Wine Tasting for Dummies

Posted by The Wine Whore |

What is love?

It�s easy to criticize the work of others. In fact, most people probably spend hours of their daily lives talking about things they don't like. Being a critic is easy because it requires no creative ability other than the knack for pointing out the inadequacies of the things being critiqued.

To discover true love is much more daunting task. Regardless of the subject matter, everyone has their own unique criteria and expectations for what they truly love. I�d like to share my definition of true love in terms of wine, but before I do, there is something important to need to say that will come as a surprise to most people. When it comes to describing what people like about a bottle of wine, I've realized something important:

Tasting notes are BULLSHIT!

Most people see wine as some sort of mythical creature. They hear tales of its awesomeness, maybe even see a picture or two, but never really experience it for themselves. Their realm of knowledge is based entirely on someone else�s perspective. Instead of forming their own opinions, they look to these "experts" to gather what they believe is consciousness about an otherwise misunderstood subject. These recounts which are better known as tasting notes in the wine world, are the nemesis to wine discovery and enlightenment.

Here's a fun game I like to play:
Open up your favorite wine magazine, wine blog, or wine website and read the first tasting note you can find. Here�s a great example of a tasting note written by the infamous wine magazine, Wine Spectator:

    91pts SHOOFLY Shiraz Adelaide 2007
    Polished, plush and generous with its cinnamon and citrus peel-accented plum and cherry flavors.

I am going to have to call BULLSHIT on this one!

Polished and plush? Are you kidding me? Are we talking about shoes, carpet, or wine? People with little wine knowledge read such ambiguous terms and not only believe this crap, but also think that they are less knowledgeable for not being able to come up with such worthless rhetoric on their own. Let�s get one thing straight. The ability to sniff and sip a glass of wine and then spit out a tasting note like this only proves that you are creative and possibly have a large vocabulary. It says nothing about the degree of your wine education.

Maybe it�s only the uptight, elitist wine magazines that are spewing out these mythical tasting notes. Let's go a quick Google search on this wine to see what others have to say...

    "Big, bold and delicious, this wine expresses oodles of spicy dark berry fruits, plums, black pepper and earthy mint"

    "amazing nose, great mid-palate and finish"

    "enough smoke, black fruit and tannins to have tamed a steak"

Unbelievable! No wonder so many people feel like they don�t know anything about wine. They are bewildered by all of the descriptive words being tied together into a string of meaninglessness. It's like a wine version of Mad Libs. Try it! Next time you are enjoying a glass of wine, string together some commonly used loosely related adjectives. Not only is it a lot of fun, but guaranteed to impress people of all levels of wine knowledge. It makes a great party game!

The bottle of wine of my dreams can not be adequately described using such gaudy tasting notes. The only way to do it justice is to put it to your lips and experience it firsthand. One sip and the experience will stain your palate and ruin every other wine that dares to have an affair with your senses. This is true love!

Last night I got into this discussion while sharing a couple of bottles with fellow wine blogger and wine lover of Drink What You Like. I explained to Frank what I thought was the ideal bottle of wine and also exchanged some tasting notes of our own along with the conversation. Here are my thoughts about the two wines we tasted:

    Hollywood and Vine 2480 Cabernet
    Right up there with Enron stock options, this is one of the worst investments I could have ever made. I was actually embarrassed by the fact that I was the one who suggested that we order it. Although the wine was good, it lacked the substantial character and that �wow factor� I expect from this relatively high price bracket. I could have found this wine to be a good value if got three bottles for the price of one.

    Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvee Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2005
    If you like that signature "cola" taste that everyone talks about in a Pinot Noir, this one will deliver. This bottle was a much better value for the price tag than my first selection. Wasn't amazing, but definitely less embarrassing.

My advice: The best way to give your tasting notes is to be honest about what you like or hate about the wine. Ridiculous tasting notes show how many impressive adjectives you can come up with, not how much you know about wine. Instead of telling a tall tale, give your honest recount. Once you master honesty of your palate, you will graduate to a TRUE wine connoisseur instead of just a wine dummy.

We are all out of time for today�s session. Click here to share the story behind the wine of your dreams.

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kitchenmage said...

We like to pick up random inexpensive wines at Trader Joe's and then see how snooty we can sound while reading the label and tasting. "Sassy chocolate leather with hints of marketing hype and a sense of self-importance that lingers on the palate." This is frequently at least as entertaining as drinking the wine.

The Wine Whore said...

That's a great idea! We could write the best 2 buck chuck tasting notes the wine world has ever seen. People won't know if it's a Cabernet or a cabinet being described, but it won't matter because it will sound so classy! :)


Evan Dawson said...

Lot of good and bad in this post, in my very humble opinion. The most important point is well made: Don't think you'll pick up a glass and immediately identify everything that a critic describes. It can be maddening. I recall on my wedding weekend years ago a friend remarking: "The tasting sheet says this red is supposed to be smoke, dried wood, and earth. What the hell is that? Why would you want to drink a golf divot?"

All these years later I not only appreciate the tasting notes, I want to drink a golf divot. The tasting notes you randomly found were not that crazy in my view. Some descriptions are pretty silly, to be sure; I always laugh at pain grille. But extensive descriptors from trusted critics can be extremely helpful, especially when you know a region's profile and what you tend to expect from a wine.

Anyway, good discussion, and another nice post! Cheers.

Frank said...

Hi Randy: Good to get together for wine - enjoyed the conversation.
Agree on your thoughts about tasting notes for the most part - I do feel basic tasting notes do provide consumers some basis for making a somewhat-informed decision about a wine (the avg consumer that is).
Since I have a naturally bad vocabulary, I am against well written tasting notes that i need a Thesaurus to decipher. I will admit that these days my favorite word to use in tasting notes is "supple." Not really sure what that means, but Wine Spectator uses it alot so I went with it... ;-)
Rather than a 'traditional' tasting note, I would prefer a more basic 'wine note' which tells a story about the wine (winemaker, history of winery, property, etc.) - which is what I attempt to do when writing about a wine on my site.
I must say that I could not look more clueless or lost in that photo - are you having problems with your camera? :-)

Matt said...

kitchenmage, that is awesome and I am definitely going to have to start doing that with my friends on our wine nights.

And I couldn't agree with the wine whore more today with this article. I try to avoid the strings of adjectives (sometimes unsuccesfully I might add) when I do reviews. I just try and describe what I'm tasting, what foods might go good with it and if you might like it depending on your other wine likes. and of course I always encourage my readers to buy it and try it themselves, I even give them a link to where I bought it from to help them out.

This is because I don't care how many reviews you read, you can't actually know about wine unless you actually taste it yourself. Otherwise what is even the point?

The Wine Whore said...

Thank you Evan!

I would agree that if written well and by a trusted source, a tasting note could be helpful. However, I think that the problem with so many of them is that they are NOT written well. I probably didn't find the best example of a bad tasting note for this post but the point is that confusing tasting notes actually make people a lot of intimidated by wine. I get so many people who ask me how they can sound like this that it makes me think that they are missing the real reason to drink wine in the first place. Sure, if you have something intelligent to say about a glass of wine, that's one thing... but you don't have to use crazy adjectives to make up for it. It's okay to just describe what you like about it in your own opinion instead.

Thank you for the feedback on the post... I look forward to some great discussion on the topic!


The Wine Whore said...

Hello Frank!

The pleasure was all mine!

I really enjoy how you tell the story about the wine/winery when talking about the wine. So many wineries have such interesting stories behind the bottle. It's fun to discover these stories and share them with others.

I think the problem is with my flash... it has a time delay on it which always takes me by surprise! :)


joeshico said...

Totally agree with the article.
Although Evan makes a good point about extensive descriptors from trusted critics...
"especially when you know a region's profile and what you tend to expect from a wine."
Knowing a region's profile and what to expect, though, is not the average wine buyer. Even if one leans one way, as I did for many years drinking only Tuscan wines, the descriptors at that time meant nothing, nor did the ratings. And even now, as I am only beginning to learn about wine and do like to add what I find in a wine, most of the time my findings or descriptors are not near the same as what I read in the pub reviews, but then again it is nice when my notes do match.

The Wine Whore said...

Thank you Joe!

I whether or not tasting notes are crap, they are intimidating to those people who are new to wine. I just wish more people felt comfortable enough to enjoy a glass of wine without any of the stigma around it. Maybe one day...


CopperBot said...

Hahaha, excellent post! I remember the first bottle of wine I ever tried having a tasting note written on the label... and I kid you not, "hint of pencil shavings" was actually in there. My wife and I still joke about that bottle. Try as we might we could NOT pick up on the flavor. The wine wasn't bad, nothing memorable, but pencil shavings?

The Wine Whore said...

LOL! I actually see that one a lot! Pencil shavings? Seriously? Would that even be something that I would want anywhere near my wine?

Come on folks!


Anonymous said...

A co-worker is a wine "connoisseur" and directed me to buy an expensive 2001 Bordeaux and a decanter (or "carafe") where I was to pour it an hour in advance. The 8-year-old french wine started to look brownish like they say it should, so I was excited. Then I tasted it...

What did I find? It was 90% similar to a $12 bottle poured from the bottle straight after opening.

I can differentiate a crappy "carton" wine from something that tastes good... that's about it. I did notice some oak taste in a 1986 Lopez (Mendoza) once, but that's about it. They say I'm not "trained" enough... my taste buds are OK thank you.

I think most of this "wine secret society" thing is just hype around the ritual. I know I like Malbec, and $12 bottles do me just fine!

The Wine Whore said...

First of all, I am leary of anyone who considers themselves a wine "connoisseur".... in fact when people try to call me that, I immediately explain that I an just a wine hobbiest. That's ALL! I like to drink the stuff, I know a little bit about it, and I always love to share. The rest is, like you said, hype around the ritual.

Sure there's a lot of folks out there that know a TON about wine. Regardless of how much you know about wine, one thing is ALWAYS true: be true to what you like and don't let ANYONE ever tell you otherwise!

Cheers and happy sippin!

P.S. If you send me an email, I'd love to send you a FREE "Forget the snob" bumper sticker just for posting this comment!

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