As you more or may not know, for the last few days I’ve been at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville. An awesome experience overall; sampled lots of great wines (some crappy ones as well), met tons of great people (most of whom I’ve been talking to over the last couple of years on Twitter/Facebook), and enjoyed the company of a number of wine bloggers / marketers I happened upon for the first time.
Saturday night (7/23/11) happened to be a speech by Eric Asimov, an extremely influential wine writer and critic for the New York Times.
One of Eric’s concluding comments to his keynote, which really stood-out for me (bearing in mind he was talking to a room filled with wine bloggers) was “…my advice for the future of all your blogs, is to see if you can go a full year without writing tasting notes on your wine reviews.”
His justification being that wine tasting notes cloud the judgment of consumers, and everyone’s palate is different. Also, he questioned whether descriptors such as “petrol” really have a place in the critical evaluation of a wine.
I think I was one of the few people in the room whom didn’t whole-heartedly agree with what he was advocating.
Indeed, everyone’s palate IS different, I acknowledge that, but I’ve always thought that wine tasting notes and descriptors are a vital reference to the majority of wine drinkers; at the very least when they’re still newborns to the wine world.
I’ve certainly read plenty of tasting notes in my time, but I’d like to think that I approach mine a little different than most other publications. I try my best to keep them very simple and straight-forward. No poetical musings referencing boysenberries, hibiscus and 10 year old leather horse saddle. For a start I’ve never seen a boysenberry, never tasted hibiscus, and as of yet, never sniffed 10 year old leather horse saddle. When I do….well maybe they’ll make their way into my notes. However, the way I approach wine is to give a helping hand to the everyday wine drinker, and not the guy that seeks out saddle leather just so he can drop it into the conversation as a wine descriptor.
Saying that; tasting notes are the least touched-upon subject in any of my reviews, as I think they’re also the least interesting. I keep them very basic, and open to a fair amount of interpretation. I would much prefer to educate whomever happens to stumble across one of my reviews, on where the wine comes from, and the cool stories behind the label. I think it’s easier to relate to.
I know most wine writers agreeing with Asimov’s statement would proclaim something along the lines of “Indeed! Why do you need to tell people what they taste? They have their own taste buds. Surely they can taste for themselves!”
My response is, no. No they can’t. Most of the newbie wine drinkers I come across have problems pinpointing even the most “obvious” of flavor components in a wine. That’s why I like to keep it basic, and hold peoples hand into what they taste. I’ve always found that if you provide some gentle guidance, and throw down some subtle clues, that’s when the "Eureka-moment” will come.
As to his comment about using terms such as “petrol”, I would say that some wines smell of petrol, in the same way some wines smell of burnt matches. Is it a marketable and mouth-watering term? No, not really, but it’s a smell which everyone knows and can relate to. Terms like that are unavoidable; just don’t expect to find them on the back of a wine label.
I’ve always thought that tasting notes are very much in the same respect similar to wine scores. Very personal, extremely subjective and always open to misuse. However; in my opinion tasting notes are vital to the evaluation and insight into a wine, and to totally dismiss them is a mistake.