On pretention in tasting notes, or why we could use a pseud’s corner especially for the wine trade.
I won’t pretend that working in the wine trade is a terrible sort of drag. It’s not, we get to drink some of the worlds finest wines, we get invited to all sorts of fabulous dinners, and that’s not even going into the wonderful trips that we get invited on. However there’s a dark side. We have to try and express the glorious hospitality and generosity that we receive in ever so limited format of tasting notes. This is somewhat like trying to write useful and meaningful haikus, there is a certain length to which one aspires, there are certain constants that one must attempt to include, and yet one must strive for a degree of individuality married to an honesty of reportage. Unsurprisingly, like many of the best laid plans, they aft a gang awry.
“Striking mahogany, with hints of amber at its rim, the wine has an extraordinary aromatic intensity, redolent of old libraries, autumnal bonfires and distant poetry. The palate is profound and majestic, astonishingly intense and powerful, regal in its complexity, a timeless elixir. Notes of molasses, dried apricot, figs and clove, dance across the palate, elegant and symphonic in their structure, dignified and profound. Orange zest freshness and finely-wrought tannins underwrite structural harmony with the long finish indulging a gentle nostalgia and a real sense of worth.” Simon Field MW, Berry’s Port Buyer.
I’m being needlessly cruel in highlighting merely one example of this. Indeed I should include this quote from the most recent piece I wrote.
‘Which for want of a better description is basically a liquid sonnet to the principles and beliefs of biodynamic vine growing and the unique ability of the vine to transcript the subtleties of the terroir from which it comes. ‘
It’s always difficult to convey in words exactly why one wine, which tastes very similar to another, is actually that much more, exactly why it excited you as much as it did; quite why you felt it needed highlighting and setting apart from the others. At any long tasting I always find my notes converging towards certain constants, certain facets that seem constant amongst the wines, I note the differences, which nuance seems to stand out just that bit more, which wine seems to sing that little bit sweeter. And yes, afterwards when I come to place the notes in any sort of context I find that I’m reaching towards certain metaphors, metaphors that attempt to convey the grandeur that the wine evoked. Metaphors that, when re read the next day, seem hopelessly pompous and frankly a little embarrassing. As it is, I’ve learnt to quash my qualms about coming across as a bit of a nob. It’s either that or churn out tasting notes that are merely a list of flavours and objects. Each peach, pear, plum I spy Tom Thumb… (lustily consuming a glass of youthful Puligny-Montrachet).
I’ve yet to fully work out where I stand with regards to this conundrum of reportage and notation. Suffice to say I’ve all but stopped publishing tasting notes that I’ve myself written, and started to try and surround the wines about which I write with a story that places them in a context that is separate from merely attempting to relay their taste in words.
Feel free to judge me and tell me I’m wrong, I still enjoy a good and well written tasting note, however I’m well aware that the ones that I like are merely the ones that reference things that are of meaning to me, i.e. the ones that are the least universal, and yes the ones most likely to end up in my particular pseud’s corner…..
(inspired by a short twitter conversation with Chris Pople, who pointed out the BBR quote to me, also apologies for forgetting to mention him earlier. I wrote the post rather quickly and it needed a lot of editing after I first posted it)