Goode: Why are tasting notes so bad? Can anything be done? ( New Article posted by admin)

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Jamie Goode has a new blog post up on what he perceives as poor wine tasting notes:
Just been browsing the tasting notes on a well known wine website (I will spare the name; I don’t want to be mean to this fine publication, because the problem is not unique to them), and was jolted by the realization that tasting notes generally do a spectactularly bad job of communicating about the nature of wine.
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I wish he had gone into more detail as to what he considers a good tasting note. I must admit, I’m not a huge fan of “I Spy” tasting notes and understand his point of going overboard with pointless and hollow descriptors. That being said, it must be painful to try and make thousands of tasting notes meaningful and interesting.

To me a good tasting note addresses mouthfeel, balance, elegance v. power, etc. I’m also interested in how a wine compares to previous vintages and perhaps some comparison to its peers. I don’t really object to descriptors, they are just not the primary driver of a good tasting note to me.

Well said Tom.

It’s unclear to me if he’s talking about published tasting notes (professional or semi-professional) which are meant to convey information to an audience, or notes in, e.g., CellarTracker, which are available to others but may not be specifically intended to convey information to others.

As for me, I generally try to be fairly specific in the flavors and impressions of the wine I’m tasting, but occasionally I drift off into metaphors or more fanciful descriptions. In either case I don’t really care what anyone else thinks about the note because it’s written for my benefit. If someone else can get something out of it, so much the better. Just my two cents.

I didn’t really have any trouble getting a sense of the wines from the notes Goode cited, except, of course, the gazelle one, which isn’t a tasting note anyway.

Of the examples, the common shortcoming was they’re lack of proper grammer grammer, but as someone who writes TNs regularly, I can read around the missing punctuation and prepositions, and understand what is being written.

Of course, I don’t know if my understanding jives with what the authors intended, but I definitely could paint a comprehensible picture of the wines, and reading on to where Goode revealed which wines, I found I was on track with the styles, and thought the descriptions made sense.

As always, the problem is that TNs (professional ones) ar written for a broad audience. What makes a good TN to me might not make a good TN to Goode or others and vice versa. Then there’s the entire issue of what the purpose of a TN is - to convey a sense of how the wine smells and tastes? To serve as a recommendation? To satisfy the writer’s inner 8th grade poet? So, much as I respect Jamie, isn’t this just more pointless whining to the effect that “they’re not doing what I want!!”?

Love it. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt since that’s too funny to be an accident.

I think the professional critic has a pretty tough job. Your goal is to aptly describe a wine, but also to illustrate what about the wine is similar to or different from others. If you taste through 30 or 40 napa cabs from the same vintage in a one hour period, you quickly realize that a ton of the wines have very, very similar tastes. Currant, plum, new oak, solid tannins. So, a basic description begs for more clarification. Hints of sage, smoke, and “spices” (the great catchall). Okay. Then you’ve got vanilla and some chocolate. At some point, I think you begin to grasp at the perceived minutiae to draw distinctions. Now magnify that to 300 tasting notes a day in a 4 hour period. Good luck writing informative, concise, and grammatically accurate pieces. Before you know it your discussing “gossamer textures, baked rhubarb pie topped with vanilla bean ice cream with precisely one 2"x4” strip of live oak bark placed delicately on top and topped with a black, nay, bing cherry…macerated of course."


Don’t forget the bad spelling and word choice either. For example in your comment they’re should read their, and grammer is spelled grammar. Sorry I couldn’t resist.



I find the long litany of descriptors that so many people use pretty useless. These are the most subjective aspects of tasting, and often take the place of structural and other information that conveys more. “Quintessential St. Julien” or “far younger tasting than I’d expect for a 15-year-old Napa cab” tells me a lot more than a list of the taster’s favorite flora and fauna (fresh, aged or in various states of desirable or morbid decay).

I rarely find much correlation between those lists and my own sensations. Even if it’s a smell or flavor that is typical and widely recognized (e.g., black currants or chocolate in cabernet, raspberry in zin or lychees, pears and apples in riesling), it doesn’t really help me compare the wine.

That said, I’m all in favor of vivid, even poetic writing about wines. That can actually be meaningful. And it’s certainly good for marketing. If you’ve ever read Kermit Lynch’s newsletters, you’ll appreciate that.

Again, that’s YOU though and a pro critic has to write for a broader audience. You might know what “Quintessential St. Julien” tastes like, but what about the person who doesn’t? Or the person who doesn’t have a lot of experience with aged Napa Cab?

I rarely find much correlation between those lists and my own sensations. Even if it’s a smell or flavor that is typical and widely recognized (e.g., black currants or chocolate in cabernet, raspberry in zin or lychees, pears and apples in riesling), it doesn’t really help me compare the wine.

I’m not sure, though, that it’s supposed to help you compare the wine. Descriptors like that are there to try to convey what that wine tastes like. If I tell you a nose of a wine smells like fresh raspberries that conveys a fairly common experience. If I say the nose of this old Chianti has notes of tobacco, again, that’s a common scent that each of us can experience and doesn’t presume that you have deep experience with the wine region, etc. Add in notes on acidity, tannic structure and the like and you should get a fairly decent idea of the wine.

EDIT: I think the main issue is that TNs can’t, in their current form, be of much use. They’re too short. Consider movie reviews… the useful ones are a page or two long. Now think about what you get with the same movie review forced to be a paragraph; you get those brief, high level capsule reviews that make action movies all sound similar, romantic comedies all sound similar, etc. Longer reviews that allow the writer to expound on the producer, site, etc would be of more use but those won’t fit into the “382 wines from [REGION] reviewed!” formats. The market wants a critic’s take on an entire region be that Burgundy, Barolo, Napa, whatever. Readers expect a comprehensive overview of that region’s current release because they aren’t using the TNs too deeply understand a wine. They’re using the collection of TNs to decide what to buy.

Given that he refers to “this fine publication” I am assuming he is talking about a professional source of wine reviews.

FWIW, he has written about CellarTracker in the past:

Very fine, touch of quince, most definitely a tete de cuvee.

Obviously, whatever you write has to be for the right audience. But the more you gear it to an audience who doesn’t know wine, what’s the point of all that description anyway? Why not just say, “big, soft and fruity” or “dark, astringent and not terribly fruity”? Unless you’re just trying to write something that sounds pleasing, how does it help that audience to detail manure, sous bois, eucalyptus or whatever?

You’re confusing two things - not knowing wine at all and not being expert in a region. I know wine very well, thanks. But I don’t know Bordeaux well and couldn’t tell you what a typical St Julien tastes like. If I decide that I want to know more and look to my wine critic to educate me using such terms doesn’t help. This isn’t an issue if you don’t give a rat’s ass about people who aren’t expert in your little corner of the wine world. It’s a huge issue if you cover many regions and thus have an audience with varying levels of knowledge about each given region. Once again, you’re not the universe.

Rick – Why would you give a rat’s ass about a list of fruit flavors if you don’t know what Bordeaux tastes like? I can’t see how that would help you know what it tastes like or whether you’d want to buy it.

It’s not so polarized.
WSET teaches sparse and very bland but factual descriptors, i.e. acidity medium or medium +
Color: Medium ruby etc…

Overly floral and verbose language on the other hand comes off to me as being very inexact and having more to do with the taster’s current frame of mind than given an accurate account of what is being tasted.

Certainly it would be possible to find a happy medium such as “Quintessential St. Julien” and then qualify by describing that without being prosaic.

Excellent note just tweeted by Jaime Goode: Most disgusting wine of the night - sine qua non shot in the dark syrah 2007 - repulsive like coffee pinotage

Now that I understand!

Not to mention incorrect spelling of names.