It’s my first posting in this forum and wanted to tap your collective wisdom for tips on navigating a large wine tasting/trade show for a first-timer. In particular, how do you handle note-taking while going from booth to booth?
Get some quick info from producer about wine, take a sip, spit it out, step aside out of the way so others can step up and get a taste as you jot some impressions. Move back in and repeat for each additional wine being poured.
If it’s not busy you can hang out at the table a bit longer chat with pourer and simply step off to the side of the table while still staying close enough for other samples when other people show up.
I don’t try to write detailed notes. Just brief impressions of the wine.
Do you use an app or just a small notebook to write your notes?
If they hand out books/pamphlets at the door I use those as the wine names/vintages are already there and there is often space to jot notes. If not a small 6"x9" notebook (my preferred note taking spiral binder)
Small little notepad, golf pencil with eraser. Get your pour and get the hell out of the way. Make sure you take your notes based on solid first impression. Don’t overthink it. Note whether the wine stood out from the crowd and why, and be aware that things that stand out are not always good. I’ve seen bad wines win blind tastings simply because they were the outlier, not because they were qualitatively superior. Trust your instincts. Work to be concise, but specific. And I always score because it’s the easiest way to scale wines in a big tasting event.
Spit unless it wows you, and if you’re swallowing, know that your own qualitative analyses will decline as the night progresses.
Also, if you can, taste through types of wines at a time. So if there are 10 different red varieties, try to taste all of the X wines, then the Y wines. I think it’s much harder to keep a good comparative analysis going if your switching from Zin to Cab to Pinot to Merlot to Petite Sirah, to Pinot.
Also, if you’re working hard to get true notes, don’t stick around to listen to things about the wines from the person pouring other than the what, where, and when. Hearing a tasting note, or about impressions, or this or that oak treatment, will likely bias your notes. If there is a standout and you want to know more, go back by a little later and ask about the wine.
Those have helped me get through six or seven big industry/event tastings with good results.
or 1-10, maybe add an asterisk for something special, or whatever suits you. Jeps keep some order to it all, and steer you back for second opinions before you leave the event. Then collect your thoughts at home. And btw, I am pretty terrible at all this . I think you will find there are some better note takers here; for me, that is easier in a more relaxed situation.
Xavier, you are definitely fortunate to have a large number of experienced Berserkers to tap for guidance on this issue! I am not one of them.
I would guess that the first points to stress are etiquette-based: monitoring alcohol consumption and crowd control issues.
As for the documenting of the event and the individual tasting experiences, wouldn’t a tiny vocal recorder be handy? Is it just TOO loud in these events to rely on this kind of thing?
Use a fine-tipped marker rather than a pen if they give you a pamphlet or tasting sheet. Easier to jot down notes while on foot and won’t need a hard surface to lean on.
Actually, the first thing is to figure out what you want to do. Why are you taking notes in the first place - to review later, to figure out what you might want to buy, etc. If it’s just to figure out what you want to buy, take a pic of the label. Otherwise, just use a star or a check or some indicator.
If you’re going to review your notes later, to remember the wines, whatever you do, don’t use a pencil. Worst thing ever for writing more than a couple of numbers in third grade. Use a pen. You can talk into a recorder - I see people do that often.
If they give you a program or listing of the wines, AND if there’s any room for writing, use that. Sometimes it’s just a big list and there’s no space. In that case, use a spiral notebook.
Spit. And when you do, spit to the side of the bucket, not straight down. You’ll figure out why first time you don’t take my advice on that. Or carry around a little paper cup or extra glass, but that’s totally awkward if you’re trying to write.
If you get a list of wines, or if you know what’s going to be there, look it over and make a plan. Taking two or three minutes to do that will save you time later. And if you have an advance list, you can do it at your leisure.
Come up with some kind of theme - I don’t know your event but you can use them for pedagogical purposes. For example, you want to taste everything from Bordeaux for a given vintage or just to learn about the area. Or everything from a particular region, or made with particular grapes. If there are hundreds of wines, don’t taste everything.
You might want to taste two wines side by side, so get an extra glass, get one, and then go get the other. Step aside and give yourself time to taste them.
Taste whites last. It’s a horrible idea to have whites and then reds, and it makes no sense unless you’re pairing with a fish course, a game course, and a roast. Whatever you do, don’t keep switching back and forth. You will see people do that. But it’s like going to the gym - most people do random weird pointless shit.
Revisit a table to taste some of their wines later, or to re-taste some that you’ve tried already. I usually make a few passes, one for reds and then another later for whites, but sometimes I just like a wine a lot, or think I do, and I want to taste it again. If you’re at a big event, you taste things sequentially and sequence can matter.
Be cognizant of others but don’t be afraid to elbow your way in - some people just get a glass, park themselves, and carry on conversations with their friends. Don’t be one of those guys but don’t let others get away with it either. Tell them “excuse me” and move in.
If there are famous wines you want to try, you might ignore all of the above and go to those first because if it’s a big consumer event, those wines will be gone fast. For example, if they’re pouring 1982 Lafite, go get some. They will only have one bottle and it will be gone in fifteen minutes.
Ask questions but don’t expect brilliant answers. I don’t know what the event is, but if you have the owner or the wine maker around, you may get some good and interesting info. If you have a rep who’s just pouring, you may get what they were told as marketing or what they learned in their wine class.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a bit more. A lot of the pourers are inexperienced or just don’t know and they’ll give you five drops of something when you already have three drops of something else. You really need more than a half teaspoon to taste the wine.
If you think something is bad, speak up. A lot of people pouring don’t know and don’t taste their wine before pouring. And many drinkers don’t know either. If they open another bottle, you can decide. Or they can explain that it just seems bad because it’s so natural but that’s really what all wine should taste like.
Or bag all the effort and just go taste. There really are no “rules” other than what works for you. I was at a few events this week and did as I say above, but I also spent time talking to friends, exchanging ideas, etc. The only reason I ever write notes is for myself, so I don’t go to the Bingo card and try to come up with descriptions I can post later.
It’s fun to learn and those big events are great for learning because you can compare many wines, whether or not you write anything at all.
Many times, I will simply go with a yes/no system and then seek out the ‘yes’ wines later to buy.
So many great responses here!
Have your own system set before you go…someone said rate 1-10. In the past I have used a 4 star system, plusses and minuses are fine. So a great wine would be **** and a much lesser wine would be *. Star of the day gets a ****+, and so forth.
Spitting is important for control of alcohol, but I must admit that when someone leans over my table where other people are getting pours (I am ITB), and then spits into the dump bucket, it is a turnoff for many. I would prefer that people discreetly empty the contents of their mouth into a spit cup, then move away to a table or with a friend to jot down a note. You will find at large tastings that many people have never seen someone “spit” their wine, and it can be uncomfortable.
Best advice from “this side” of the table? Take your pour, engage briefly with the person pouring wine, and move off to the side. There will be moments when you can return and have more engaged conversation. But nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd…everyone wants to know what is going on over there at that table.
I think everything I would have said has been covered by Greg and Andy.
Except, consume plenty of water. Going to the restroom more than once is a good sign. Even with spitting you can sometimes get looped up in a hurry. Especially if you are not accustomed to big tasting events. Drinking plenty of water can keep your pace a bit slower and slow down your alcohol absorption a bit.
Along with that, taking a break for nibbles to keep something in your belly can help also. Stick to things that won’t mess with your palate a lot like breads, crackers and fruit.
At the risk of repeating what others have written: spit everything. Wait until you’re done and go back to a glass at the end to enjoy. Getting blitzed takes much of the fun out of a good tasting, imho.
Likewise, use whatever printed materials are provided to save writing time.
Use key words to memorialize the wines’ distinctive features, rather than trying to capture every detail. The mere act of writing will recall the details of the wines to your memory vividly when you read the notes later, and you can embellish them then, if you wish.
I imagine the routine is different for a professional reviewer, however. Are you writing for publication?
I make my own pre-printed forms so I can circle things and fill in blanks. Acidity; tannins; alcohol; color; Nose; Taste; etc…
GregT and others have said it all. My only advice is don’t try to rush through and taste everything, you can’t. Like Greg said, pick the few wines you definitely want to try, and do those first, while your palate is fresh. Other advice is to take your time, you need time between tastes, even between wines at a single table. Get a pour, step away, swirl the wine to give it some air (because most wines have probably just been opened). Give it a minute or two, then taste/spit (best events have spit buckets scattered around the room, not just at the winery tables), go back and get the next taste, rinse, repeat. You need at least a few minutes between tastes to make any sense of the wines, and even that is pushing it as you taste through 10-20-30 wines and more.
Take a cheat sheet like these from Spectator. Looking at the descriptors while tasting will REALLY improve your notes and your personal satisfaction. I almost always have one with me or at least look over it before a big tasting.
Get a cellartracker.com account and put them there. Eric even has a tasting note wizard which can really help you develop your vocabulary.
I am certainly NOT the most experienced at big tastings. I definitely agree with the spitting, but juggling the spit cup is a huge pain when trying to write.
I would also recommend going back and calibrating with a white wine now and then.
Still with the training wheels after all this time. Do you have a visor with the the aroma wheel on it?
I neither want to be burdened by walking around with a notepad and pen, nor by looking like a guy walking around a wine tasting with a notepad and pen.
So, if I think something is particularly noteworthy, I will take a quick shot of the label with my phone. If I didn’t think it was terribly noteworthy, no photo.
I do it more for speed than ideas … dipwad.
And don’t make fun of my visor!