Tasting Notes

~Not long ago I was asked why I don’t post tasting notes on the few wine-dedicated bulletin boards that I frequent.
~I tried to answer a question that I knew would be difficult to explain and I was correct: the questioner was not impressed with my response.
~Since then, I’ve thought it over and I am more and more convinced that my decision makes sense, but now my feeling exceeds my original reason.
~When I stopped posting tasting notes my original intent was that since I get paid to write articles and books about wine I did not want ever to be accused of shilling for one or more wine producer. This thought came to me after I reflected on the volumes of press releases I receive from PR people that wineries hire, and from the wineries themselves.
~Inherent in the press releases is an assumption that a writer can be enticed not only into tasting the wines, maybe also into visiting the winery, and possibly into blithely believing in what the release says. The intent is to get the writer to write about the winery, favorably of course.
~I know that press releases are supposed to perform the function of promotion and to impart information—I know it because in the past I’ve gotten paid to write them. But that did not stop me from feeling insulted by the press releases coming my way.
~I’ve even had unsolicited wine sent to me.

I cannot imagine how to explain having written a tasting note that agrees with a press release concerning a free bottle that I had received, even if I knew that I hadn’t cheated—to me, the perception of a conflict of interest is damning enough.

(Forget about writing about wines after a trip that was paid for and sponsored by promoters or wine producers.)

~A personal sense of integrity still prevents me from writing tasting notes for the public to read; my notes are reserved for wine competitions and for my own information, which brings up another reason for my reluctance.
~After having read numerous tasting notes written by both consumer and professional wine critics, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t care what they think of any particular wine. Whether or not I agree with their tasting note, I’m interested in the wine not in the discussion of it.
~I either like it or I don’t, and the only way for me to know that is to taste it myself, and I don’t need the notes of others to do that.
~With the above realization came the realization that others also don’t need to know what I think about a wine.
~It boils down to wine being a matter of personal—and highly subjective—choice.
~I can’t imagine using other people’s tasting notes to direct my wine buying, and I don’t think anyone should use my preferences to direct their wine buying.
~Then there are those who want to know what others think about a wine for the purpose of picking apart or finding agreement, which doesn’t seem to me to be about the wine but about voicing opinions. This is one reason I refer to my occupation as wine writing and not as wine criticism.
~The exception to my reluctance is when sharing wine and food with people, at table.
~Online, you have a distant calculation and opinion about wine by someone you may have never even met.
~Sitting at table tasting and talking about wine sparks conversation and that leads to more conversation and that illustrates, to me, the real purpose of wining and dining: conviviality. I don’t get conviviality at my computer desk, no matter how many seemingly nice people I email or “chat” with online.

I know that some of you will completely disagree with me, and I’d like to read your reasons for engaging in posting tasting notes online. But keep it nice. The other thing I despise about a lot of online discourse is the lack of civility that often tinges a discussion, which may be another reason not to post tasting note opinions…

~Do you think some wine writers are influenced by freebies and press releases?
~Do you care what others think about any given wine and if so, why?
~Do you think your wine taste has merit for someone else’s palate, especially someone you don’t know personally?
~Do you think talking about wine approximates the pleasure of consuming it?
~Are you a fan of convivial wining and dining?
~Can you still render a coherent opinion after a few of those high-octane 16 percenters and up???

Just click on “comments” and start talking!

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
October 2007. All Rights Reserved

3 Responses to “Tasting Notes”

  1. winophite says:

    Good day. Even though I am but a mere novice, I have a few thoughts about tasting notes. I too don’t feel any “trust” in notes from promotional materials and only lightly trust the labels on the bottles. A half century of living has taught me that promoters will tell you what you want to
    hear. By writing about freebies, I think writers are definitely compelled to “pay” for their freebies by tempering their opinions in writing. I don’t think they out right lie, something extrordinary (either good or bad) will get just commentary or the writers reputation will suffer.
    I do frequent one wine board, and have found tasting notes quite interesting. No one is promoting anything, and there is frequently differing opinions. A couple problems do exist; Wines in the NE or the far west are simply not available here in south central IN, so notes on those haven’t any value for me. Also, I’m not likely to spend as much on a bottle as many of the posters and thus notes on those wines are also irrelevant.
    As I mentioned, I’m a novice. Some of the value I get on notes about readily available wine is in the descriptors used. Who would think that “tarry” is a taste in some wines, but it is and I can taste and smell it. But what about cassis, I don’t even know what cassis is let alone what the taste is. One day I will hopefully find a bottle from a note that has cassis flavor and I can experience it and maybe become familiar with the taste. Through others tasting notes along with my own experience, I have learned some descriptors. I now feel comfortable calling a wine creamy, or satiny. I guess my point is that through others opinions about tastes, I can learn how to identify many of the complex flavors typically found in wines.
    Here in my home town, we don’t have any wine clubs, nor any wine bars;(although we have one in the works set to open next year). My friends are all beer drinkers that simply don’t recognise wine as one of the great pleasures in life. Thus I feel kind of alone in this, although my wife is just starting with the sweet wines and hopefully her palate will grow as mine has.
    One final thought. I started in a mail order monthly wine club to become familiar with different types of wine. I found that I really wasn’t getting the most bang for my buck. Most of the wines seemed flabby and second rate, although the promoters did a good job of talking them up. I have since dropped the club for winery recs made by board members, (that I have never met). I have several bottles aging and hope to soon taste and compare with notes from these same board members.
    So…the main value I get from tasting notes of others, (note how I didn’t call them specialists), is in the development of my own tastes and growth of my own knowledge. Your blogs information has been great and also helped grow my wine experience and I want to thank you for your time and dedication to the industry. I look forward to your continued posts. Winophite

  2. Thomas says:

    Winophite,

    For a while your comment had gotten lost in the Internet netherworld, but I found it.

    I fully understand your position about the tasting notes of others.

    Sometimes, my thoughts have more to do with the years of experience that I have put into wine exploration. I tend to forget that others don’t have that kind of experience and so what I often think to be unnecessary turns out for people like you to be necessary–I believe tasting notes online may be one of those cases.

    Still, no matter what anyone says about the taste of a wine, it remains subjective, and often in a group of people someone will not taste what all the others seem to think they taste. It can work the other way around, too. It’s often quite easy to pass along the power of suggestion by saying that you taste such and such in a certain wine; I’ve done that experiment many times in my classes.

    In the end, tasting notes are an opinion. The question is whether or not to value that opinion. That’s a personal decision–sometimes you win and sometimes you lose when you make the decision.

    I am convinced that all my tasting notes on wines are meaningful to me only. My aim when I write about wine is to educate about the subject in general, which is one more reason for me not to post specific tasting notes.