Problems with Wine Tasting Notes & Scores

Problems with Wine Tasting Notes & Scores

Photo © Jesse757

Everywhere you look and see discussions about wine, you are sure to find wine tasting notes and wine scores. There isn't a wine review out there that doesn't include tasting notes about the wine and some sort of score for the wine. Even this site has plenty of tasting notes and something similar to a wine score, though it's not a score in the usual sense. You shouldn't always pay too much attention to either, though, because wine tasting notes and wine scores aren't always the best way to be introduced to a new wine.

When to Ignore Wine Tasting Notes

There are specific reasons why it can better to ignore wine tasting notes, or at least read them with a grain of salt. They don't apply 100% of the time with 100% of wine drinkers, but they are at least issues you should take into account whenever you see wine tasting notes.

Tasting Notes can Prejudice or Influence Your Perception

It's easy to prejudice or influence people's perception of almost anything, and even without trying very hard. You may not realize it consciously, but commentary and reviews you've seen about movies, food, books, and even other people will become part of an unconscious filter through which all new experiences and information flow. You can't help it and you can't avoid it, so descriptions you read about a wine will cause you to experience that wine differently than you would have had you read nothing at all. This isn't always bad, since a reference to "strawberry notes" might help you recognize the very subtle strawberry flavors in the background, but it's not something you want let get out of hand either.

Tasting Notes Can Set You Up for Failure

Most tasting notes in wine reviews are written by people with a lot of knowledge about and experience with wines — or at least probably more knowledge and experience than you have. These wine drinkers have developed the ability to pick out subtle flavors and aromas in wines which may not be readily apparent to the average wine drinker. So if you read about "strawberry notes" yet are unable to detect anything remotely like strawberries — and consistently have similar experiences when drinking a wine after reading an expert's tasting notes — you might start thinking of yourself as a "failure" when it comes to drinking wine. You aren't, though, and don't need to such discouragement.

Tasting Notes Can Be Overwritten and Too Complicated

Wines may not all taste alike, but coming up with different words and phrases to express subtle differences in flavor or aroma can be difficult. Add to this the fact that the average wine reviewer or writer might be trying to write scores of wine tasting notes in any given year, and you can just imagine how difficult it will get for even an excellent writer. As a result, the descriptions wine reviewers write end up using all sorts of flowery, complicated language just to avoid writing the exact same descriptions over and over. This isn't very helpful to newer and less experienced wine drinkers.

When to Pay Attention to Wine Tasting Notes

There are reasons why wine tasting notes can create problems and should perhaps be ignored, but this doesn't mean that wine tasting notes are always useless. There are positive advantages to be had from tasting notes, but it helps if you know what to look for. Key is finding wine tasting notes that help you explore wines.

Pay Attention to Basic, Simple Descriptions

Complex, flowery language in wine tasting notes can be a problem, but the other side of that coin is that simple, basic descriptions of a wine can be helpful. What's more, simple descriptions that don't go out of their way to list every possible flavor, no matter how subtle, aren't as likely to make you feel inadequate — simpler, basic descriptions will list the most obvious flavors and aromas which you should be able to pick up on even if you're a novice. A good description will also make it clear if any flavors or aromas are questionable or difficult to pick up on.

Pay Attention to Food Pairing Descriptions

Since wine is generally intended to be consumed with food, knowing what foods go well or poorly with your wine can be very helpful. If you know a lot about wine, you can make good guesses about what foods will or will not pair with a wine based on descriptions of acidity, tannins, sweetness, how much body it has, etc. If you know a lot less about wine, though, you're better off with more concrete suggestions. So if wine tasting notes specifically recommend having a wine with fish and not with chicken, and it turns out that the wine really works well when you have it with fish, then that's a source of wine information you should keep going back to.

Pay Attention to Wine Comparisons

It's often easier to understand a wine's flavors and aromas in context rather than in isolation. Food provides some context, but an even better context can be another wine — either a similar wine or a very different wine. Subtle flavors in a wine can become more obvious when contrasted with something similar that lacks those flavors. The effects of a wine's acidity or tannins may become more obvious when contrasted with a wine that has radically different acidity or tannins. As a consequence, wine tasting notes which make a point of comparing and contrasting a wine with something else will help you better understand what any one particular wine has to offer.

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Making Wine for Food, Not Scores

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