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How to write wine tasting notes like a pro

How to Write Wine Tasting Notes Like a Pro

When looking at a wine menu, it’s natural to feel somewhat confused. Not only are there varietals, vintages, and vineyard names to wrap your head around, but there might also be flavor descriptors that are hyper-specific and, frankly, don’t seem very appetizing. Maybe the Cabernet Sauvignon has leather on the finish, or  or that Sauvignon Blanc has an aroma that is overwhelmingly similar to cat pee.

While these characteristics may sound unappealing, they’re just a part of what makes a wine complex. And no, sommeliers don’t pull these obscure ingredients out of thin air – they thoughtfully taste and evaluate the wine in order to write tasting notes.

Understanding tasting notes is important for anyone who likes to drink wine. Essentially, they’re the key to knowing what you like and dislike about what’s in your glass, and can be critical to understanding what pairs best with the dish you’re cooking. For instance, some people prefer their white wine to be loaded with flavors of tropical fruit, like mango and papaya, while others prefer something more oaky and buttery. While some drinkers want big bold reds, others prefer something light and bright with notes of strawberries and red cherries. Once you know how to identify these characteristics, you can begin to understand how the wine’s varietals, growing conditions, and terroir affects the flavor and aroma.  As it turns out, writing your own tasting notes is easier than you might think.

During the 40th anniversary of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, wine writer and television host Leslie Sbrocco walked an audience of attendees through a blind tasting during a seminar called, “YOU Write the Tasting Note.” By the end, the group collectively created tasting notes for six wines, all thanks to Sbrocco’s four steps. “See, swirl, smell, and sip,” she says. “That’s the best way to figure out if you like a wine or don’t like a wine.”

Step 1: See

Before anything else, Sbrocco encouraged the attendees to pick up their glasses and tilt them slightly over their white placemats – an ideal platform since the white does not obstruct the wine’s color. If you are tasting multiple wines, Sbrocco suggests standing up and looking down into the glass from above in order to compare the wines’ colors. “When you’re looking at the color, it tells us a lot of things,” she says. “Maybe oak treatment or age.” Wine tends to change color with age due to oxidation. “You cut an apple or pear. What happens? It oxidizes. It turns brown. So over time a wine is going to oxidize.” With white wines that means the color gets darker and more golden, and with reds, the color gets browner over time.

You can also get a sense of the wine’s body – or viscosity –  just based on how fast or slow it drips down the inside bulb of your wineglass.

Step 2: Swirl

People don’t just swirl wine because it’s fun. The act of swirling a glass of wine exposes the wine to oxygen which allows it to release more aroma and open up its flavor. As an experiment, you can try smelling and tasting a wine before and after swirling – you’ll see how much easier it is to define tasting notes with a simple swirl.

Step 3: Smell

Don’t be shy. Stick your nose into the wine glass and take a whiff. Try to take smaller, short inhales to not wear out your nose. Then, simply see what scents come to mind. It could be something floral, something peppery, or even something funky. To help attendees identify these smells, Sbrocco gave them large pieces of paper, printed with common wine descriptors like “oaky,” “aromatic,” and “fruity.”

Step 4: Sip  

It’s time to taste! Take a sip and think about the flavors that hit your tongue. How do they compare or contrast to the smell? What do they remind you of?

Read the rest of the original article and lots of other great content on Food & Wine.

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