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!

Fun To Say, Fun To Drink: Albariño

Time to get to know another grape, people! I realize I have been sticking to white wines in this lately, but it's what I have been tasting lately and the wines have been delicious. You just need to know about them.

I don't know if the sentiment has been as heavy as it has a few years ago, but there is a faction of wine drinkers who are in the ABC Club...Anything But Chardonnay. As always, I will be honest with you...I couldn't stand Chardonnay in my early wine-drinking days. My first encounter was an inexpensive California Chardonnay that was full-bodied, low in acid, and so over-oaked it was like sucking on a Werther's Original Hard Candy. No thanks...I became an ABC drinker.

Al Barino, used car salesman. 

Al Barino, used car salesman. 

Of course, over time I learned to get over this and I have styles of Chardonnay I enjoy, but there are still plenty of ABC drinkers out there. One alternative that has often been recommended for this crowd of Chardonnay-haters is Albariño (ahl-bah-REE-nyoh...not "Al Barino", who sounds like a dude trying to sell you a clunky used car). What is it about this grape that makes writers sing its praises to ABC drinkers, and why do ABC drinkers seem to enjoy it?

Albariño: the tasty Spanish white grape. Not a used car salesman.

Albariño: the tasty Spanish white grape. Not a used car salesman.

Albariño is a variety native to the Iberian Peninsula, though Spain's Galicia region is responsible for the majority of worldwide production. This is known as "Green Spain," where rainfall is higher here than any other Spanish wine zone. Albariño evolved to have thick skins to resist the potential for rotting grapes, so resulting wines can have some texture and body to it along the lines of Chardonnay. Its aromas are also more assertive than Chardonnay's, showcasing a citrus and floral component along with peaches and apricots that are more reminiscent of a dry Riesling. In fact, there is a theory that Albariño is indeed a clone of Riesling, whose name is taken from Alba (white) and Riño (from the Rhine, a major German river).

Your subzones of Rías Baixas. Image credit:  Rías Baixas Wines.

Your subzones of Rías Baixas. Image credit: Rías Baixas Wines.

When Albariño was awarded DO status (a protected demonination of origin), Spanish law says you can't name a DO after a grape variety, so you find Albariño made under the name "Rías Baixas," a specific zone within the Galicia region. Within Rías Baixas, distinct "terroirs" emerged, where Albariño shows itself differently in these micro-regions within Rías Baixas. For instance, Val do Salnés is cool and wet, so a mineral and herbaceous flavor may result. Condado do Tea gets hot during the growing season, leading to fuller, softer, tropical fruit-flavored wines.

Additionally, note that Albariño is also called Alvarinho in Portugal, most notably in the wines of Vinho Verde, just over the Minho River (pictured above on the map). The Portuguese version is definitely a wine to try, and can sometimes be found for a few dollars less than the Spanish expression. Albariño's best food partners are seafood: shrimp, scallops, crab, and lobster all come to mind.

No matter which section of Iberia you choose to explore, Albariño is worth seeking out, whether you are part of the ABC crowd or not. Here's a flight of three to taste and compare if you are feeling daring!

Orowines Kentia Albariño ($14): Lemon, melons, and tropical fruits. Very fruity and balanced and a great way to introduce yourself to Albariño.

Legado del Conde Albariño ($16): Very intense grapefuit and fresh green herbs on the nose, yet fuller-bodied than the Kentia.

Aveleda Vinho Verde Alvarinho ($13): Orange and lemon zest with floral notes. Citrusy on the palate with just a touch of stone fruits and mango.

Sangria: "The Only Acceptable Use Of Spanish Wine"

Whoa, whoa, whoa...what are you doing, Mr. Wine Expert?? Haven't you been telling us all along to explore and have an open mind about wines and spirits of the world?

Sangria: a refreshing "patio pounder" of a drink that you need this summer. Image credit: Food Network

Sangria: a refreshing "patio pounder" of a drink that you need this summer. Image credit: Food Network

Yes, I know the title of this post looks like some scorching hot take on wine, but please take note of something very important. These are not my words. This is a proclamation I have heard from some people who might be close to me say on more than one occasion. It's a pretty strong statement that reflects how some of us feel about certain types of wine that might not be our favorites. Some may not like the floral notes of Riesling. Others might be in the "ABC" (Anything But Chardonnay) crowd. Perhaps Australian Shiraz is too high in alcohol for one, while Beaujolais Nouveau is too light and candy-like for another.

Is it a fair stance to take on a wine? To those in agreement, yes. To those who love wines despised by others, of course not. But that's the beauty of the seemingly infinite styles of wine available to us today; the United States has more choices of sophisticated wines than ever. You are going to have wines that agree with your tastes and preferences, and some that you just don't care for. It applies to food, music, movies, art...whatever ignites a great sensation for you falls flat for someone else.

All of this is OK, by the way. We can go into more depth about this topic, but that's for another day. Instead, let's revisit the original statement above. What is it about some of the wines from Spain that can offend someone who would otherwise enjoy them in Sangria?

See this map? It is impossible to lump Spain into a uniform style of wine. All of the nooks and crannies throughout the country lead to a wide array of styles. Image credit:  Foods & Wines From Spain

See this map? It is impossible to lump Spain into a uniform style of wine. All of the nooks and crannies throughout the country lead to a wide array of styles. Image credit: Foods & Wines From Spain

First, let's start with "Spanish wine". I have spent a lot of time helping people delineate Spain into regions rather than lump them all into a uniform style. Rioja is the wine that comes to mind for many in the U.S. as it is easily the top-selling Spanish region, with Tempranillo and Garnacha being the two main grape varieties used to make the red wines. Tempranillo can be berry-scented with some tobacco notes in its youth; with age, the tobacco gets amplified along with evolving into more leathery, meaty flavors. Garnacha (a.k.a. Grenache) is full-bodied, high in alcohol, low in acid and very fruity. When handled haphazardly in the winery or not cared for in the vineyards, wines made from Garnacha can oxidize easily, turning into flavors caramel and road tar.

So yeah...if your first experience with Spain is a poorly-made Rioja, I can see why someone might be turned off. However, those qualities that Tempranillo and Garnacha show in their youth in a soundly-produced inexpensive wine, perhaps even coming from a region outside of Rioja, are ideal for a Sangria.

Now for what Sangria is...traditionally, it's going to be a red wine with brandy and fruit added to it to make a sort of "wine punch." Easy to knock back while sitting outside on a warm summer day, the brandy and fresh fruit (strawberries, peaches, plums, oranges, and more) provide some liveliness and refreshment. White sangria can be made, too (perhaps with apples, white peaches, and a vanilla bean) using a white wine from the Rueda region of Spain; Rueda's wines are made from Verdejo, though Sauvignon Blanc is gaining more credibility here, too. There are many permutations of recipes for Sangria out there; some might include lemon juice or other fruit liqueurs. If you like bubbles, use Cava as the base wine, or use some club soda to add fizz. The possibilities are seemingly endless. Beyond that, you can also buy ready-made Sangria, but as I professed in previous cocktail posts, you will find mixing your own to be more rewarding.

So when life gives you "Spanish wine", make Sangria...even if you don't necessarily care for it. Its youthful fruitiness is a perfect base for the refreshing qualities of a good Sangria. There is no need to spend a lot of money; anything more expensive will have its subtle nuances blended away. Here are some great choices...both for drinking on their own for a casual weeknight, or for turning into Sangria.

Bodegas Breca Garnacha de Fuego ($9): Hailing from the Aragon region of Spain, this is full-bodied and packed with straightforward cherry and plum flavors. With a touch of baking spice, this is easy base material for your Sangria. If you are grilling a some red meat, this is a fine accompaniment on its own.

Bodegas Atalaya "Laya" Red Blend ($10): A blend of Garnacha and Monastrell (an intense, high-alcohol, fruity/smoky grape variety), this wine comes from the Almansa region in southeastern Spain. This has dark cherry and blackberry flavor that adds a different dimension to your Sangria. Also a good partner with smoked red meat or grilled game meat.

Bodegas Menade "Creta" Rueda Old Vines ($12): Looking for a white wine? This Verdejo-dominant wine gives you citrus and peach fruit flavor that is perfect for Sangria.

Need a way to make Sangria without a recipe? Here is a great guide for you to assemble your own. Experiment as much as possible...whether you are making Sangria, or enjoying a glass of Spanish wine on its own! If you want to explore what Spain has to offer, Wines From Spain is a great starting point.

Ask Tony: What's The Deal With Asparagus And Wine?

In my best Jerry Seinfeld voice, "What's the deal with asparagus?"

In my best Jerry Seinfeld voice, "What's the deal with asparagus?"

Welcome to my newest segment: Ask Tony! You have questions, I (maybe) have answers.

Spring's arrival means the first bounty of green vegetables. While these don't make it to the forefront of a meal for some, certainly this is an important time for the vegetarian and vegan diners out there. Still...you should be having greens on the side with your meat dishes! Listen to your parents for once!

Asparagus: rough stuff if it comes in contact with the wrong wine. Proceed with caution!

Asparagus: rough stuff if it comes in contact with the wrong wine. Proceed with caution!

So among the leafy harvest of kale, Swiss chard, collards, and salad greens also comes the distinct, stalky vegetable called asparagus. It's chemical composition is unique; there are things called "asparagusic acid," "asparagosides," "asparagine," and "asparenyol" involved. These are group of building blocks that make asparagus so asparagus-y. To boot, 60-80% of the asparagus-consuming American population notices quite the "aroma" that emerges when you need to use the potty. All of these asparagus-y chemical components become the bane of many a wine pairing enthusiast. One has to be careful when marrying wines to these spears of green goodness. The wrong choice leads to overly tart, metallic, and astringent flavors on your palate. It's a beyond unpleasant chemical reaction for your senses.

I know...it doesn't sound like there is a lot of upside to getting wine into the equation when asparagus is being served. However, there is always a way. It's not impossible to enjoy both. A really simple guideline is to go for fresh, fruity, unoaked white wines. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Finger Lakes or Alsace Riesling immediately come to mind. You can even go with a Grüner Veltliner, which has always been an equalizer when it comes to greens.

A Grenache-based rosé wine, such as those coming from Navarra (Spain) or from the Côtes du Rhône in France will give you fruitiness if you are not a fan of white wine. If you must have a red, it can be a tougher pairing; any tannins will create chaos. Mild, unoaked, low-tannin reds such as the Gamay-based wines of Beaujolais would be useful in this spot, but go simple. If you spend for the "cru" wines, some (such as those from Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Côte de Brouilly, and Brouilly) have tannin in there; you might want to search for cru regions like Fleurie, which are lighter and gentler.

If all else fails, wrap a piece of prosciutto around a bundle of asparagus or cover asparagus with cheese. That will make life easy and you can just drink whatever you want!

Here are a few specific options for you. Try them for yourself and let me know what you think!

If you have questions you want answered, get in touch with me and maybe I will feature your question in another segment!

Silver Thread Finger Lakes Dry Riesling ($18)

Vibrant and peachy, this dry example from New York finishes clean and should help tame the green monster.

Dog Point Vineyard Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc ($20)

Bursting with passionfruit, herbs and a hint of stony earthiness, the ripeness will work wonders with asparagus.

Vega Sindoa Navarra Garnacha Rosado ($11)

Not having any part of white wine? This simple pink wine gives you lots of strawberry and spiced flavors at a terrific bargain.

Chateau de Pizay Beaujolais ($15)

A producer who has been a longtime favorite at the store, this is straightforward raspberry and baking spice that will satisfy the red wine fan.

New In Town: Wine, Food, Music & More

After a little time off, I'm back with lots to share. With each passing day, I learn more and more about how vibrant my shore town is in the winter time. I am also fortunate to have landed at a great shop that isn't all about itself, but rather cultivates partnerships throughout the community to put on some fantastic events. 

This is a loaded week, and the Nor'easter will be out of here by the time we get started. If you are in the area, come by and see me or any of our great people in town!

Photo of the Douro Valley from the IVDP web site

Photo of the Douro Valley from the IVDP web site

Wednesday, January 25th, 7:00pm: I'm teaching a Port 101 course at the Divine Wine Emporium classroom! Port wine's fruity and fiery character makes it a great way to end a meal or enjoy as a nightcap. You will learn everything to do with Port from vineyard to bottle, and we are tasting six different styles (including a Vintage Port). All of this for just $20 per student. You can call us at the store, 860-691-1053, to register and make payment.

Thursday, January 26th, 6:30pm: Flanders Fish Market & Restaurant Food & Wine Series - Spanish Edition. Last week's Italian session welcomed 62 guests! Can we top that number this week? Ken Turcotte, Owner of Divine Wine Emporium, and Olivia Formica, Head Chef of Flanders Fish, will present four small plates and five wines for just $35 per person. Call Divine Wine to make your reservation. We have received overwhelmingly positive feedback about these evenings, and we can't wait to bring it to you again on Thursday. Can't make it? No problem...next week's final session will be a French theme.

Friday, January 27th, 7:00pm: Chris Leigh, Director of the Mystic Blues Festival and Owner of the String Theory School of East Lyme, joins us for a concert in the classroom! He will be joined by another unbelievable local musician, Josi Davis, who has performed for us several times in the past. $10 payable at the door, all proceeds will go toward this summer's Mystic Blues Festival! Call the store to make your reservation!

Friday, January 27th-Sunday January 29th: Mohegan Sun Wine Fest. It's a huge show; I have never been, but possibly going on Sunday. Details are included right here for you!