Build A Better Tasting Note
Eric Asimov, the wine columnist of The New York Times, was one of the featured speakers at a wine bloggers conference last month in Virginia. During the Q & A session that followed his talk, he was asked what sort of collective action he’d like to see wine bloggers take. It was a tough question—I’d probably have suggested something like getting high at the afterparty—but Asimov offered an interesting answer: he urged the assembled to refrain from writing tasting notes for a year. Earlier, during his presentation, he had discussed the inadequacy of tasting notes, which has been a recurring theme with him. Back in February, he wrote a column prescribing a radical change in wine nomenclature: he encouraged grape nuts to drop all the cherry-and-berry verbiage and to limit themselves to just two adjectives, sweet or savory. Although the article generated a lot of discussion, his idea doesn’t seem to have won any converts.
I certainly share Asimov’s frustration with tasting notes. Wine is difficult to describe, and to be blunt, most of the leading purveyors of tasting notes are not especially deft writers. The typical “professional” tasting note is long on outlandish descriptors, short on genuine insight, which surely goes a long way to explaining why numerical ratings have proven to be so appealing. But as I’ve said before, I believe that tasting notes, when done with some care and craft, have value: well-chosen words convey far more information than a mere number. Moreover, people do want a sense of how a wine tastes. I think the wine-buying public is tiring of the whole spit-and-score thing, but consumers are still eager for recommendations and still want an indication of what to expect from a wine before they plunk down their cash or credit card. Tasting notes are here to stay; the question is what can be done to improve them.
That’s my question for you. I’d love to get a conversation going here about tasting notes and their role in contemporary wine culture. What’s your take on the subject: Are tasting notes a waste of words, or do they serve a useful purpose? What information do you look for from a wine review? Does a tasting note alone suffice, or do you find that you need a score or grade alongside it? Do you take notes on the wines that you drink? I’ve posted a number of tasting notes on this blog; feel free to critique them. You can even rate my notes on a 100-point scale, if you want to go all ironic on me. Tasting notes have become an integral part of wine discourse. But it seems to me that there hasn’t been a lot of back-and-forth between writers and readers about what makes for a good tasting note. Consider this my attempt to kick start that discussion.