Sommelier LeeAnn Kaufman Discusses Wine Tasting Notes
The Purpose of a Wine Tasting Note & Where To Start
Discussed by Sommelier LeeAnn Kaufman
Wine can be a very subjective thing. I can’t tell you the number of times I have been involved in a tasting and just about everyone at the tasting table smelled or tasted something different in the same wine. To some that can seem strange or frustrating but that is really one of the beautiful aspects of wine – that it can reveal so many different characteristics to different people and it is ever changing. Trying to capture all of those different characteristics on paper can seem to be a very daunting task. So why do it? What is the point?
There are many reasons to write tasting notes and I will hit on a few of them. I take tasting notes for a few reasons and I think each of these reasons pretty much define the purpose of a tasting note. I am sure there are others, but since this is my newsletter I am going to go with mine.
I like to document what I experience with a wine each time I taste it to capture my personal experience. This not only helps me to go back and sort of relive the experience through my words but it also allows me to track a wine’s development over time. I have a number of wines in the St. Regis cellar that need a fair amount of bottle aging before they hit a peak window for drinking. These tasting notes are like a written photo album of the wine’s life. A written documentary of the seasons of life the wine has gone through. For those wines I only get to experience once, a detailed tasting note will allow me, perhaps many years later, to recall the experience in vivid detail and to some degree relive the wine.
I like to write tasting notes to share with friends and family, By no means am I an expert (pretty close though). I have tasted and written notes on thousands of wines, but I believe this is a constant learning experience. That said, the best education in wine is to taste and drink a lot of it and write tasting notes to help better understand what kind of wines you like, how different wines age, what is the difference between regions that make the same varietal etc. Over the years my wine notes, along with others whose tasting experience and notes I have come to respect, have served as an amazing education. Again, there is no better wine education than to taste as many wines as you possibly can from all over the world and write tasting notes on each.
The very act of writing a tasting note forces me to focus on a wine and its characteristics in a way I wouldn’t if I were just drinking it. Simply tasting, even using good tasting techniques, isn’t enough. The fact that I am committing myself to writing about all of the wine’s characteristics forces me to go through the tasting in steps and stages, carefully focusing on each of those phases and using my senses and mind to associate the characteristics with other things within my frame of reference. Then gathering those thoughts and putting them into words allows me to experience wine in a way that is really a thing of beauty.
Of course, I love to just drink it too, and I don’t suggest you have to go through an entire formal tasting process each time you open a bottle. That said, I do think once you get into the habit of doing it right it is a very hard habit to break no matter where you are drinking wine or the occassion. I have been known to write tasting notes on the palm of my hand at formal restaurants – shhh, don’t tell anyone!
Wine Director / Sommelier
St. Regis Aspen Resort
Photo Credit Jason Dewey