An opinion on tasting notes (1)

One of the most boring things to read in an article on wine is the list of tasting notes. This may seem contradictory as the essence of a wine is always, always found in the tasting. An estate may have a long history, it may be owned by celebrities or a bottle may even have been dug out of a sunken submarine, if the content does not excite or lacks a sense of identity than it is all for naught. Good wine, excellent wine is memorable in itself and the story can only add enjoyment and value. Therefore you would assume that the core of any article on wine would be the tasting notes, but I can never bring myself to read them. I’ll start with the top three or four and scan the rest of the report to look for wines that I know, hoping that they’ll confirm my opinion on them.

I doubt that I am the only one and that a lot of people will just head out to buy whatever got the highest score within his or her budget range. Tasting notes turn consumers into sheep. Every weekend, a leading paper in Belgium publishes three wine reviews on a theme, e.g. Chili, Champagne, Portugal and whatnot. A wine merchant told me that every time he had one of his wines rated, he would receive complete strangers ordering a box of that wine only. Afterwards they would disappear until another wine would pop up on the weekly list. I can only imagine someone standing in the cellar, proud of his “wine collection” that he hasn’t even tasted. Just because the paper recommended the wine, he assumed that it is good and as he has it in his cellar, surely he must be a connoisseur?

Tasting notes reduce wine to something bland, something boring even. I tasted 1000+ wines last year and took notes on about 80% of those but I caught myself using the same descriptive terms over and over. It dawned on me that if I found my own writing boring, how on earth could I convince other people to read it? The excitement of tasting often vanishes when you try to put the feelings a wine evokes into words. Describing X wines at an event, often tasted in rapid succession without really taking the time to get to know a wine will not lead to exciting literature. At the same time, a winewriter needs to make an effort, as it is an excellent exercise in formulating an opinion on a wine that goes beyond good or bad. It forces you to understand why a wine tastes as it does. Is it vinification? Is it terroir, the cépage or something else? This is what really makes wine exciting.

Unfortunately, most tastings do not give a winelover the time or space to properly acquaint him or her with a wine. Dive Bouteille presented 300 vignerons, RAW will have roughly the same number. An average trade tasting in Belgium will consist of 50 to 200 wines. I already find it difficult to pick just one bottle for dinner, how on earth am I then expected to pick what I want to taste with rows and rows of open bottles in front of me? Of course, it’s extremely useful to get an overview of the types of wine produced by a certain region or in a specific vintage, but to really pass judgment on a wine? Buy a bottle, take it home and drink it over a couple of days.

I will rarely discuss a wine that I have only tasted in a lineup of more than 20 wines. It’s unfair to judge someone’s work on a drop of wine, often poured in a glass that you would not touch with a ten-foot pole in normal circumstances after already tasting twenty other wines. Your palate is saturated and even though professionals claim they can easily taste 70 to 80 wines in a sitting, I have my doubts as to the accuracy of their reports afterwards. Most wines that I’ll present will be tasted in a less ambitious setting like an evening where we really try to focus on a specific region, vintage or estate even.

Starting in March, the blogging frequency will be a bit more structured. Wednesday will from then on be reserved for the wine of the week. The goal is to zoom in on a style, region, cépage or producer in order to inspire you, the reader, to venture out of the comfort zone and into new wine territory. Social media is littered with people bragging with the most expensive and exclusive wine people have tasted (often with a comment that gives you the impression that this is just their everyday drink) but as I prefer spending my money on wine trips instead of just one ridiculously expensive bottle, a wine of the week will not cost more than EUR 25,- (Belgian prices). I’ll promise to limit the length of these notes as well, not an easy task seeing as I can be quite longwinded and lost in enthusiasm!

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