Saturday, September 5, 2009

Tasting Notes

Customer Paul has asked about our note taking and how one might fashion notes of their own when tasting wine. Paul said, this would make an excellent blog entry. Well, here are our notebooks we use everyday and a few ideas on how to take notes of your own. Remember your notes are personal just like tasting wine.

In formal wine tasting training the CAT system is used. But as they say, there are many ways to skin a cat. CAT stands for Color - Aroma - Taste (& Finish.) The Color of a wine reveals much about its age, how the wine was aged as in tank vs. barrel, filtration, and possible clues as to the grape type. All wines brown as they age and oak can also add an amber quality at times. At the very least we know if were drinking a white (actually yellow), rosé, or red wine. By the way, most tasters cannot blindly taste red and white wine, served in a dark glass, at the same temperature, and accurately tell what color it is. Your notes need to be in your own voice so they are a useful reference. If brassy yellow brings a color to mind, use that. If brick red is familiar use it when you see this color. If Linda Blair pea soup green is appropriate, well don't drink that wine.

The Aroma is what you smell in a wine. The best way to get the aroma is to swirl a glass with an ounce or two of wine. This will release the aroma and by raising the glass to your nose, you can smell the subtleties of the wine. This can be as technical or simple as you desire. We try to be specific with aromas. Citrus is good, but lemon and lime is better. Herbal is good, but rosemary and lavender is better. We also encourage people in our classes to use familiar smells. If a wine reminds you of spending your summers with grandma and the smell of laundry drying on the clothesline in the summer sun, use that. If it smells like plastic Tupperware just out of the dishwasher, use it.

Finally, there is the Taste and finish. The taste is actually three parts. First, the tongue senses sweetness (sugar) or dryness (no sugar) or somewhere in between. This perception is relative to the taster. Let's just say that most American diets are filled with foods that have some sweetness so we tend to think wines with a bit of residual sugar are still "dry" vs. many European palates. The tongue (and cheeks) also sense acidity. This is what makes your cheeks salivate. We love acid! Acid in wine is like salt in food. It can bring out flavors and make the wine come alive. Tannin is a type of acid usually only found in a red wine and this can be felt on the roof of our mouth. It's furry and rough like a cat's tongue. You also recognize tannin from making tea. If you steep your tea bag too long, you can extract those furry tannins. That's about all that the tongue actually tastes when it comes to wine. The second part of tasting comes from swirling the wine in your mouth. While you swish it around, like mouthwash, you release aroma just like in the glass. These aromatics rise into your olfactory senses and that's when you "taste" the fruit, the earth, the herbs, the citrus, the licorice, the oak, etc. You don't actually taste these things, but you do smell them when the wine is in your mouth. The final part of tasting is after you swallow the wine (we spit our wines so that we are able to keep from getting too happy at work). The finish is a measure of how long you still perceive the flavor of the wine post sip. The finish is the #1 indicator of a wine's quality. The finish should be appropriate to the grape or type of wine, but if it is short or harsh you may be onto something less than appropriate for that type of wine.

One last tip is to taste wines at the same time of day if you can. Most professionals try to taste in the morning after breakfast when you senses are awake and you are not tired, nor full of food from the day. This will keep your notes more consistent.

And the best way to get good at tasting wine is to practice, practice, practice.

In the photos you see Craig's style of note keeping at the top. His notes are condensed, tight and uses his own abbreviation system. This is an evolution of tasting wines over many years and thousands of bottles. My style is in the second picture. I have a big ol' fat notebook with spread out notes. Since we also need some information for the point of sale system at the store, I keep track of things like alcohol percentages, UPC codes, importers, etc. At home, I wouldn't normally take down all these things, but it's appropriate for our current needs. - Salamanzar