The winery’s tasting notes called the smell in their wine “gaminess.” Michael wrote down “barnyard.” Anne just wrinkled her nose and said, “Ooo. Ick.” Someone could have said, “Wow, that’s great!”
All of us would be right. Or correct.
Tasting wine is an inherently subjective process. And Napa-centric snobs notwithstanding, any wine you like makes it a good wine. True, there are certain characteristics that most people seem to agree make wine taste good. And there are certain smells and tastes that distinguish different grapes (aka varietals). But the way we might describe a basic cabernet sauvignon is not necessarily the way you would describe it.
So this week we will be doing a calibration tasting. We have purchased two wines that should be available around the U.S. (we got them at Target – although we recognize not every state in the Union allows wine to be sold there). The first is a Fetzer Vineyards, Valley Oaks Chardonnay, 2008. It should retail between $10 and $15, unless you catch it on sale, like we did. The second (coming in around the same price point) is a Blackstone Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2007.
You are invited to buy the same wines – or as close to them as you can get and taste along with us. On Wednesday, we’ll post the chardonnay notes and you can compare what you tasted to what we tasted. The idea is that if we say, “this chard has a nice pineapple tang,” and you tasted peach, then you’ll know that when we say pineapple about some other chardonnay, you’ll probably taste peach. And if you like peach, then you’ll possibly like that wine. And, of course, Friday, we’ll do the cab sauv.
Now, what if you taste the wine and you taste… wine. It’s good, or possibly not. But peach? Pineapple? Barnyard? Bacon fat? What in bloody tarnation are these wine geeks talking about? It’s wine, for crying out loud. Exactly, we say. Seriously – the genius behind our tasting notes is Michael. Anne can seldom taste all the more subtle flavors. That doesn’t mean she can’t tell a good wine from a bad wine – or more importantly, that her impressions of a wine are any less valid. It just means that she evaluates a wine in a different way.
So the first thing to remember is that tasting notes are supposed to be fun. Unless you’re judging wines for a competition (something Michael has actually done many times), the only real reason for tasting notes is to communicate something – usually to yourself and/or life partner.
Maybe you just want to remember what it was about that syrah you tasted at your local wine bar that made you want to buy the bottle. Maybe you want to pretend you’re Uber-critic Robert Parker. And why not? He is, in our not so humble opinion vastly over-rated. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you get to choose what words you use, your preferred short-hand, whatever. Just write down your impressions.
Then we invite to post your comments so we can all share what we thought about the wine. Just remember, no snarking on anybody else, because all of our impressions are valid. And maybe we’ll come up with a new way to describe that soft, creamy feeling on the back of the palate as something besides buttery.
Anne Louise Bannon and Michael Holland