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In defense of wine tasting notes

20 comments

I’m mad as heck and I’m not going to take it anymore!

I’ve had it up to here [you can’t see me, but I’m holding my hand up to my forehead] with writers who complain that “wine consumers have little use and perhaps even less tolerance for wine tasting notes.”

That is simply a falsehood. The truth is, wine consumers have little use for (and they may even hate) people who say that wine consumers have little use for wine tasting notes.

Now, the anti-tasting note crowd may retort with the claim that wine consumers have little use for people who disagree with people who say that wine consumers have little use for wine tasting notes. But I disagree. You see, I happen to believe that people who say that wine consumers have little use for wine tasting notes hate people who say that people who say that wine consumers have little use for wine tasting notes are idiots. And nobody likes a hater.

If it were really true that wine consumers have little use for wine tasting notes, then why did Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart go on a romantic wine tasting trip to Cannes?

The anti-wine tasting note cabal can’t answer that, can they? Nor can they properly address the 1WineDude phenomenon, or explain, with any coherence, why the Hosemaster of Wine always points in the direction of magnetic north, no matter how many times you spin him around.

You see, there are many, many things these anti-wine tasting note haters can’t explain! Actually, this bloke, Michael Godel, who wrote the anti-tasting note article I linked to above, seems like a regular chap. (Blokes? Chaps? Is British catching? Except that Godel isn’t a Brit, he’s Canadian. Well, what’s the difference? They both talk funny and worship the Queen.) Anyhow, consider the following, from the Hoisted On Your Own Petard Dept.:

Angels Gate Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($13.95) in comely, pale gold flesh and peach blossom nose is well designed if not grape-specific “correct.” And I thank her for that. Leads like a Jack Johnson ballad, gathering then tempering the 2011 vintage’s acidity and finishing with a soulful refrain. Outright proper Beamsville Bench white wine, even if it bears little resemblance to the Loire or Marlborough. Good on her, this angel, “she gives me kisses on the lips just for coming home.”  88

Michael Godel writes a mean tasting note! Not my style, but witty and stylish, although I don’t get the Jack Johnson thing. There is a Hawaiian musician of that name, but we have no way of knowing if he’s the one Michael Godel refers to. Quite frankly, my dears, I have little use, and perhaps even less tolerance, for obscure cultural references in wine notes.

  1. Judi Levens says:

    I work in a tasting room and I think that most people really appreciate some help in identifying what they are tasting. Some are even truly curious as to some of the technicalities in the making of the wine. Without the notes they would be reliant on my judgment which is not nearly as good as that of the winemaker who publishes our tasting notes.

  2. Steve,

    Canadian, yes, so you can refer to me as a regular hoser, if you like. My attempt at whining to the tasting note haters may not have found your sweet spot but then again, neither do my obscure cultural references. I do appreciate the flattery, however. In fact, I am thankful for not having been completely hosed. It would be un-Canadian of me to fight back anyway. You are correct on many fronts, especially that nobody likes a hater.

    By the way, that is the Hawaiian-born Jack Johnson. The hyperlink takes you to the referenced-song’s lyric sheet. I was going to use Bruce Springsteen’s The Angel, but I thought the lyric “the angel rides by humpin’ his hunk metal whore” might be a bit too dark for a Niagara Sauvignon Blanc.

  3. Ah yes, the joys of wine’s “Pick a side” crowd. Those for whom one’s taste in wine and opinions on its criticism and journalism, is an absolute barometer of cultural knowledge/experience, intellect, political leaning, and worth as a person.
    Those for whom I have little patience

  4. Both the people who produce obscure tasting notes and the people who get all bejiggety about said notes are expelling urine in the wind. The sub-set of wine drinkers who actually read and give credence to tasting notes is self-selecting, and they’re a bunch of poodles. The people who hate tasting notes and denigrate them are usually constipated whiners. And the people who perhaps could benefit most from a (reasonably pithy) tasting note, such as one on a shelf-talker in a wine store are both gullible prey to faked notes and utterly unaware of this meretricious debate.

  5. STEVE!
    I always point to magnetic North because I have an infallible meat compass in my pants!

    I think of tasting notes as the “TV Guide” of wine. Brief capsules that make you want to try it, or simply avoid it. And if you find them useless, don’t subscribe.

  6. Very few wine writers anywhere do not, at some time, describe wine. It is like talking about eating without talking about the food.

    Mr. Washam writes tasting notes and reads them even as he rightfully attacks the abuses in them.

    Still, the argument that the average $20 a bottle, not too adventurous wine drinker does not need or read tasting notes is true. I was once an avid tennis player and, for a short time, subscribed to two tennis mags. Eventually, I did not need them because I was not a zealot and my Saturday mornings doubles matches went on just fine without extra reading.

    The same is true for my well-educated, relatively economically secure neighbors. They happily drink my wine, but they do not come scurrying around to ask for recommendations for their daily tipple. They just are not wine zealots.

    It is that latter category for whom tasting notes are like mother’s milk. They subscribe to WS, WA, WE, CGCW, Tanser, Decanter, Review du Vin France, Gambero Rosso and other wine pubs all over the world just so that they can read tasting notes.

    The tasting note is not dead. It never was, and it never will be because it serves a vital purpose for those who cannot live without. And thank goodness for them. They have kept me in the tasting note business for more than three decades.

  7. Robin Renken says:

    Actually if it’s a fun and interesting review, I enjoy obscure cultural references! And I love wine reviews that are well written. They can be poetic!

  8. Yes, that is the Jack Johnson to which Mr. Godel refers. Just because you don’t know who Jack Johnson is, doesn’t make him an obscure reference. He did compose and perform the soundtrack to the “Curious George” movie (2006) after all… smh

    Hosemaster, please take back that mental image. Please…

  9. Dear Michael Godel, my post was largely satirical but over the course of a long life I’d come to realize that my sense of humor — dark and wry (as opposed to dark rye) — sometimes goes right over people’s heads.

  10. george kaplan says:

    “Im mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore” has probably become an obscure cultural reference to anybody under 50. ” Hoist on his own petard” is obscure outside the forest of Arden. No balladeer, even Jack Johnson, who was a dispenser of lullabies,I guess, could enhance a song by tempering its acidity.
    I wouldn’t dare to spin HMW for a case of magnums of Ponsot 1928, but it seems wine bloggers are made of sterner stuff. Bertie Wooster often wrote about gestures his readers couldn’t see. I doubt Godel could prove the existence of the wine he’s drinking.At their best tasting notes give both a useful impression of the wine and data to judge the taster, which is a big help. HMW does good tasting notes as well as hilarious satires and parodies: he should be drowned in a butt of Malmsey.

  11. Dear Mr. Heimoff,

    I have aged to the point where few people find me funny, least of all my three children. I would hope you continue to pen with as much satire as you can muster and I will do the same, minus the Petard. Pleased to be in this company, regardless of sides.

  12. Steve – great topic. What I like to do is read the winemaker’s tasting notes along with professional reviews, and then compare those to my personal views. I don’t have a technical tasting background, so the notes help me out. The most important piece of information I look for in a description of the wine is the drinking window.

    One site that does a great job of listing the winemaker’s notes along with reviews is wine.com. If you look at internet site’s from US wine producers, you will see that the majority of them do a good job of listing the winemaker’s notes (Pine Ridge, Silver Oak, BV to name a few).

  13. Patrick says:

    I learn from tasting notes, but they don’t guide me: While drinking a wine, I make notes. Then I look up other tasting notes on-line and compare my notes with theirs. So I read the notes only after I drink the wine, because I don’t want to be swayed.

  14. I love my tasting notes. I recently worked on a re-brand project were the company was deciding on what to put on the back of their wine bottle. So many times in a tasting room guests want to see the back of the bottle, looking for a reference point to tell them about what they’re drinking. Only to be disappointed by a boring paragraph about the winery. I really hate those paragraphs. Eloquently written, but boring. Well the company decided on both instead of picking just one. In a unique 3 panel design the bottle has a panel with tasting notes and another with the boring paragraph. Now our guests are not so disappointed when they turn the bottle around. Tasting notes are fun and take guess work out for a consumer. I can’t say there is a one size fits all tasting note. I once came across one that noted the wine smelled and tasted like a brazen young cowboy dusty with the smell of lingering hay and horse hair.

  15. David Rossi says:

    I make and sell wine and tasting notes are an invaluable tool for talking to many about wine. We hear it all them time “I really like this, but I am not sure what I am tasting”. The notes let these folks(trade and consumers)get their bearings and start to put the experience into words. This is a good thing because it allows me to dialogue with them and we both learn about what we like and don’t like about the wine.

    Even experienced tasters like to know what I think about the wine and my tasting notes provide a synopsis or as Ron says a “TV Guide” version of the wine. For me this little blurb starts a broader conversation. And with non-experts it is an essential jump start to get things going.

    It’s my “hey baby come here often?, want to see my Pinot collection” line. Works every time.

  16. You are you didn’t mean the 1wd mahna mahna? Like on sesame street?…

  17. Those who are paid to write tasting notes certainly won’t dismiss them. Very difficult to possess the neutrality necessary to arrive at a fair assessment of a topic. But from the sidelines, it is my sense that consumers, not enthusiasts, want to know how much someone with authority liked a wine which is encapsulated in The Number or The Medal. The justification in prose is secondary except for such rudimentary measures like jammy vs. claret style Zin or oak vs. steel fermented Chardonnay.

  18. Tom Wark says:

    I’m at a loss as to what possible rational argument could be made against wine tasting notes in general.

    “It forces me to read!”
    NO.

    “I don’t understand them!”
    GET A DICTIONARY

    “I don’t taste the same things I read in the notes”
    SO? OTHERS DO. GET A PALATE!

  19. I think we are all losing site of the fact that the scores from different reviewers really don’t vary that much. Let’s look at a few wines. 2009 La Lagune (WS 93 to 96, WA 95, IWC 89 to 92). 2005 Leoville Las Cases (WS 100, WA 98, Suckling 98, IWC 95, Wine & Spirits 98). 2009 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (WS 87, WA 91, IWC 89, Wine Enthusiast 91). 2009 Larkmead LMV Salon (WS 94, WA 95+). 2009 Larkmead Solari (WS 91, WA 96). 2009 Chateau Pibran Pauillac (WS 92, WA 90, Wine Enthusiast 92) The difference in those scores is less than 5%, which in my opinion is not significant. Some people prefer Honda Accords over a Toyota Camry. At the end of the day, they are both great cars.

  20. OK, here is the bottom line.

    When people stop reading tasting notes, we wine critics will stop writing them.

    Until then, all the naysayers are just wasting bandwidth.

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