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Tuesday Tributes
Will The Tasting Note Survive?

By Charles Olken

I blame Robert Parker. Not that he created the tasting note. I was reading tasting notes when Mr. Parker was still in knee pants—or at least in law school. But, the predicted demise of his Wine Advocate empire has brought about an outpouring of analysis and prediction about the future of wine criticism. Let’s stipulate that this mass of verbiage is all guesswork, even mine, and that it does not matter which savant or know nothing is speaking, guesswork is still guesswork.

Admittedly, some guesswork is probably more valuable than others—and that is where I come in. I am one of those folks who has followed the shape of wine criticism through several iterations, and whatever contributions I and CGCW have made to the field, do have longevity on their side if nothing else. But maybe there is something else. And that something else is an unwillingness to rush off on wild assumptions that the world of wine criticism is about to change shape so radically that we will know longer recognize the tasting notes of decades and decades of existence.

Instead of its demise, the tasting note has already begun a metamorphosis into a hundred butterflies. And it is not the rating system or lack thereof that is at the heart of this expansion, this greater range of choice about how wine experience and evaluation is presented. The major and driving change is being brought about by the existence of the Internet and the resulting unassailable fact that the real estate here for words has no cost except time. It is this change from print journalism and all the limits that print created that is driving the expansion of shape and form.

Why limit oneself to 25 to 40 words as the Spectator and Enthusiast do—or even the 75 to 150 works that appear in CGCW tasting notes? The real estate is free—so why not just let loose and begin and end where the story takes you? That change is already happening at CGCW. The length of those tasting notes meriting extra attention has more or less doubled in size when the story merits that kind of length. But, for us at least, and I believe that this dictum applies to all comprehensive reviewers, grand and great tasting notes are find in small doses, but if any reviewer ever gets it in his or her mind to write hundreds of those in a single issue, that reviewer will find his readers going to sleep.

There is, however, the chance that writers of fewer tasting notes at a time will find that great length is an appreciated form. Such tasting notes will focus only on wines that the writer has greatly enjoyed, and the tasting note will take the form of a love letter of sorts. It will consist of story, uses with food, changes in the wine over time after opening and any other anecdotal information that fits. Frankly, that is not really new wine writing. Gerald Asher has been doing it for decades, and others long before that.

It will be a kind of writing that is not meant to separate the wheat from the chaff. That form of analysis will still belong to the subscription-based media because no one is going to taste through hundreds of wines and write comprehensive tasting notes without getting paid. And the likelihood is that some form of rating system, whether hundred points or some newly desired system of symbolic notation, will accompany those tasting notes. No, love letter tasting notes will not replace the work of CGCW or the Spectator or Parker.

Love letter tasting notes will become more popular. In fact, they already have. But the demise of the traditional tasting note is a long way off, and if history is any guide, that “long way off” may never come.


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Commentrary in Wine Tasting
by Smartly Sauced
Posted on:3/1/2013 8:11:25 AM


I love your post. To me the commentary of a wine review is much more important then the score.

Talking about what we are tasting, how a wine changes over a time, and pairing it with food is fun. Wine should be fun. 

I would rather read reviews about what someone is experiencing with a wine that just looking at a score.

Like you said each bottle of wine can tell a story.

-Smartly Sauced

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