Tag Archives: syrah

Writing Wine Tasting Notes: A Satire

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?

Mulled Jalapeno Wine Recipe and Event Recap

I think it’s safe to say we’re all in detox mode this week. I rarely admit this, but I’m toning down my lush factor after my liver approached me to ask “who the hell do you think we are?” on Sunday evening after 4 nights of wine-a-palooza. So I’m back to my one glass/night max. But that’s not to say the Thanksgiving weekend wasn’t a total blast. We had our Red Friday Open House (get it? red wine? okay, I tried) the day after Thanksgiving where the Mulled Jalapeno Wine was a big hit. (I’ve been asked by a few of you to post the recipe, so see that below!) Then the next morning was Small Business Saturday at The Boise Farmer’s Market. Our schedule was jam-packed with equal parts business and fun evenings spent with family and friends. Sponsored by Lots’o Wine.

First, the event recap:

Check out my super-classy and chic signage.

This is why you should stay in school, kids. You learn things of great importance like this.
This is why you should stay in school, kids. You learn things of great importance like this.

At least one day you can all say that you remember us before we hit it rich, making our own student council signs and stuff. I saddled up with a nice bottle of Cabernet while drawing up this gem. Apparently a tannic, dry Cab goes really well with the biggest permanent black Sharpie a person can find.

We spent the morning of the event prepping and making sure we didn’t get in one another’s way. I seem to stink at that game. Nevertheless, we had a really great showing and met some new faces. We’re always thrilled when newbies stop by and aren’t turned off by our rugged headquarters. Most wine lovers in the area are really cool about the whole start-up scenario and can remember when many of the local wineries started small and were based out of commercial garages. We’re grateful for that attitude and love getting to meet other winos like-minded individuals who love wine and supporting small businesses! We’re lucky to live in the community we live in and have the support system we do (including really resourceful family members who know how to do things like hook up a sound system in an old garage and decorate flower pots with weird things I buy because in my head it should look pretty).

Our humble space. Who needs furnishings when there's wine?
Our humble space. Who needs furnishings when there’s wine?

Von made Chipotle Jalapeno Wine pulled pork (amazing!) and my sister-in-law Amy made Chipotle Jalapeno Cookies for folks to snack on . As we started to wrap up the night we poured ourselves a glass of our 2012 Syrah that we were sampling that evening, which hasn’t officially been released yet because it’s been aging in the bottle. I love how every time we taste it, it gets even better. Why can’t leftovers be that way?

Later that night after we gave the kiddos a bath and they had gone to bed, we sat at our kitchen table with my parents and my mom and I shared a bottle of Rodney Strong Cabernet. Or at least that’s what I’m told. The next day Von asked me if I enjoyed the bottle of wine my mom and I had polished off and I looked at him like he was crazy. I mean, of course I remember drinking wine! And also, I don’t remember drinking all that wine…

But as all great Potter Wines events go: We came, we drank, we went to bed.

Now about this Mulled Jalapeno Wine biz:

Some of you have emailed me for the recipe and rightly so, as it is one fun way to ring in winter! If you use apple cider like I do, it won’t be overly sweet and I prefer it that way.  You can make it sweeter if you want by adding honey until you’re satisfied, or use apple juice instead of cider. If you’re still in tailgating mode as many people around here were last weekend, this will be a big crowd pleaser! Or serve this at your holiday party to spice things up a notch.

Visit jalapenowine.com for ordering info and more recipes.
Visit jalapenowine.com for ordering info and more recipes.

Cheers to happy holidays, lots of vino and really, really good workouts to keep us honest!

Crushing on Grapes – Part Two

Growing up, harvest was a season. An entire season devoted to potatoes, beets and grain. They even pulled us out of school (seriously, they shut school DOWN) so that we could go help out the farmers. Sometimes I enjoyed this if I got to drive truck. Many times I despised it since it meant standing on your feet for 12+ hours picking clods off the conveyor line. At the end of each day you were guaranteed a sweet paycheck and an album’s worth of unique and really stupid songs about potatoes.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d experience another harvest first-hand after leaving for college. But it seems the joke’s on me – not only am I experiencing another harvest but I’m kind of LIKING it. Clearly, I’ve been sipping some juice.

I don’t love the physical toll it takes on my husband but I do love the look of accomplishment on his face from time to time, even though nothing ever feels completely accomplished in the world of a winemaker. I love the grapes. They’re pretty and messy and smell like super earthy and undrinkable wine just a day after being picked and sitting in mounds in their bins. I hate the bees, those cocky jerks. I love the sound of the grape juice rushing out of the crusher/de-stemmer and into containers for fermentation. The clean-up is tedious and never-ending. The fruit flies are unrelenting. But the reward is amazing and the end result is a bit hard to wrap your mind around if you’ve never witnessed the winemaking process from start to finish. I mean we all understand that in the end there is WINE and that is exciting! But if you knew every little detail about how it became wine you’d find a generous amount of fascination to it, as simple as it might be.

With that said, here are a few photos from our Syrah crush last week as well as a few I snapped just yesterday from the fermentation bins, which we have to stir up every 4 to 6 hours right now. I meant to take some photos of the Riesling as it was actively fermenting but it has already been laid to rest in shiny stainless steel barrels. If you missed the Riesling crush photos from my last post you can check that out here.

So now that harvest is over for us we have just entered the next phase in the winemaking process of our Riesling and Syrah – The Wait. You likely won’t taste the end result until late 2015 for the Riesling and at the very least it’ll be late 2016 for the Syrah. Don’t worry, I’ll keep you updated on their journeys here.

For now, enjoy!

The Arrival

Pretty clusters all ready to go
Pretty clusters all ready to go



The Crushing/De-stemming

Those paddles do the work of minions.
Those paddles do the work of minions.


The paddles break it all up and send the grapes out the bottom and into bins for fermentation.
The paddles break it all up and send the grapes out the bottom and into bins for fermentation.
Scraping the bottom of one grape bin, where the juice already smells like wine.
Scraping the bottom of one grape bin, where the juice already smells like wine.


The Sidelines

The unwanted pile
The unwanted pile.


This is how the grapes look as soon as they find a new home in the fermentation bins.
This is how the grapes look as soon as they find a new home in the fermentation bins
What you don't see here are about 50 more of these guys' friends hovering over us.
What you don’t see are about 50 more of these guys’ friends hovering over us.


The Fermentation (3 Days Later)

3 days later, the grapes have started to break down
3 days later, the grapes have started to break down
Stirring it all up every 4 to 6 hours so every grape has a chance to touch the juice.
Stirring it all up every 4 to 6 hours so every grape has a chance to touch the juice.