Monday, April 26, 2010

The "T" word, followed by the "N" word

I have nothing against tasting notes. Truly I don't. Some people write such lively and lovely ones, one wants to read them for the joy of it, not necessarily in order to bone up about the wines being described. Interesting, that: the tasting note is normally a thing with an expiration date. Who wants to know ten years down the line what a freshly released Sancerre tasted like, back in the day? But the effort of insight and originality remains persuasive, timelessly. Creative minds work with material and produce novelty and brilliance, and for this I am glad.

Yes, you can't go reading through the last pages of the Wine Spectator magazine, as someone (I forget who) recently wrote. But on the other hand, you can't simply have a lavish description of the winemaker or the bottle label or vinification practices or time in barrel or just say "we enjoyed it so much!"; a little more needs to be said about the experience of a wine.

Yet two days ago, I hit my tasting note nadir. I sat in front of a list of wines and my sharp memory of each, and there was just no way I was going to extract anything interesting, let alone a series of quips and quirks and potentially thrilling and enlightening material. I gave it a bash. But lord, it was wan. And I tucked the document away, and eventually, reader, I deleted the document.

I have nothing against points. I like stars and hearts and numbers, they catch your eye. I also have nothing against descriptions of dogwood and plums and pear tarts. Those are pretty, and evocative.

But it's true that a tasting note, when you get right down to it, is like a Schechuan peppercorn. It's a loud, spicy blast in the middle of what needs to be meatier to handle the intensity of its purported "objectiveness."

And points are like a metal skewer: eat around them.

Pic by genial writer Manuel Camblor.


Florida Jim said...

As you know, tasting notes are just about all I write on most wine sites.
I do it for a variety of reasons:
1) Knowing that I will write forces me to pay attention
2) I only write about wines that I have had over the course of an evening, which includes dinner - so, at minimum, I feel like I gave them a chance
3) I think they are a nice place to start a conversation
4) I think they are opportunities to become acquainted and to allow people a glimpse of yourself
5) Some notes are better than others; but then, so are some wines and, for that matter, some people
6) I like doing it.

For those who take them too seriously, I have little time. For those who do it for much the same reasons as I . . . well, I just hope I get to meet them.
Best, Jim

The Wine Mule said...

What Jim said, except for #2: I often taste wines because it's part of my job, and my job sometimes means giving wines less attention than they deserve. Which may explain why I don't sweat it too much on the days when all the reds just taste red. I know I'm not going to stop just because my sensory faculties have taken the day off. It's not permanent.

Also: If we don't give notes, who will? Are we supposed to give it over to Parker and the Wine Dictator and have theirs be the only voices?

And: There are people in this world who assume that because they're good at something, it must not be all that difficult, and is therefore unworthy of their attention. This is not true. Many people besides me, as you well know, believe you are a truly gifted writer of tasting notes. So, you know...etc.

Angelus81 said...

I discovered your blog a few months ago and really enjoy spending some time on it. In fact, I started my own blog a little while ago and really relate to what you are doing as I'm French and writing in English on wine.
I allowed myself to put a link to your blog on mine, I hope you won't mind.

Anyway, keep up your great work, it's a pleasure reading you.

Anonymous said...

This is a great blog. I really liked what you had to say about wine "tasting notes." Interesting perspective.

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