Stuck for words
To be honest I find that in 90% of cases tasting notes are a complete waste of paper and ink, or pixels these days.
Most tasting notes I find boring with a capital B - if you've read 6 sets of tasting notes then you’ve just about read them all. There is rarely anything that is new.
The main problem is that the range of vocabulary used is just so limited that there is no way to avoid repeating yourself, so how can that help you to describe 1,000 or even 20 different wines and make them all different?
I am not sure if the root of this problem is that there are simply not enough words available, or if the writers of tasting notes are lacking the imagination to use different words, but in fairness to the writers, finding new words to convey very abstract concepts is not easy.
We, human beings that is, seem to have a very limited range of words that we associate with things such as taste and smell. For a wine writer to stray outside these limits may produce tasting notes that are even less helpful than what we have at the moment.
Having said that there seems to one to be an extraordinary lack of imagination in tasting notes
How many times have you read something like:
The colour is a beautiful pale gold with hints of green.
On the nose there are hints of fresh flowers and yellow fruit.
The palate is fresh and elegant, well balanced with a touch of minerality and a satisfyingly long finish
Here’s one that is even worse, in my view
‘A rather robust, crusty framework together with a delicate, buttery smoothness and tactile, cushiony mousse together escort a homogeneous wine of generous nature, to melodious strains humming with life and free spirit .’
Words fail me. I just wish they had failed the person who wrote this stuff!
If you are still awake after reading this, and especially after reading the same sort of thing 4 or 5 times over, then I take my hat off to you. I think you are in the minority.
You see we have fallen into a way of thinking that assumes that there is only one way to evaluate a wine and everyone follows suit, even though that system isn’t really serving people.
You might well say that it’s better than anything else we’ve got and I can’t really disagree with that, but it doesn’t explain why so many people want to jump on that particular bandwagon and express their own six pennyworth of comments in exactly the same way.
So, the basic problem is that there already are too many people trying to tell other people what they should think about wine.
A different language
The people who have really studied the subject of wine evaluation and have developed their tasting skills to a high degree are, by definition, NOT representative of the average wine drinker.
The experts are on a different level of skill. They can talk amongst themselves and have a fantastically interesting conversation that they all find very valuable, but they have much more difficulty communicating with the mass of wine drinkers.
It’s as if there were a separate language: Winese which you need to practice for years before being able to master. However, most people have neither the time nor the interest to do that, so it remains the preserve of just a few.
An expert can tell you until he or she is blue in the face that a certain wine smells of pineapple or whatever and that it is exceptionally well-balanced etc., but if you, the consumer, can’t smell or taste the same thing then the information is useless, no matter how well-meaning it may be.
The pointlessness of points
To make matters simple and easy for the average consumer to understand several systems of scoring wines have been devised. The scoring is usually expressed as points out of 100 or sometimes out of 20.
However with so many wines to evaluate it is inevitable that they all get bunched up, so you get one of three outcomes.
you have ever-smaller distinctions between the grades – 91.5, 91.55 91.75 and so on.
( It’s hard enough for any normal consumer realistically to tell the difference between one wine rated at 89 and one rated at 91 let alone between two wines at 91.5 and 91.75)
you have loads of wines on the same score. ( how do you choose between 10 wines all with a score of 17.5/20 Answer: you can’t so you make a decision based on the price, the label or the shape of the bottle which renders the whole concept of the score redundant)
you get score inflation like 101 or 101.5
It hasn’t happened yet as regards wine but I suspect it’s only a matter of time. After all you now have hotels which supposedly have a 7 star rating when a few years ago 3 star was pretty special. In terms of exams A is no longer anything special. The poor stressed out students have to get A * or even A **
Gosh it seems I have even more to say on this subject thanI had realised, but not wanting to be accused of simply being negative, in part II you will find some more constructive proposals about how we could make things better.