WHY SHOULD YOU TAKE TASTING NOTES?
Don't overthink this question. It is NOT so that you can show other people either your expertise in wine, or your lack thereof. It is NOT so that you can say things that make you sound like you stepped out of the movie SOMM (things that most people find horribly pretentious). And it is NOT to make you feel like you should be sticking to fruity cocktails and Natty Light. The reason you should make your own tasting notes is to help you follow Rule 1 of wine enjoyment.
RULE 1: DRINK WHAT YOU LIKE, BUT KNOW WHAT THAT ACTUALLY IS
It is through tasting that you get a feel for the characteristics of wine that appeal to you. If you taste grassiness (that in some cases strays into what people unappetizingly describe as cat pee) and wet stones with mouth-puckering acidity and it really gets you going, then you will learn that Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc is right up your alley. On the other hand, if that highly acidic wine (note: high acid is not a bad thing, unbalanced high acid is) tastes like passionfruit, guava, maybe a ripe pink grapefruit, then New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is more your style.
Similarly, if your taste buds are overjoyed by punchy, tannic reds, then the subtlety of a Pinot Noir from Burgundy or Oregon will leave you disappointed. Instead, angle for an Argentinian Malbec, a classic Napa Cab, a Sagrantino from Italy, or a young Bordeaux.
Know what you know, and what you don't know
As you learn more from building your mental wine database through tasting notes, you will also dispel many misconceptions you may have about wine. One commonly encountered misunderstanding about wine is this: when people say I hate Chardonnay, but I love Chablis (or vice versa). Why is this a problem? Because Chablis is not a grape, it is an appellation and a region. And the grape used to make real Chablis is...now you've guessed it, Chardonnay.
What many people, especially Americans, don't know is that Chardonnay is not always the butter bomb that used to dominate California-style Chardonnay. French Chardonnay, has always had a more subtle and lighter style - a style that is alluring and absolutely delicious.
Do you need to know all of this to make tastings and tasting notes worthwhile for you. Of course not. But, the more you learn, the more you will be able to hone in on what matters to you when choosing a wine, the more likely it is that you will find wines you love at stores and restaurants, and the more you will enjoy your overall wine experience.
IMPORTANT TAKEAWAY: NEVER let frustration distract you from the task at hand - finding a way for you to describe the wine so that you can remember it, whether you liked it, and what characteristics you want to look for in other wines. As long as you have a consistent routine and vocabulary for tasting, you will be able to develop a helpful understanding of what you like and what you don't. And at the end of the day that is what matters.
SO IF IT'S ALL ABOUT WHAT YOU LIKE, WHY SHOULD YOU CARE ABOUT SOMEONE ELSE'S TASTING NOTES?
You should consider other people's tasting notes - whether mine, your best friend's, your mother's colleague's aunt's next-door-neighbor's UPS delivery man's, or wine expert Robert Parker's - only as a resource. Don't look at them as a lecture about what you must find in a wine. Your taste buds and experiences are different from anyone else's. Instead, look at them the same way you would a book review, a movie review, or a restaurant review. They are a data point for you to consider.
But other people's notes can be very helpful and informative, especially when you are just starting out with making your own notes. Oftentimes, you will sip a wine and think "Wow, there is a very familiar flavor here but I just can't quite put my finger on it." Look at someone else's notes and, ah ha!, it was strawberries.
Other people's notes can also help you more accurately characterize wines. You might think that dry feeling in your mouth means that the wine has really high tannins. Look at other people's notes and you might see that they are consistently finding medium tannins but very high acidity.
Better yet, if you find someone whose palate is similar to yours, then you can quickly find new wines to try that you are likely to enjoy. If the big, bold Bordeaux style is what you like, then find every red that Robert Parker has given a score of 90 or higher. Chances are you will love them.
But, probably like you, I can get frustrated when I hear tasting notes like "freshly cut garden hose," "a newly blossomed Hawthorn flower" or "the Amalfi Coast on a Thursday afternoon in late August." Frankly, I often have difficulty coming up with the 15 or more different aromas and flavors that many trained experts find in wine. Which leads us to Rule #2:
RULE 2: DESCRIBE WINES USING YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES AND TASTES, NOT SOMEONE ELSE'S
The best way for you to create that database that will serve you well in the future is to tie your tasting to personal experiences and memories that will flood back each time you experience a certain aroma or flavor again.
So if you have never smelled a Hawthorn tree, you shouldn't be surprised if you can't identify the scent of newly-blossomed Hawthorn flowers in a glass of wine. But if you know what the Amalfi Coast smells like on Thursdays in August, I'm thrilled for you. Go right ahead and put that in your note! It is your experiences that matter.
WHAT INFORMATION IS IN MY TASTING NOTES?
Here is how I have structured my tasting notes. They are an amalgamation of approaches I have learned from various courses and independent research. Like many systems, I focus on three primary aspects of the wine - what I see, what I smell, and what I taste - before drawing an overall conclusion about the wine.
I try to give you an extensive description in each tasting note, covering aromas, flavors, and structural characteristics like acidity, tannins, body and finish. I tell what I can about the presence of oak (or lack thereof). And I note aromas flavors that arise from fermentation processes and aging (what the experts refer to as secondary and tertiary characteristics).
But I have also tried to condense some of the most common tasting characteristics into easy-to-understand graphics. For instance, I (along with many other wine writers in the world) rate a wine's acidity using a scale of low/medium-/medium/medium+/high. But I can't that to be a quick visual, so what you will see in the tasting notes is one of the following:
In addition to rating scales, I have added tags to each tasting note so that you can search by specific characteristics. So if you like highly acidic wines (welcome to my world!), you can sort out tasting notes using the tag acid - high.
Finally, I give an overall assessment of how much I liked or didn't like the wine, and what types of occasions I think it is good for (see my post on drawing conclusions for more details). Again, I want the conclusion to be quickly comprehensible, so I use graphics showing you exactly what I thought. Because of the approach I am taking, my ratings aren't standard numbering systems, but a qualitative assessment of the wine, which is something you are far more likely to do in a real setting.
A wine that is something essentially undrinkable (which fortunately doesn’t happen very often unless a wine has faults)
A wine that is just so-so. You can drink it, but it doesn't excite you and you wouldn’t go out of your way for it or serve it to your friends
A wine that you could see being a go-to wine for an evening at home or more casual dinner parties
Wines that you could see keeping on hand for more formal events or those nights when you want something a little better than normal
Wines that you want to cellar and keep for only the most special of occasions
IMPORTANT NOTE: Quality ratings do NOT also correspond to a price scale! It is true that wines at the lower end of the scale are more likely to be cheaper and wines at the higher end will most often be more expensive. BUT, you can find very reasonably priced wines that you will rate very highly. And you can find plenty of expensive wines that will make you say "Meh".
My tasting notes on this site are just that - MY thoughts on each wine. You might have a completely different experience, and that is just fine. I do not profess to be anything close to a tasting expert.
Trying (a bit unsuccessfully, I fear) to keep things as simple as possible in this tasting overview, I put together separate posts for each aspect of wine tasting. Take a look at some or all of them as you see fit at your leisure.
REMEMBER: Tasting notes are not meant to be a chore, nor are they meant for you to perfectly follow what someone else has told you to. They are to help you develop your palate and sense memory, learn what you like and why, and give you the foundation for choosing wines in the future.
Get tasting, get writing, but most of all ENJOY! Happy drinking and have a glass for me!