasting notes on the palm of my hand at formal dinner parties - shhh, don't tell anyone!
Where To Start Writing
The very first thing to do is to cheat and copy information from someone else. Yes, you heard me correctly. Copy information from another source to get started. Before you think I am recommending plagiarism or copyright infringement, the place I recommend you copy information from is the label on the bottle of wine that is the subject of your tasting.
The wine label is full of interesting and important information that you need to have in order to write a tasting note of substance. I recommend you go to the label and write down the following information:
Producer (who made the wine)
Varietal (if it is a blend document the percentages of each varietal)
Alcohol Percentage (Alcohol By Volume)
Vineyard (the specific name of the vineyard from where the grapes were grown, if applicable)
Region, Sub-Region and Appellation
I also write down anything interesting about the wine, the price and the date of my tasting. All of this information forms the foundation or context for the rest of the tasting note. As we have said many times before, a tasting notes is incomplete without being placed into context using some of this information as well as information on the winegrowing region, history, terroir, winemaker etc.
Cellartracker already stores almost all of this information which makes it MUCH easier to collect and gather wine information and write and store your tasting notes electronically. Not to mention the value that can be gained from viewing tasting notes from others on wines you may have, wish to have or may be thinking of drinking. There are other cellar management websites and programs out there but for me, Cellartracker is the best. You don't have to have an actual cellar to use it either. I know many users who document tasting notes and track the wines they taste and consume in Cellartracker without actually having an inventory in a cellar, wine refrigerator or storage facility. I highly recommend it and there are some exciting new changes coming for the Cellartracker community very soon that will make it an even better resource.
Ok, that is the first in our series How To Taste & Talk Wine. The next part of our series is What You See & How To See It. The next few posting in the series will include video on tasting technique and a few other interesting items so it should be more interesting than just this text based post. That said, we hope you enjoyed this post and let us know in the comments below your thoughts and questions.
Michael Homula started Pulling The Cork and lives just north of Ann Arbor, Michigan. As an Ohio born Notre Dame fan that is as close to Ann Arbor as he can live without breaking out in a rash. He is anxiously awaiting the start of college football season. Go Irish!