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Tasting Notes Are A Waste of Bandwidth

By Charles Olken

Okay. You know me better than that. Hells bells, I write tasting notes for a living. I am not about to throw tasting notes out with the bath water regardless of the fact that I agree, with a fair bit of bemusement, with the arguments put forth by Englishman Jamie Goode in his critique of tasting notes.

But, on the other hand, now that I think about his comments, I have to believe he was speaking tongue in cheek—or in his cups. Let’s examine his theses and see if they hold water or wine or can pass the basic smell test.

1. “Tasting notes are silly”.

I will give Mr. Goode due credit here. He is talking about his tasting notes, which he hates. Why? Because he says that something as abstract as wine, as made up of sensations and experiences cannot be described in words.

Well, I have news for you, Mr. Goode. Until a new system of human communication comes along, I guess we will just have to use words anyhow. Admittedly some people are better at words than others, but no one is better at describing wine without words than the worst writers are at describing wine with words. Yes, it is a close call sometimes, but you have to give the nod to the words—even when they comes straight out of the prismatic luminescence school of winewriting.

2. “Tasting notes are opaque to normal people”.

I have to guess that Mr. Goode is referring to people who do not regularly read tasting notes and really do not give a damn about wine except as mouthwash with their sloppy joes. Because as far as I can tell, most people who care about wine as more than a commodity, do care about tasting notes and glean from them what they can.

I often measure statements like Mr. Goode’s against the experiences and expectations of my neighbors—most of whom drink wine and have opinions about what they like and don’t like. I have yet to hear one of them say, “stop talking about wine”. They want to learn, they want to understand. And tasting notes are a very important mechanism in that process.

3. “Tasting notes are overelaborate. They intimidate normal people.”

Well, there he goes with the “normal people” again. And he is finally beginning to make sense is some weird and otherworldly way. Normal people apparently do not care about wine enough to read. And when they do read, sadly, they read words, which as we all know now, are unable to describe wine. But, while we are on the subject of “normal people”, do they read blogs?

4. “The language we have for wine is a learned code. It is not an accurate description of what we experience when we taste wine.”

It is clear at this point that Mr. Goode failed his existential philosophy class. A tree is a tree because we all agree that it is a tree. The aromas of Cabernet are curranty because we all agree that what we smell is best described as curranty. And just as we agree to that the thing in the front yard is a tree, so too do we all agree a good descriptor of Cabernet is curranty. Red is red and the sky is not the ocean because we agree that they are—or aren’t. This “code” stuff is nothing more than the way we learn to communicate. And, yes, wine has its own code and it does need learning. And once learned, it allows us to communicate.

You say to-mah-to and I say to-may-to and the damn thing is round and red and it's not an apple.

5. “We break wine down into separate components when we describe it. This is a mistake in that we forget that wine is a whole.”

I hope I am not insulting Mr. Goode, but these arguments only make sense to someone who is either tipsy or hates his own writing. Wine is the sum of the parts, and talking about those parts that make a difference allows us to ultimately talk about the whole. It is called “the conclusion”, and good tasting notes do have conclusions that lead the reader into decisions. The tasting note is not the culprit here. Bad writing is the culprit.

My Summation

Jamie Goode is a smart guy, and he realizes, in the final analysis, that we cannot have tasting notes that exist absent words. He would like better communication about wine—and so would we all—but until something replaces words, we are stuck with them and their codes and opacity and prismatic luminescence.

It is either that or a bunch of emoticons. Spare me the indignity, please.

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