How To Write Meaningful Wine Tasting Notes

Make the wines mean something to you.

Make the wines mean something to you.

When you are out shopping for wines, let’s face it…there is an overwhelming number of them to choose from. Part of the fun in trying different wines is tapping into your palate; understanding what you like and what you don’t like are equally important. So what better way to document the journey of wine exploration by writing some tasting notes?

“But Tony,” you may be asking, “where do I begin?”

This is a fair question, because if you are going to do it, you want it to have meaningful data that you can refer back to at some point in the future. I feel very confident in saying that you all know what you like when it comes to flavors and aromas. The hard part can be articulating the sensations you are getting as you try a wine for the first time. Not only will you be getting know a wine for yourself, but chances are you may be sharing information about this wine with friends, family, acquaintances (and enemies, if you think a wine is terrible).

Your notes need to be somewhere in between…

“This is good.”

and:

“A lovely bouquet of narcissus and lilac leap out of the glass followed by candied pineapple and lemon curd. The kaleidoscope of aromas is joined by citrus fruit, crushed stone, and lightly toasted bread. The palate is expansive and rich on the attack, but tightens up some on the energetic finish.”

Side note: If I ever discuss a wine and I write a something like the above actual tasting note I read this week, feel free to unfollow/unfriend/disown me. It’s not my style. I am trying to pull you into wine, not push you away. I guess a daffodil (a.k.a. “narcissus”) doesn’t invoke enough of a romantic image, and who knew you could smell through a kaleidoscope! [end rant].

My (half) kidding aside, make your notes in a way that you and others can understand. There’s no need to go out of your way to write down a fancy descriptor (unless that flavor/aroma obviously shows itself AND your circle of friends will recognize it). You can use a wine journal geared toward tasting, a plain old spiral notebook, or an app. So let’s go step-by-step…

Observe It

Color is not going to indicate quality, but will help you see faults. For example, if you opened a 2018 unoaked Sauvignon Blanc from Chile and it pours cloudy and brown instead of star bright and lemon yellow, throw it away. If the white wine is golden or amber colored rather than water white or green-yellow, it could be a sign of age. If the color of a red wine is more brick red rather than purple-ruby, chances are you are looking at a red wine with some age on it. If the red wine is pale in color, don’t be put off…color intensity does not equate to quality; many times it can just be indicative of a grape variety. For instance, Nebbiolo wines from Piedmont are pale and delicate in color, but loaded with flavor and structural components (acid, alcohol, tannins) made for long-aging in a cellar. An $8 large brand red blend from Chile may be deep in color, but flavors could be one-dimensional and finish short on you. As for looking for tears or “legs” on a glass of wine after you swirl it, they’re pretty but they mean absolutely nothing when you want to assess quality. Make a note on color and then…

Smell It

If you can identify specific flowers you smell in a wine, go for it, but if you are not totally sure you can always call the wine “floral.”

If you can identify specific flowers you smell in a wine, go for it, but if you are not totally sure you can always call the wine “floral.”

Does your wine smell like wet cardboard or a musty basement? If so, the wine isn’t bad for your health, but it is likely going to minimize your enjoyment. This is courtesy of “cork taint.” If we have avoided that, then start noting what you are smelling.

You can group aromas into categories to keep them simple and more generic. Is the wine floral? Fruity? Do you smell spices? Does the wine smell “green” with earthy, herbaceous, or unripe aromas? Do you smell something nutty or woody? These are easy to use when you are unsure of what you are smelling, because these categories are distinct from one another. If you want to dive into specific flowers (i.e. violets), fruits (i.e. peaches), spices (i.e. cinnamon), and herbs and grasses, go for it. From there, how intense are the aromas…Light or strong? Make notes on intensity and types of aromas you get on the nose, then…

Taste It

A mouthful to swirl around in your mouth so you get all the sensations is all you need; this helps you determine if you mouth waters (presence of acid), dries out (presence of tannin), feels fiery in the back of your throat (presence of alcohol), or comes off as sweet. See if anything you smelled earlier is confirmed on your palate. Sometimes a wine that is spicy on the nose tastes fruity, or vice-versa. Notice if the texture feels light-bodied and on the watery side or full-bodied and creamy. Maybe the texture feel somewhere in-between. A wine feels balanced on the palate when none of these aspects is screaming out for attention over the others. After making notes on how the wine tastes…

Savor It

This is possibly your best indicator of combined quality and enjoyment. Do the pleasant flavors linger on your palate after you close your mouth and swallow the wine? No alcohol burn? Is it refreshing with acidity? Is there an interesting flavor that stands out? Are there many flavors going on that you can’t quite pick out, but make you feel happy? These are all components of wine that make you want to go back for another sip. If the flavors hit you quickly in the beginning but fade fast, or the alcohol burns, or the fruit intensity doesn’t feel in balance with the acids and tannins, the wine may not be as enjoyable after multiple sips. Make notes of these items, then…

Personalize It

If drinking a wine reminds you of this, jot it down! Image credit:  Food Network

If drinking a wine reminds you of this, jot it down! Image credit: Food Network

I spend a whole lot of time researching, analyzing, and critically tasting wines. While it is a part of my job that I really like, there is nothing like adding something personal to it. Did the wine smell like a botanical garden you walked through one Saturday afternoon? Make note of it. Did you have the wine with friends at dinner somewhere? Write that down. Did you open a bottle for a special occasion? Does the wine remind you of something from childhood? The Boss at Divine Wine always remarks how a good Argentine Malbec reminds him of blueberry pie baking when he was a kid. This is how you make a meaningful connection to the wines you drink.

Share It

Was it good? Really good? The best wine you ever had? Share it with others. Talk about it over lunch. Share it on Facebook or Instagram. Let your retailers and restaurants know how good the wines are. This kind of feedback helps everyone stay in business.

Now you should have a solid picture of what you just tasted. Snap a pic of the label/bottle. Make sure you write down the name of the wine and the vintage. Check out the back label and note who the importer or supplier is, and you may begin to see a pattern of what you like based on that particular portfolio.

Want an example of finished tasting notes? Check this out straight from my own notebook below. All written in plain language, no bizarre terminology. You can do this.

Wine: Menade Rueda Verdejo

menade.jpg

Supplier/Importer: European Cellars

Vintage: 2016

Price: $15

Color: Golden

Nose: Green olives, thyme, nutty. Aromas are intense.

Palate: Medium-bodied with texture, no alcohol burn, green apples, earthy, nutty, and savory.

Finish: Refreshing acidity, flavors stay with me for a while.

Overall impression: Very good for the dollar and Organic. Reminds me of the plates of olives and bread we get at Becco in NYC. I dig the label, too.

As always, if you have questions, please get in touch with a comment below. Good luck in developing your own library of tasting notes!

Drinking Religiously

Much of our modern drinking culture stems from the work of monks during the Middle Ages. Even though much of their lives were spent serving a higher calling by attending multiple church services per day and translating texts to other languages, the monks also provided medical care, farmed the land and among other things, produced beer and wine. Of particular note, the Paulaner Friars in Bavaria (Munich) created a beer that would sustain them during the fasting periods when richer food like meat (where with bread was a staple of the monk’s diet) was a no-no. This style is referred to as the doppelbock.

Behold…my beer-inator!

Behold…my beer-inator!

The bock family of lagers are strong and malty with no real hoppy character. At 6.0-7.0% abv, the bocks are smooth, creamy, and rich in texture with a caramel flavor. The Paulaner Friars took this style to the next level in strength and richness with the doppel (double) bock, where the beers were even darker and fuller-bodied, with an abv checking in around 7.5-8.0%; modern examples by craft brewers can take this up to an abv as high as 12.0% with toasty flavors entering the equation, essentially “liquid bread” to feed the monks. When the fasting period was over, the lighter and hoppier maibock (also referred to as helles lager) was consumed in celebration.

The Paulaner Friars called this the “Salvator,” which translates to “savior,” and to this day many doppelbock beers include -ator in its name in reverence to the foundation of this beer style. Fun fact: bock beers, where “ein bock” translates to “billy goat,” will frequently depict goats on the labels.

15ae3720-469a-4190-a953-8ebf2a79188f.jpg

Whether you observe Ash Wednesday today and the Lenten season, or you just want to introduce yourself to a new beer style that will warm you up during these remaining chilly days, reach for a doppelbock. Additionally, if you are a fan of Belgian Dubbels, try its lager counterpart to the east. Here are three for you to find.

b93127cc-2a89-4bca-b3eb-8358e5b3fce1.jpg

Paulaner Salvator ($11/6-pack): The granddaddy of them all, this beer has been made for 375 years. The Salvator has a creamy texture with a chocolate-covered caramel flavor backed up by light hoppiness to create balance on your palate. 7.9% abv

Ayinger Celebrator ($14/4-pack): darker and maltier than the Salvator, but drier on the finish, the flavor profile shows more of a toasted bread and espresso character. It’s kind of like drinking breakfast (which 500 years ago was exactly the idea). 7.2% abv

d51fe5ec-114e-4262-baf2-81ef926c36c6.jpg

Tröegs Tröegenator ($11/6-pack): Here is an American take on this style from central Pennsylvania, a region that traces its history to German settlers. The Tröegenator shows more of a reddish color than dark brown and has more noticeable hops and fruit than the traditional producers, but it still sticks to the malty character that defines the doppelbock style. 8.2% abv. NOTE: there is also a Bourbon barrel-aged version of this beer, where the alcohol is jacked up to 9.8% abv, available in 12.7 oz bottles that are about $15 per bottle.

Have No Fear...I'm Still Here

The time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s tends be a little hectic, and things have finally slowed down to a more manageable pace. Despite not having posted about booze in a while, trust me…I have been sampling plenty of good stuff and you deserve to know about it.

petit clocher.jpg

So today I am keeping it very simple: here’s a three-bottle flight of French wines I have tasted since Thanksgiving that is worth your time, money, and effort to find in your local beverage depot. Three different styles from three different regions of France. Ready…go!

Domaine du Petit Clocher Anjou Blanc ($14): Chenin Blanc continues to be an underrated grape variety, and you get 100% of it here. Lemon curd flavors and a fleshy texture are countered by a zing of acidity to balance things out. A solid way to introduce yourself to the Loire Valley’s style of Chenin Blanc.

aufranc.jpg

Pascal Aufranc Chénas Vignes de 1939 ($16): The “Cru” level wines of Beaujolais have always been some of my favorite light reds as they have more substance than village-level Baeujolais and definitely more depth than the candy-like Nouveau. This wine is made from 80 year old vines, featuring violet aromas, vibrant strawberry fruit, and a stony/earthy character with gentle tannins.

darcins.jpg

Chateau d’Arcins Haut-Medoc ($25): A 50-50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot., this wine shows textbook blackberry and cedarwood flavors and aromas with noticeable tannin and acid that are synonymous with Bordeaux from the Left Bank. The wine I had was from the 2014 vintage, which is a damn fine year for Bordeaux, but you may need to let the wine air out a bit to soften (pour this into a decanter and let it sit for a couple of hours before drinking). With time, the texture becomes more plush, the blackberry fruit seems riper and more powerful, and a dark chocolatey note seems to come out on the finish.

Upcoming Wine & Spirits Seminars

For those of you who don’t know, not only do I spend time working on my personal beverage blog, but I also have the glitzy position of Director of Marketing & Education at the Divine Wine Emporium here in the shoreline village of Niantic, CT. With fall coming up, it means we start rounding up guest speakers from different wine and spirits companies to tell good stories and of course, pour samples for us to try.

So let me be a shill and give some press to Divine Wine today. Our calendar is filling up fast, and we are getting the festivities started tomorrow night. The guest speaker programs are typically free, while our in-house educational sessions require a fee of some kind. Here’s a rundown of what we have coming up, and if you are in town give a call to Divine Wine at (860) 691-1053 to RSVP for any of the programs below.

Sntm2S9k_400x400.jpg

Thursday, September 20th, 7:00pm (Cost: $0): Single Cask Nation & More. Josh Hatton, founder of Single Cask Nation and Northeast Regional Manager for ImpEx Beverage, will be talking whisk(e)y with us. He has seven whiskies in total to share, two of which come from Single Cask Nation. Other products include Kilchoman and Isle of Skye from Scotland and Ohishi from Japan. Josh is a great guy, who I got to know back in March at a trade tasting with Skurnik Wines & Spirits.

piazzo-logo.png

Wednesday, September 26th, 7:00pm (Cost: $0): Piazzo Winery. We welcome this outstanding producer of Piedmont wines to the classroom. We already carry the Piazzo Barolo, and we will be tasting a range of other wines from the region (expect this to be a red wine-leaning seminar). Marco, the grandson of Armando Piazzo who is heavily involved at the winery, will be our presenter for the evening.

DivWineS.png

Wednesday October 10th/17th/24th, 7:00pm (Cost: $100 for the three sessions): Wine 101. The Boss himself, Ken Turcotte, Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET Advanced Level III is running his tremendous foundation wine course that he has taught to nearly 1,000 students over the last 16 years. He covers everything from field to bottle in a fun, casual setting over three Wednesdays in October. The tuition covers all study materials and wines that will be tasted.

ginlane-logo-lg.png

Thursday, October 25th, 7:00pm (Cost TBD): Gin Lane 1751. Geoff Curley, founder of Gin Lane 1751, is extremely passionate about gin and works to not only build his brand, but to promote the gin category. He will be offering a full seminar on gin, complete with sampling four products, and providing practical know-how in the form of cocktails, classic and modern.