All About Wine Tasting Notes

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Tasting notes are the stock in trade of wine writers and critics. But, as anyone who has ever tried writing one will know, it can be hard to describe tastes and smells in words alone.

By making tasting notes you will have a permanent record of each wine tasting experience. This is invaluable for the serious wine collector but also useful for the casual wine drinker.

Today we discuss the pros and cons of taking notes and for those who want to make a leap we give a few helpful pointers.

For a terrific resource on wine tasting notes go to – GrapeNutz: www.grapenutz.com

Sponsor: CellarTracker, The Wine Mgmt System: www.cellartracker.com

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Show #96
(43:04 min 20 MB)

19 Responses to “All About Wine Tasting Notes”


  1. 1 Jon Bjork Jul 10th, 2006 at 9:43 pm

    I’m one of those habitual note-takers and have found that I get more out of the wine when I have to “dissect” it. In fact, my wife and I really like figuring the wine out when first opened, then sitting back and enjoying the rest of the bottle with pencils down.

    We find our own notes are most valuable with wines that we purchase multiple bottles of, or regularly buy the same wine year after year. We note what food pairing might be best, then do a search on our database for special meals and pull from our cellar what we have noted would be a great match.

    Then there’s the whole anthropomorphism of wines in descriptions… I’ve gotten good enough that a couple of wineries give me free wine to write notes for them. Now there’s a good reason to take notes!

  2. 2 Mike K Jul 11th, 2006 at 12:19 pm

    I rarely look at my tasting notes — usually never more than a few weeks later when I decide to buy my favorites from a tasting. Great show!

    One question, though, about tasting wines infected with TCA… I believe it was Eric who commented that TCA is not a gray area; either a wine is corked or it isn’t. Over time, I’ve tasted wines that span a large range of TCA concentrations, and have found that at some low concentrations, many experienced tasters can’t discern the TCA and are able to enjoy the wine fully. I suspect there could be TCA concentrations that I don’t detect that would put others off. Isn’t this a pretty fine line or gray area?

    Thanks,
    Mike

  3. 3 Jes Jul 11th, 2006 at 4:56 pm

    I’m a bit of a n00b when it comes to wine, and I’m finding that it’s more difficult for me to describe wines in ways that make sense to other people. While I can smell the wine, I’m finding that I get more out of the mouth feel of a wine than I do the aroma or complexity of flavor. I haven’t started taking notes yet (as in, on paper) because I feel a little too pressured to get the same answer as my boyfriend, who is a wine geek. I’m working my way up to not feeling the need to be influenced; then I think notes will help.

  4. 4 GrapeRadio Bunch Jul 11th, 2006 at 7:24 pm

    More than a few times I have suspected a wine was corked, but not 100% sure. So, I guess you could say for me, as an individual, I have straddled the line, unable to decide. So, I guess you could say the call was grey for me. However, either the wine was infected or it was not. That is indeed black/white not grey.

    Jay

  5. 5 Michael Barnhill Jul 12th, 2006 at 12:47 pm

    I must admit I have not listened to graperadio as much as I used to. In fact, I missed the last three or four shows. When I put this show on, I thought I would not make it though the first 5 minutes. As I don’t take notes regularly, I didn’t think I would get much out of the show. I must say I really enjoyed this show. Not sure what it was about this one, maybe an initial low expectation, but I thank you for an informative and entertaining graperadio episode. I still don’t plan on taking tasting notes, but look forward to catching up on some missed shows.

    MB

  6. 6 Eric LeVine Jul 12th, 2006 at 1:23 pm

    Hi guys, great show!

    When I first got the wine-bug, the best piece of advice I ever received was to “pay attention” and keep track of the wines I had tasted and whether I liked or disliked them. I used to do this on paper and then in spreadsheets, but when I ultimately created CellarTracker things took on a new dimension for me. I now record close to 1,000 notes per year (many from small, organized tastings) and have more than 3,000 of my own notes recorded. In fact, I revisit these quite regularly and often look up my notes when I am at a wine shop or restaurant and trying to recall how I liked a given wine or a prior vintage.

    I should point out that CellarTracker is not just about inventory management but also about tasting notes. In fact, with more than 136,000 tasting notes from more than 4,000 wine enthusiasts, http://www.cellartracker.com is the largest collection of free wine reviews in the world. Lots of wine lovers are dutifully recording impressions both for themselves as well as the web wine-loving community.

  7. 7 Winesmith Jul 12th, 2006 at 6:59 pm

    Great show and very timely for me. I wanted to share one tool I’ve been using lately to help keep track of my own wine experiences: http://www.winelog.net. It’s a community-driven site and lets users keep track of the wines they have, enter notes and ratings, and find recommendations from other users, though I haven’t used the site for recommendations yet.

    For the tech-savvy wine geek, they even have a feature that lets you feed your winelog to your web site, so you can share what you’re drinking. I’ve set it up under a ‘recently sipped’ section on my own wine blog (www.winesmithblog.com) so readers always know what I’m drinking.

  8. 8 Bill Jul 13th, 2006 at 12:16 pm

    Great show. I fall in the “don’t take notes” category. I will however often take the cork and copy info from the label, especially if I liked the wine.

  9. 9 Chad Jul 13th, 2006 at 1:06 pm

    Good show as always, guys. I have to offer an opinion on one of Eric’s comments regarding picking up descriptive wine terminology. I think he mentioned that you get more comfortable with descriptive terms with experience (reading and listening to expert tasting notes, etc.) and over time you start finding yourself using those same terms. It doesn’t work that way for me and I’d have to guess that it doesn’t work well for others either.

    I don’t know what a gooseberry tastes like. I’ve only had cassis once, and it was in a gellato, probably artificially flavored. I don’t like cats, nor do I care to know what cat pee smells like. I do like dogs and if I ever taste a wine that tastes like dog pee, its getting dumped quickly. To me, herbaceous sounds like some groovy word we used to use back in grammer school to distinguish ourselves from the uncool adults. Diesel, leafy, stemmy, earthy, hollow, hard, angular, sturdy and sharp. Eh?

    I try to use words that represent flavors and smells that I can identify with. And that’s a tough enough challenge. Your artichoke could be my green pepper… or something like that.

  10. 10 Nanci Jul 16th, 2006 at 9:50 am

    Great show, as always. I listen when I’m out on my bike. You guys have gotten me through almost 5000 miles in the last year. I started logging wine about a year and a half ago, in my Wine Journals that I buy- blank books for wine logging. I’m in the inexpensive range- $5-$25/bottle, tending more to about $8-$15. I note the color, aroma, taste, etc. of every bottle I drink. I go through phases where I will taste lots of cabs, for example, or chardonnays. I rank my wines by “Love,” “Like a lot,” “Like ok,” “Buy again,” “Not buy again.” This info is also logged in wine software in my Palm Pilot, so if I’m out shopping, I can easily remember what I liked and what I didn’t like. A perfect evening for me is sitting on the patio, with a never-before tasted bottle, and my log books, with my feet up on a chair, and the cicadas singing…I used to struggle with removing the labels. I’d have maybe 30 bottles lined up on the floor of the laundry room (you can imagine how well that went over)- but the labels are _very_ difficult to remove, so I’d put it off, and put it off…Finally I had the idea of taking pictures of the labels with my digital camera and printing them, then gluing the label into the log when I tasted the wine. I go back through the logs all the time. Also in my notes are what was going on at the time of the tasting- were we on a trip, maybe it was the night before a big cycling event, what we had for dinner, who shared the wine with me, etc. So my wine logs are something of a diary, too. Recently I made a chart of all the Chardonnays I had ever tasted, and some key tastes for each, as well as how I ranked them- trying to pinpoint what were the common characteristics that I particularly liked. The most exciting thing for me is when a wine just jumps out with a distinctive flavor that is unusual but very clear to me- such as cinnamon toast with blueberry jam, (a merlot) or rust, old bones, chalk (that was a syrah) or one of my favorites, rotten caramel apples (moscato d’asti). I guess wine logging, for me, is a way to keep straight what I like, want to buy again, don’t like, as well as a relaxing ritual that develops my tasting ability more and more.

  11. 11 Keagriver Jul 18th, 2006 at 2:30 pm

    Nice show. This was one I listened to in the house after my commute home because I wasn’t finished and wanted to hear the rest.

    We have a group of good friends and we host wine tastings on a somewhat irregular basis. I use a 20 point scoring sheet which is actually inappropriate for our group but encourages us to focus on what we taste.

    Our friends didn’t start out knowing much about wines (we cringed once several years ago when we brought out a special bottle and it was consumed like water.) Recently, though, one of them told me he used to “just drink wine wihtout thinking about it” and now he really tastes the wine, the berries, and thinks about where it is from.

    I take a tiny bit of credit, but most credit goes to having a structure in which to think about and taste wines. We usually taste a single varietal, and we ask each guest to bring a bottle of that style (say, pinotage from South Africa)in the $0-$20 range. I wrap the bottles in paper and we taste each wine, rating it as we go. Then we serve a meal, and taste the wine again with the food that should go with the wines.

    This system gives us a chance to really imprint the taste and style of the wine, plus it’s lot’s of fun. The wine sheet is inapropriate because we rate the wine on color (what do we know about what pinotage should look like?), aroma, etc. The benefit of it is that we are really concettrating on the wines and what we are tasting. I post the results on a web site, but it is really just for fun and learning about wines.

    Thanks again

  12. 12 Dezel Jul 20th, 2006 at 7:44 pm

    Very enjoyable show guys. I find that during a tasting or when in a restaurant if something strikes my fancy I usually take notes on it. If I do not take notes those savory sips soon become memories and I’m off to something new. Notes for me is insurance that I will revisit some of those sips that were important for me to document in the first place.

    Dezel

  13. 13 GrapeRadio Bunch Jul 24th, 2006 at 12:07 pm

    Good points, Chad. There’s no question that descriptive wine terminology is subjective as all getout – as you put it, one person’s artichoke might be another’s bell pepper.

    That said however, if you and I were to both be handed a strawberry and asked to sniff it, we’d no doubt come to the same conclusion – a strawberry. Yet, the idea that a wine can have a similar aromas is indeed not always accepted.

    What I was trying to say was that I think people attempt to quantify what it is they are smelling when they sniff a wine. And, in a trade-off of comments between people, often one person will find a descriptive term that the other finds mutually agreeable. But, not always.

    Eric

  14. 14 Paul Anderson Jul 30th, 2006 at 5:56 pm

    Great and very helpful show. I just discovered Grape Radio and expect it to be a major part of my ongoing educations. I have a new appreciation for the time I spend reading tasting notes.

  15. 15 DrDebs Aug 12th, 2006 at 11:34 am

    I’m catching up with my podcasts, and listened to the show while entering some information into CellarTracker (I visited once and immediately contributed to the site–best buy in existence for wine lovers). I take tasting notes on every wine I drink, and will enter notes into CTracker later if I’m out at someone’s house and have a wine I particularly like. I have strict ceilings on wine expenditures (no more than $20 per bottle) and am extremely concerned with QPR. I want to drink the best, most interesting wine possible at the lowest cost. I have found tasting notes extremely helpful, and find that I make better and more informed wine choices by reading the notes that my other CTrackers make, comparing them to professional notes, and (most importantly) seeing how those descriptors match up to my growing sense of what it is I actually *like* in wines. That’s the real point of taking tasting notes for me. Without systematically tracking my purchases and my reactions to those purchases, I don’t think I would have realized that I don’t like green cabernets, prefer Sauvignon Blanc to Chardonnay without question, and am developing a serious Syrah addiction. I was able to take a weekend course at UC Davis called “The Sensory Appreciation of Wine” a few years ago and it gave me the confidence to use that vocabulary and I agree with the folks on the show that it’s a skill (like a golf swing or gardening) that you do actually develop over time. I think the impression from the show was that wine notes were kept mainly by people interested in tracking vertical collections, or those with big cellars, or expensive taste in wine. I think it’s even more important for those of us with small cellars and limited budgets.

  16. 16 Steve Kathe Feb 2nd, 2007 at 9:55 am

    I too am catching up on old shows. I enjoyed this show like many others. I fall in the camp where I sometimes take notes – sometimes don’t. They do become easier to write as you become more experienced. I find that my notes have changed over the years, in that I used to take notes in a way trying to emulate the published critics, with flowing prose etc… Now, I’ve arrived at a comfort level where I don’t care what others think anymore. I take notes for me, so that I can buy what I like and not buy mistakes of the past.

    By the way, I thought it was ironic that on a show sponsored by Cellartracker, you guys were talking about not having anyplace to keep your notes. Eric’s site is a huge database of tasting notes.

  17. 17 GrapeRadio Bunch Feb 2nd, 2007 at 11:35 am

    Steve, to be honest I do not remember what I said about place to keep notes, but I can tell you what was on my mind. Storing the notes is not a problem (DB, CellarTracker, Vinfolio, Spreadsheet, etc). What is a problem is the recording medium for the notes. I am not always seated when tasting wines. Thus, holding my stem and writing down notes at the same time can be a pain. I thought I might get a small digital recorder, but then that could bother other tasters as I speak out loud my notes.

    Jay

  18. 18 Steve Kathe Feb 5th, 2007 at 11:57 am

    Jay, perhaps I misunderstood. But, I do know what you are saying above. I was recently at a retailer tasting and had a sheet in hand, but nowhere to put it down and take any notes. I gave up without taking many.

    You guys are doing a great job – keep it up.

  19. 19 Tom Jan 24th, 2014 at 7:16 pm

    Thanks for the great show! I have loved drinking wine for a long time[first time drunk was on Italian Swiss Colony Vin Rose back in the '60's. I confess I didn't concern myself with "nuances," more "I'm getting hammered, going to the dance, and getting...well, SICK is what I got], and have no problem tasting it, enjoying it[or not], and drinking it daily. But, I tell myself, you’re missing out on a lot of the flavor…the finer points…and, on the one hand, I want to “develop my palate,” but most of the time I just drink and enjoy.
    I struggle with the notion that a “more experienced wine drinker” or “authority” should be able to say, “do you taste the chocolate?” when I don’t, or “there’s the whiff of low-grade diesel, did you catch that?” Those folks starting out their wine journey in a measured, more or less disciplined way, have the advantage over those of us who plunged into it on a purely recreational level WHEN or IF the goal is to develop a real appreciation for those subleties most often used to describe a wine. In a way, it’s apples and oranges…it’s difficult to take the tasting, note-taking, path when(for 50 years!)I’ve been having fun just opening the bottles, pouring, and drinking it…not to extemes, as I did once, but as a part of my diet and lifestyle. I guess that’s the difference between a connoisseur and a wino! Cheers!

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GrapeRadio is a wine talk show. Show topics cover issues such as the enjoyment of wine, wine news and industry trends - the hallmark of the show is interviews with world class guest (winemakers, vineyards owners, wine retail / wholesale leaders, restaurateurs and sommeliers). The scope of the show is international so expect to hear many guests from around the world.

GrapeRadio has received numerous awards and honors including the 2008 James Beard Award for excellence in Journalism.

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