“I say old chap, is that a bit of Creme Brulee I taste in that Chardonnay?”
Whether it is creme brulee, fresh cream, tapioca, or whatever it is you think you taste in that chardonnay… it is likely to NOT be what I will taste. We all perceive flavors and aromas differently. One size does not fit all. So, when you read wine tasting notes with descriptors like “candied persimmon”, or “cigar box”, what does that mean to you? Frankly, most consumers probably couldn’t care less. Even with a trained palate, you wouldn’t put much credence into notes this specific.
How to Read Tasting Notes
There are very few specific flavors and aromas that deserve much attention. Tasting notes will be more relevant, if you can develop a level of comfort with much broader categories. These are the categories that are generally recognized.
Fruit & Floral Aromas / Flavors
When I read blackberry or plum, I think “black fruit”. When I read cherry, or raspberry, I think “red fruit”. When I read lemon, or grapefruit, I think “citrus”. When I read pineapple, or mango, I think “tropical fruit”. When I read peach, or apricot, I think “tree or stone fruit”. When I read prunes, or raisins, I think dried fruit. When I read red rose, or honeysuckle, I think “floral”.
Herbal & Vegetal Aromas / Flavors
When I read straw, or grassy, I think “plant”. When I read sage, or mint, I think “herbal”. When I read green bell pepper, or asparagus, I think “vegetal”.
Mineral Aromas / Flavors
When I read flint, or wet rocks, I think “minerality”. When I read mushroom, or forest floor, I think “earthy”.
Wood & Spice Aromas / Flavors
When I read cedar, or oak, I think “woody”. When I read pepper, or clove, I think “spicy”. When I read toasted oak, or bacon, I think “Smokey”. When I read cocoa, or mocha, I think “chocolate”.
Chemical & Bio Aromas / Flavors
When I read toast, or yeast, I think “bread”. When I read butterscotch, or stewed prune, I think “oxidized”. When I read barnyard, or cat pee, I think “bio odors” – stinky! When I read diesel, or burnt match, I think “chemical”. When I read, butter, or cream, I think “rich dairy”.
Why Separating Flavors / Aromas into Categories Makes Sense
Broader descriptions of flavors tend to be recognized more successfully by the average person. Most people can easily relate to a “black fruit” description, versus a specific taste like “black currant”. Just translate these specific flavors into the more easily recognized broader categories and wine tasting notes start to make more sense. Then, you determine which general categories you prefer. Now, you are set to relate the flavor experience with the written wine description… and the realization grows that you MIGHT be able to use these notes to match your palate and buy wine. Obviously, it is better to taste wine before purchasing bottles, but this other process may allow you to step out on that limb and purchase a few unfamiliar wines to try.
Judging Wine CAN be Objective
There ARE wine descriptions you can take literally. These are characteristics that are quantifiable and much less subjective. These include:
How much or how little?
How much or how little?
Integrated, or too obvious?
Does the wine have a backbone? Does the wine have a mid-palate and/or a lingering finish.
Does the wine come together, without an individual aspect overpowering the other?
Does the wine coat the mouth? Is it silky, or velvetty?
Yes, you can filter useful information from tasting notes. Can you count on this process for major purchases? – Definitely not! But… you can review tasting notes from trusted sources and single out wines you may want to experiment with. So, start reading those tasting notes again from a different perspective and give it a try. See if you start running into wines that rock your world and begin your exploration of the world of wine!