By Jon McDaniel
At most retailers and purveyors of wine in America, you will see a hanging tag right below a bottle of wine. Most likely, this tag will have a number between 87-100, the wine name and a 25 word description about the wine. Some marketing genius was able to encapsulate every aspect of a particular wine – soil, vintage, fermentation, winemaker, wine – all in 25 words or less.
Ladies and gentlemen – this is a tasting note. Tasting notes really began as a way to easily describe a wine to consumers that were not able to taste the wine before buying them. A way to use buzz words, colors, smells and tastes to try and entice a buyer into a particular bottle. With the growth of online media and wine in general, tasting notes have taken all forms, shapes and sizes.
Personally, I believe that there is one thing to blame for this blatant summarization of all things wine, yes that’s right – Twitter. The Twitterization of America has caused us as a society to need short explanations of everything, even something as personal and satiating as wine. To put into 150 characters or less everything about a bottle of wine, misses out on all of the glory that is fermented grape juice. Tasting notes are the reason why I get asked the question “Are there REALLY raspberries in this wine?” and why if you taste a wine, then are told that it tastes like raspberries, you will try your hardest to convince your brain that it tastes like raspberries, just so you can be as smart as the “experts”.
When you pick up a Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast (aka Highlights for Wine), like 91% of the other readers of the magazine, you most likely turn to the back of the publication to read the new scores of wines reviewed. Now we have already gone over the worthlessness of the points system (if not, check out my blog on “Points Suck”http://www.blog.
Color – If a positive review, it will compare it to some sort of jewel or precious metal (i.e. Golden, ruby or garnet). If negative, most likely a description of dirty bath water will come into play Smell – Positive reviews will talk about beautiful flowers and perfumes that will make you want to rub the scent all over your body. Negative will mention in the nicest way possible things like Band-Aids
and cow poop Taste – Name every fruit at El Rancho Market and this will encompass the descriptors for positive tastes of wine. Bigger reds will even throw out things like smoke, cigar box and earthy flavors. Negative reviews – you guessed it “Cow Poop” Pairings – This is really the best part. It will find some obscure pairing which you will never eat or make, unless it is a quaffable table wine, which will pair with anything.
One way or another, all wine tasting notes will most likely have these four characteristics. What sets apart so many wine writers, whether amateur or paid is that they will try and add their own twist to these tasting notes. Some writers like to use really big words to seem impressive and smart. Some like to write poetry to express all of the deep emotions they have about a wine. Some like to be sarcastic and funny and compare wine to illicit encounters with celebrities that they will never meet (Scarlett, I’m still waiting for you!). And some just go through the motions and throw out a bunch of random tastes like they threw darts at a dictionary and –tada! – Tasting note! To illustrate this phenomenon, look at Wine Spectator’s #1 Wine of 2010. The 2007 James Berry Vineyard Red Blend from Saxum.
From the winemaker What can I say? I really like this wine. It has it all without any one component overwhelming the others. It has great purity of fruit, layers of tannin, and a bright fresh acidity that holds it together. Because of its great balance, I think this wine is going to greatly improve over the next few years and drink well for many years to come.
From Robert Parker, Wine Advocate
Utter perfection, and one of the most profound Rhone Ranger wines I have ever tasted is the 2007 James Berry Vineyard Proprietary Red, a blend of 41% Grenache, 31% Mourvèdre, and 28% Syrah (15.8% alcohol). It would be an amazing wine to insert in a tasting of the most profound 2007 Chateauneuf-du- Papes. As with many prodigious wines, the extraordinary freshness, purity, equilibrium, and singularity of this effort is breathtaking. Its dense purple color is accompanied by an extraordinary, incredibly pure, all enveloping, intense, sweet nose of black raspberries, kirsch, spring ﬂowers, spice box, and pepper. Full-bodied with not a hard edge to be found, it is stunningly concentrated with unreal purity, a voluptuous texture, and remarkable freshness for a wine of such power, depth, and concentration. This 2007 will be approachable young, although I would not be surprised to see it close down given the relatively elevated proportion of Mourvedre, and it should drink well for 12-15 years.
From James Laube, Wine Spectator
Drink: now through 2018
An amazing wine, dense, rich and layered, offering a mix of power and ﬁnesse, with concentrated dark berry fruit, mineral, sage, herb and cedar notes that are pure, intense, and persistent and focused.
From Josh Raynolds, International Wine Cellar
Inky purple color. Spectacular nose combines black and blue fruit preserves, cola, smoky Indian spices and potpourri, with a vibrant mineral underpinning. Juicy, vibrant and focused, offering sweet boysenberry and blueberry ﬂavors and suave ﬂoral pastille and allspice qualities. Deeply concentrated but lithe, with superb ﬁnishing clarity and a spicy, endless ﬁnish. I also retasted the 2006 James Berry Vineyard and it is in a highly expressive, juicy phase right now, with strong, sweet red and dark berry ﬂavors and excellent clarity. I suspect that my score of 94 last year was low by a point. And the 2008 version, tasted from barrel, looks at least as good as this 2007.
From Steve Heimoff, Wine Enthusiast
I really liked this wine, but then I found out that winemaker Justin Smith once shook hands with Senator John McCain. Now it just tastes like cow poop.
Okay, I made that last one up, but you see how different wine professionals all drank the exact same juice, and came up with completely different answers to what the wine is supposed to taste like. So what does that mean? That means that much like everything in this world, tasting notes are completely subjective. They are meant to paint a picture of what a wine might taste like to you if you knew what sage and cola and smoky Indian spices tasted like. If you have never had any of those things or taste experiences, how would you know if that wine is for you? And notice the one descriptor that none of these authors wrote – that it tastes like grapes.
Well, it comes back to my one lesson about wine that is more important than any. Wine is about YOU. Go out and taste and create your own catalog of senses. When you taste a fruit, try and compare it to a wine you have had. When you taste a wine, try and create an image in your head about past experiences with certain foods and try and match them up together.
I was once asked to write tasting notes for a new winery that was releasing wines back in 2006. They produced a Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, a Russian River Chardonnay and a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I went to the winery at about 3pm, after a delicious 3 hour lunch at one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco. When I got to the winery, I smelled all 3 of the wines and wrote my thoughts about the smells. Then I tasted all 3 wines and wrote down my thoughts. I was quite perplexed, because there was a similar taste throughout all 3 wines. A taste of mint and herbs that I couldn’t shake out of my mind. I didn’t want to write the exact same thing for all 3 wines, so I changed the same flavor profile into the following:
Sauvignon Blanc – hints of freshly picked Vietnamese mint
Chardonnay – a slight, just faint kiss of dried Thai Basil
Cabernet Sauvignon – brushes of herbal scents and flavors from the Orient
These basically describe the exact same flavor in 3 different ways. As I wrapped up my notes and gave them to the winery owner, he was very excited about how detailed and “spot-on” my descriptions were. They ended up using those descriptions on their bottles, press, and website and beyond. As I walked out of the winery, I shook hands with the winemaker and thanked him for inviting me. The last thing he said to me was “Hey dude, you got something green in your teeth”. It was a piece of mint from my lunch that had been there the ENTIRE TIME!
Tasting notes are again, about experiences. So what better ways to test your experiences then to have you the consumer write some tasting notes?
Through the month of March, Santa Ynez Wine Club has partnered with the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café and Bernat Winery to host a Tasting Notes Competition! Come into the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café and taste the new release of 2010 Bernat Grenache Blanc and 2008 Bernat ‘Equality’ Syrah. You will be given the chance to write your own tasting notes for each of the wines! The top 10 submissions for each wine will be posted and voted on.
The winner of each tasting note will win a $50 gift card to the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café and 6 bottles of Bernat wine! In addition, your notes will be posted on the Bernat website and used as the official tasting notes for the wine. Try your hand at describing all that there is to know about a wine in 25 words or less, and if you win, your words will be tied to that wine forever!
Contact me at email@example.com or come into the Los Olivos Café for more details.