More on Tasting Notes: An Act of Pleasure

Yesterday I was sitting in the kitchen of Emmanuel Houillon tasting barrel samples of 2009 poulsard. I was going through the same actions I had repeated perhaps twelve hundred times in the past month. Swirl, smell, swirl again, taste, spit, swirl, taste, spit, all the while trying to tease out something in the wine that I may be missing. That I like the wine is immediately evident, but I still go through the familiar motions, trying to “understand” the wine. I catch myself overthinking the wine during the act of tasting it and some of the initial pleasure becomes lost.

Later that day, at lunch with Manu his wife Anne (who is a genius cook) and vigneron Phillipe Bornard, wine is again present but the ritual is different. People have glasses, and they drink. The wine is fucking good, as is the food. More wine is poured and the lunch goes several hours. I don’t think about the wine as much, but it is more memorable. The pleasure of the wine and the food comes to the forefront, the critic goes to sleep.

Anyone who knows the initial experience of finding a wine that sticks with them knows the feeling of looking down into the glass in amazement that something could taste so good. The pleasure of the moment is impossible to describe to someone who has never experienced it.

A few weeks ago I completely abandoned my tasting notebook, which was being used for the most basic notes I could write. Even with this basic format I found myself trying to justify why such and such wine was pleasurable or why such and such wine was terrible. The question was always…”did I really like this wine?” I needed to make sure before I wrote it down, but I was second guessing my gut reaction or trying to make it something it wasn’t, so the notebook went.

The underlying problem remains, however. I’m still trying to over-intellectualize my reactions, trying to dissect the wine I’m tasting.
When I’m drinking, however, this doesn’t happen. Tasting is important (especially because I’d be dead if I was actually drinking all these wines) but it really doesn’t have anything to do with how wine is enjoyed. When I drank the Overnoy-Houillon the impression I left with was distinctly different from when I tasted it.

I’m still trying to figure out the language I can use to communicate the pleasure I get from a specific wine when I drink it. Perhaps it doesn’t exist, or perhaps it isn’t necessary if I tell you the rest of the story behind a wine, but I’m more sure than ever that I’m done with the tasting note for good.


~ by Cory Cartwright on April 8, 2010.

2 Responses to “More on Tasting Notes: An Act of Pleasure”

  1. I joined my first tasting group consisting of ITB folks in 1979 when I was 25. That formed my initial impressions of wine reviewing (swirl, smell, swirl, taste, spit, rinse and repeat). Thinking back from that time to the present, I’ve rarely taken notes during less “academic” situations (dinners, parties, etc.). I don’t do it at all now. I was ITB from 1984-88 (retail) and in 2000-1 (wholesale). There were many times where taking notes was necessary, both for my benefit and the customer’s.

    If there is one minor regret, I wish I had kept a comprehensive list of many of the great wines I’ve drunk. It would bring back the pleasures and memories of the times I drank them.

  2. It strikes me, reading more and more of your thoughts on this, that your problem isn’t the tasting note itself. Yes, you’re struggling with what, if anything, you want to put to permanent media that codifies your impressions of a wine. But that’s a personal struggle, and if that was all it was, you wouldn’t be blogging about it so often. It seems to me that your real problem is that you’re dissatisfied with how whatever you do is communicated to others, feeling that all the traditional forms are unsatisfactory in one fashion or another. It’s interesting to me because we’ve basically come to the same conclusion on that, and yet have decided on different paths in response.

    The only thing I’m really sad about is that I think that people who are dissatisfied with tasting notes (at least as traditionally conceived) are exactly the sort of people whose notes I most want to read.

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