Tuesday, May 8, 2007

What I Look For In A Tasting Note

I'm aware that no one's perfect and that the same wine won't affect me the same as it did the writer of any given tasting note. And I've surely not tasted every wine whose review I've read so I may yet be impressed by writers with crappy palates. But assuming the veracity of a given review, by a writer whose palate I'm calibrated with and whose judgement I've learned to trust, the following is a prioritorized list of what I look for:

  • The wine's potential.
  • The wine's structure.
  • Sensory descriptors (optional).
  • Score (optional).
Scores are helpful, I admit, but I can live without them now, if the writer is facile enough. But you know, many reviews are not designed to stand on their own without the scores. Even a brilliant writer like Stephen Tanzer will not always give you enough written information about the quality of the wine and you need to read the score.

A grocery list of aromas and flavors is purely optional unless they highlight how well a wine adheres to its archtype: currants and cigar box in Bordeaux, nuts in Meursault, etc. Clive Coates manages very well without them.

A feel for the wine's structure and style is paramount. At least tell me if the wine is in a modern style or not. The British writers (as opposed to Robert Parker) do this quite well.

What I value the most is what a writer who knows the wine or region or producer better than I do tells me about the wine's potential and how long it will live. By now, I'm fairly adept at figuring out how good a given wine is now (assuming it's past its early infancy, anyway) but I want to know more about what it will be like as an adult, especially when to open it.

Style-wise, I like some poetry and creativeness if it doesn't obscure the above points. My reasoning is great wines (even great little wines) should have an emotional effect of the taster. I don't enjoy reading notes by jaded tasters who can't be moved emotionally.

PS. Size doesn't (always) matter.


Anonymous said...

Who are your favorite Israeli critics ?

2GrandCru said...

There is only one critic commonly accepted as a full time critic in Israel, Daniel Rogov. I used to appreciate his notes, obviously since I used to post on his Forum. I no longer find his palate compatible with mine but his Bordeaux notes are mostly useful. His notes fall into the "grocery list" template without conveying enough of the structure, to me.

Who else do you consider a critic in Israel? Eldad Levi is pretty good but I'm not entirely calibrated to his palate.

2GrandCru said...

I was too harsh on Rogov. I don't think all his notes fall into what I called the "grocery list" template. I just saw some notes in the paper that I really enjoyed reading.

Anonymous said...


Is it you as the first anonymous?

2GrandCru said...

Don't mess with Rogov. He's an ex-Marine.

Jan said...

My notes are still in the grocery list style. I am not pretending to be able to predict a wine's potential, but I like to train my memory to remember wines I have tasted better. I find it a nice challenge to try to put a taste sensation on paper.

2GrandCru said...

Jan, I've read your notes on Cellar Tracker and they do give a sense of structure as well as your own personal take. I wouldn't have considered them "grocery list" notes if you hadn't mentioned it.

And you never over-use the word "currants"!

Jan said...

Thank you Chaim. About these currants. Making a distinction among all these red fruits is impossible. I can probably distinguish real obvious in-your-face cherry (no idea about black/red), real super-ripe plum, very acidic small "berries" (red, black, blue, don't know), raspberry, and something I call "cassis" CS fruit that is similar to a soft drink I drank a lot in the Netherlands (maybe cassis is actually something "currant").

My big challenge is to come up with "stereotypes" of wine, more sophisticated than your "oaked fruity CS" such as forest-fruit-CS (Yatir, super Tuscan), leather-berry rosso di montalcino, tea-leaf Ripasso. A very short descriptor of the type of animal you have in the glass, and then the evaluation.

2GrandCru said...

Jancis Robinson, in her book How To Taste, comments that descriptors for her are a trigger for certain sensations, rather than an actual description. Like the cat-piss thing. I think this is similar to what you're getting at.

Jan said...

Maybe, need to get my hands on that book.

"Cassis" after a 70s soft drink
"new car smell nose"
"candy store nose"

Maybe these are all deeply psychological connections I am making in my brain :-)

Lewis said...

Hi Chaim, Jan:

Jan, don't bother yourself with trying to be more spcific than "red fruits/berries" or "black fruits/berries" or "dried fruits" as descriptions for red wine aromas. Trying to nail down desriptors more specific than these in the context of red wine is impossible. It was part of my research project at Davis, with a very highly selected and then trained panel of tasters. Plenty of folks regarded as critics would have been tossed out in the selection phase alone of the panelists we chose to train, and even after the training people couldn't consistently specify the fruit characteristics of Cabernet more specifically than that. Ie one person's raspberry was another's red cherry was another's strawberry - there was no common language more specific. As for "currants" I don't like the term and haven't a clue as to what that is, but casis or Ribena (a syrup made from the same fruit that makes Creme de Casis liquer) are quite identifiable as berry fruit (not specifically red or black) combined with a potent bell pepper herbaceousness. So noting both casis and bell pepper notes in a wine's aroma is redundant. I prefer to note a green bell pepper or general "herbaceous" note as something apart from wines' specifically fruity aroma. I think your end line "a very short description of the animal in the glass" and then the evaluation is very apt. It's more and more the way I write a TN for myself for one main reason: more detailed grocery list notes are never consistent bottle to bottle, either because of the context of the tasting (or better yet drinking), the condition of the particualr bottle (especially the actual temp at the time of tasting!) or because of your palate at that particular moment. But unless the wine suffers from pretty severe bottle variation, or has received a significant amount of ageing since your last tasting, the "animal in the glass" and the harmony of the wine, alnong with the pleasure it gives (ie the evaluation) should be quite similar.

2GrandCru said...


Do you think it is easier to nail down fruit descriptors in white wines than it is for reds?

Lewis said...

Hi Chaim, I think not, but I didn't research it. My best guess is that yellow stone fruits - peaches and/or apricots, white stone fruits -apples, quince, or pears, tropical fruits, pineapples, mangoes, guavas - or citrus fruits - grapefruit, oranges or lemons may be distinguishable, but more specific levels not so.