Tasting notes that defy understanding

This is an actual tasting note from what is a very good winery in the California Central Coast region. The owner/winemaker is a bit eccentric, to say the least, but you really have to dig through this to pick out anything that would be of real use to a prospective buyer. I guess the idea is that you trust that he makes great wine and this is just part of his creativity. Just sayin’.

“In the pages of the book your father read to you there were paintings of
jungles. Strange boughs laden with deep flowers, blueberries filled with cream
guarded by amber jewelled jaguars. As you drifted to sleep the summer air was
swollen with storms, you could smell the wet earth, the hyacinth, your mother’s
rare perfumes. Swaddled in your clean bed, you never heard the car pull out,
crushing the violets in the yard.”

Someone got a few too many rejections from Poets & Writers Magazine and decided to self-publish.


It’s never pretty when J. Peterman catalog writers go to work for wineries.


Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher who jointly wrote a wine column in The Wall Street Journal titled “Tastings” between 1998-2009 rated wines on a scale that ranged from “Yech”, “OK”, “Good”, “Very Good”, “Delicious” to “Delicious!” Their straightforward description of the occasion and menu of the tasting clearly illuminated the rating.

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Actually, that is the least annoying wine tasting note I have ever read!

(Glad somebody in the modern wine business has developed a sense of humor.)

Did I sound annoyed? Didn’t mean to. My job involves writing ‘shelf talkers’ for wines in the shop where I work, AND in helping customers decide if they’ll like the wine. Unfortunately I don’t get to taste every wine, so this description serves best as a conversation starter but doesn’t help much otherwise. I should note that it IS provided by the winery as a “tasting note”.

Don’t misunderstand. I know the winery and the wines are always. really terrific. I just think this guy is not at all interested in anything beyond his own tasting room or his personal chops with his customers. That’s fine, but a bit limiting outside his world. At lead the uses a few flavor references buried within.

No, I was saying that almost all wine tasting writing annoys me. This came across as a send-up of the worst of it.

I think he’s rebelling, in his own way, against the industry ‘requirement’ that he provide notes at all.

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At least he’s rebelling in style…

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[quote=“Midlife, post:8, topic:3082, full:true”]
I think he’s rebelling, in his own way, against the industry ‘requirement’ that he provide notes at all.
[/quote]Oh, like the Replacements’ video for Bastards of Young. I approve.

Pretty obscure reference… no? Google helped though. But that was, apparently, in a contract.

This guy is just eccentric. Creative, but eccentric. His production is quite small. Everything he does in labeling and marketing is unique. The only issue I see is that, if someone isn’t familiar with his wine (or his way) I’m not sure if this kind of material helps or hurts. I suppose, in keeping with his personality, he’s probably very much OK with people buying his wine as an adventure.

I never know whether to explain something or not. If I do, I run the risk of insulting you. If I don’t, I run the risk of baffling you. The second option seems safer.

I suppose you might read this guy’s tasting notes, recognize a kindred spirit, and figure that if you like his prose, you might also like his product.

Presented in the FWIW Dept. . . .

Back in 1974, when I started teaching wine classes in Beverly Hills, California, I told my students that the most important thing you (the students) could ever say about a wine was “Yum!” or “Yuck!” – everything else was just “extra.”

As for my own tasting notes, I only used points when writing for magazines, and then it was on a "modified UC Davis 20-point scale. In the early 1980s, while working as one of the corporate-level wine buyers for a large (104 stores) retail chain – and I’ve posted this before – I started using my own system:

  • IFC – In-f***ing-credible!
  • GSM – Good $#|+, Maynard (my homage to Dobie Gillis * Maynard G. Krebs)
  • PGS – Pretty Good $#|+
  • DNS – Does Not Suck
  • DNPIM – Do NOT Put In Mouth! (for any wine that was flawed, regardless of why)

Later, I realized that I needed one more acronym to signify that it was clearly the winery’s fault:

  • STW – Shoot The Winemaker!
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My personal favorite was written by Monterey Peninsula Winery. It was on the back label of their 1978 Pleasanton Barbera. (See below the photo.)

Presented with typos and all:

<img src="//hungryonionstatic.nyc3.digitaloceanspaces.com/original/2X/9/93eb30e00fe2fa75156597b0e197544481f734d5.JPG" width=“525” height=“700”

I do like people who have fun with the label notes. Lagunitas has some fun ones on its beers. Here are the notes for The Hairy Eyeball (billed as a “hangover-halting beer. Especially formulated for when you wake up feelin’ like you need to shave your eyeballs to see the new day”):

Laying there, staring up at the ceiling, head pounding, last night was a dim recollection. How did he get home? Was he alone? Looking to the left and right, the answer was yes, maybe. His head was full of ‘rag water, bitters, and blue misery’. His teeth felt like he’d been chewing aluminum and his breath smelled like a burning tractor tire. There was a wrenching knot somewhere between his liver and East St. Louis and he couldn’t be sure whether or not he’d wet himself. A yellow sine wave rang in his ears so loud it made his teeth itch and he was sure that if he touched his skin anywhere it would induce a rhythmic wretching jag. If all that weren’t bad enough, he found himself smiling at the realization that there was still one warm, half-empty, flat, Hairy Eyeball on the nightstand. Yes - There is a God.

I may be warming up to this more. Here’s another from the same winemaker as before:

“He would arrive unannounced. You think your parents had met him while backpacking through a country that has a different name now. His accent was articulate and rustic. His face weathered and healthy. His thick wool jackets smelt of the old Orient: preserved cherries, Sandalwood, Ceylon tea, rose petals, cinnamon, Peaberry coffee bean and cognac. He was always gone too soon but would leave you a box of gold wrapped chocolates, each with a different flavor: nutmeg, caraway, plum and mint. Years later, when asked, your parents looked confused, certainly no one like that had ever visited, besides, they had never traveled overseas.”

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That sucks that you have to write descriptors on products that you haven’t tasted.
I hate when you are in places where you realize that the staff don’t know the product. Not saying that you don’t know your product by any means- you say not “every” implies that you are tasting most?

To clarify… I do most of the tasting note cards based largely on winery information, so there’s an issue only when I haven’t tasted the wine AND the winery doesn’t provide any OR, as in the case of my original post, where the notes provided are so obscure that it’s very difficult to extract anything helpful. That last case is essentially the point of this topic.

If your local wine shop’s note cards are all written by someone who works there and are based on their tasting of each wine, you are in a special place. As a customer, I don’t expect that much.

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Where I grew up, there were a couple of smaller private wine stores where the people really new their stuff.
They really worked at educating their staff and did a lot of tastings.

Where I presently live, there are franchised liquor stores all over the place. 3/4 of the wine they sell is swill because that’s how unrefined peoples’ tastes are here. I don’t even bother asking the clerks for advice, lol.