The SOMM Journal

April / May 2018

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Page 88 of 108

88 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } APRIL/MAY 2018 { somm study } WHILE PREPARING SLIDES for a wine seminar on Italy, I noticed that the tasting notes of producers from the northern regions were short, with few descriptors other than a heavy reliance on the word persistente to connote a long finish. The further south I went, the longer and more flowery the notes became. One producer's Chianti had "closely-woven tan - nins both smooth and pleasant"; another referred in awkward English to an "excel- lent the balance of the flavors." A note from Sicily described how "fresh and ir- resistible tannins enhance the elegance and sumptuousness of a wine that knows it shines with inimitable charm." It was tough to suppress a giggle, yet I felt the warmth of the region and its people. Are tasting notes an art, a science, a handy guide for wine drinkers, or mere advertising copy? I'll raise these questions and others at my seminar "Are Tasting Notes Relevant?" at the Society of Wine Educators' national conference in Fairport, New York, this August. Tasting notes seem to have as long a his - tory as winemaking itself. In The Booklovers' Guide to Wine, author Patrick Alexander writes that the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest piece of literature in existence dating back to 3,500 B.C., describes a character drinking "strong" wine. Is this the first published tasting note? Alexander also writes that wine descriptions from ancient Egypt have been found, including "white to green, sweet, rich, aromatic, tart." They're not far off from the tasting notes you'd find today. We do expect modern tasting notes to cover a wine's appearance, nose, and palate, but that tradition is recent. Works from the 1960s and 1970s, such as Frank Schoon - maker's Encyclopedia of Wine, feature broad, relatively imprecise descriptions. For instance, Schoonmaker describes Sauternes as "a rich, golden wine, high in alcohol and decidedly sweet … At their best they are quite extraordinary, velvety and almost creamy … remarkable for their fruit, their breed, and their bouquet." This would be considered vague by today's standards. But how do more specific descriptors benefit wine drinkers? And should tasting notes for consumers differ from those for the trade? The SOMM Journal's Publisher and Editorial Director Meridith May says that professionals will tolerate, flowery de - scriptors like "lovely with lush flavors" only to a point, so she favors including engaging information on the winery. Some descriptions have become for- ever linked with certain wines. Writer Jay McInerny's claim that Côte-Rôtie "almost inevitably evokes bacon" has become a mantra among reviewers who describe its "dramatic, almost primal gaminess" or its hint of "grilled meats." But E. Guigal's own notes reference only red fruits, blackber - ries, and violets. Is this just an American flavor fetish? And what does it mean for the industry when notes vary so widely? I hope to explore these questions—and many more—at my seminar. Until then, happy tasting! PHOTO: KARELNOPPE VIA THINKSTOCK Are Tasting Notes Relevant? by Paul D. Poux, CSW PHOTO COURTESY OF PAUL POUX Paul Poux, CSW.

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