Since I am relatively new to the winery business and not-so-new at being a wino, there are definitely a few things I’ve learned about the wine industry in the last three years that baffle me. One of those things is tasting notes. No, I’m not baffled that they exist and I do understand what they’re for and I do appreciate them. But they can be so vague and subjective that I often wonder…”who in the world writes this stuff?”
Well, wine writers write this stuff. People who know wine much better than myself write this stuff. And get paid for it. So clearly I’m the weakest link here, I’m going to be very humble about that up-front. But terms such as “stone-fruit” just feel tiresome and vague to me. And what if one person tastes the suggested “cherry” note and the next person tastes rotten strawberries? Okay that’s extreme (maybe), but you get the idea.
I only bring this up because my winemaker and I write our own tasting notes for our wines and recently we had to write some for our popular-and-short-lived 2012 Syrah. Now I have always loved writing, but I have always despised technical writing. As soon as it starts getting form-like, I’m over it. I understand there’s beauty in that and the world needs technicality. It’s just not my bag. I’m much better at doing whatever the hell I want writing freely and conveying my point on paper the way it sounds in my head, before my lips get a hold of it and de-stem the tact out of it. So as you can imagine, writing tasting notes can become a necessary ordeal over here. I love it until I think people want conventional. Our Jalapeno Wine tasting notes are a blast to write because they’re fun, silly and they hopefully paint the picture we want to paint of the product as a whole. I mean when I pick up a bottle and read this on the back, I’m gonna buy it:
“The crazy cousin. Has been spotted skinny dipping, running off to weekends in Vegas and sneaking away with baked chicken and a daiquiri.” – Our soon-to-be-released Pineapple Jalapeno Wine
The thing is, we do make conventional wines as well which call for conventional tasting notes. So here’s what we eventually came up with for the Syrah:
“This full-bodied Syrah fills your glass with aromas of dark cocoa and pepper. It hits your pallet with dark fruit and notes of licorice and tobacco, leaving you with a spicy, peppery impression. Aged in American oak for 1.5 years.”
For the record, we actually tasted each and every one of those things in it while we wrote this. Will you? Who knows. Here’s what I wanted to write:
“This full-bodied Syrah fills your glass with relief. The kind of relief only a darn good wine can give. It hits your pallet with well-cared for grapes fermented in small, pretty barrels that smell like heaven, if heaven smells like American oak and wine yeast. It was made with purple hands and a love of bold choices. And it will never be created exactly the same again.”
But then people would wonder: Is it smoky? Is it sweet? Is it fruity or dry? So I suppose the answer to the perfect tasting note is somewhere in the middle. Maybe we can be brutally honest and classy?
Let’s try that, shall we? Take a bottle of Cabernet my mom and I opened on Christmas vacation, for example. Here’s what we read on the bottle:
“Deep ruby red color shows pure cherry, currant and star anise aromas. Deep and voluptuous texture is complemented with rich currant, raspberry, anise and cedar. Full bodied, this wine finishes with well-balanced tannins.”
In reality, my mom and I dumped it out and couldn’t drink a glass of it. Yes, wine is subjective. So here are the tasting notes I would (subjectively) write for this wine instead:
“Sugary corn flavors and fishy oatmeal elements are fused together in this burnt chili-like production. The wine finishes best with a chaser of gin and tonic.”
Or, take the Merlot we opened the next night, which did not have tasting notes on the bottle. If it had, I’m sure they would have read something like this:
“A mildewed leather finish with cool ranch undertones and a triumphant ketchup bouquet.”
Hey, to each their own right? Maybe you like that sort of thing. Just for fun, let’s pull a Captain Obvious out of the bag to wrap this up and pick on a cheap wine. You know the kind, it’s the stuff on the grocery store end cap that goes for $2.99. Here are the notes for the (brand-omitted) Washington State 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon I’m picking on (and have tasted) today:
“Aromas of red berry, ripe cherry and cola fill the nose, followed by luscious berry sweetness on the palate that culminates into a long velvety finish. This Cabernet Sauvignon is elegant yet approachable and complex.”
Ohhkay. Let’s have a shot at this, from my humble palate’s perspective:
“If you enjoy pickles, kit-kats and soluble fiber fruits, you will certainly enjoy them as one in this. Do not travel far from the loo. This Cabernet Sauvignon is rugged yet transparent and argumentative.”
I probably shouldn’t quit my day job, huh? At any rate, what are your thoughts on tasting notes? Love ’em, leave ’em, or don’t even read ’em?