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How was it for you?
The mysterious art of the tasting note
By Jamie Goode

If you are going to write anything about wine -- whether you are a budding wine journalist or just intend to keep notes for your own benefit -- it is more or less inevitable that you will have to write 'tasting notes': verbal descriptions of a wine's characteristics. And if you have ever tried to write one, you'll be aware just how uniquely difficult it is to put down in words the information that we perceive by our senses of smell and taste. As an example, if someone is eating steak and chips, it is much easier for them to describe what the meal looks like than it is for them to describe what it tastes like. The following list is a personal selections of do's and don'ts to help you write better tasting notes.

  • Do read lots of tasting notes by well known critics. Not only will you get a feel for some of the rather esoteric jargon of wine tasting but you'll also work out whose style you prefer.
  • Do use helpful descriptors: what does the wine taste like? It may be difficult at first, but with practice and training, this will get easier.
  • But don't just give a long list of descriptors. You may genuinely have sensed thirty different spice flavours in the Gran Reserva Rioja in front of you, but it will make a dull tasting note if you mention them all!
  • Do be honest. Don't imagine complexity in a simple wine (even if it cost you 20), and don't be influenced too much by a wine's reputation. Like what you genuinely like!
  • Do compare the wine with its peers: how does it stand up against other wines from this region or variety?
  • Don't always judge each wine according to the 'gold standard' of the French varietal equivalent. Not all new world Pinot Noirs are trying to be red Burgundy; not all Californian Cabernets are meant to be imitations of classed growth Bordeaux.
  • Don't try to be too clever. If your descriptors are too way out, you'll lose people. Not everyone knows what cloud fruit tastes like.
  • Don't be too vague and general. Some tasting notes could fit just about any wine.
  • Do remember to say how much you liked the wine, and if so, why. This is very important: some notes leave me wondering whether the author actually enjoyed the wine or not.
  • Do include some relevant background material about the wine, if you have any.
  • Don't be lazy. Cabernet Sauvignon does not always have 'blackcurrant' and Sauvignon blanc does not always have 'gooseberry'.
  • Do put a date on your tasting note. Because wines change with age, your tasting note is just a snapshot of a wine at a particular stage in its development.

Finally, a recommendation. Whenever you taste a wine, make a habit of writing down a brief tasting note in a book kept specially for this purpose. After a while, you'll not only build up an impressive database of notes (it is frightening for me to review how many wines I drink over the course of a year), but you'll also develop your tasting ability by thinking carefully about each wine you drink. You can even make your notes accessible by posting them on a public wine forum (both the UK Wine Forum and the US Wine Lover's Discussion Group have a policy of archiving all tasting notes into a searchable database, thus forming a valuable consumer-driven wine guide).