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On Tasting
Writing Tasting Notes about Great Wine
Wednesday, 2nd May, 2013  - David Farmer

I have little interest in golf though as a young man read the golf column of Henry Longhurst in the Sunday Times UK as he was a writer. There are not many wine writers but there are hundreds of wine journalists and bloggers and I wonder how they do not die of boredom writing article after article about what they found when they visited winery ABC and always ending with half a dozen tasting notes.

For decades I subscribed to American Gourmet partly for the wine writing of Gerald Asher who never bothered with tasting notes though you wanted to go to Tuscany after reading his article on Chianti, the people and the food. I was thinking along these lines while reading; 'Roger Ebert: a critic of rare brilliance', Michael Deacon, 5th April 2013, UK Telegraph;

"A good critic is more than someone who happens to have an opinion. He's more than someone who happens to have an expert knowledge of his field. He's a performer. Because a good piece of criticism isn't a buyers' guide. It isn't facts and specifications and pros and cons, on the one hand, on the other hand, three out of five. It isn't best ever, worst ever, all-time top 10...

"...The critic's opinion isn't necessarily better than anyone else's. But his writing should be."

I think if you wish to write a tasting note you must make it sing. This is not possible for a basic wine because the wines themselves do not sing and it is also hard when faced with an editor who expects notes quickly on 100 fine wines to make them plausible. Still if you find a wine that is the best, or close to the best you have ever seen, then you have to rise to the occasion.

The tasting note cannot take a clinical view; this colour, this aroma, long firm palate, will cellar well; as it must be transporting. This basic tasting note is pretty well meaningless as it could be placed against hundreds of other wines. Instead the note must ignite a desire to not only try the wine, but take the reader to imaginary places; and this means creating a fantasy; and the dull and boring it cannot be.

Henry Longhurst wrote about golf but this way: "It is doubtful that there was a man present at Birkdale [1961 British Open] who wanted Palmer to lose. It's impossible to overpraise the tact and charm with which this American has conducted himself on his two visits to Britain. He has no fancy airs or graces; he wears no fancy clothes; he makes no fancy speeches. He simply says and does exactly the right thing at the right time, and that is enough".

Recently Robert Parker's 'Wine Advocate' reviewed the Penfolds Grange 2008 and gave it the perfect score of 100/100. To state the obvious this is very special and a triumph for the wine makers and for $750 or so dollars would be worth buying by a group of wine devotees to ponder the how and why.

To make a note about this wine, to develop an impression of what greatness is about, means you must have the skills of a writer. We are not talking about just another bottle, and whether reference is made or not to the smells and taste makes no difference as you build a picture of something grand and fabulous. Remember the reader will know what a big red from the warm climate of South Australia is going to be like and you must reach far beyond that point.

Parker did not write the Grange 2008 tasting note which is by Lisa Perrotti-Brown: "Deep purple-black in colour, the 2008 Grange puts forward a very complex nose packed with aromas of mulberries, layers of baking spices, cloves and cinnamon with nuances of minced meat, anise, potpourri and whiffs of dried mint and chocolate. It is framed by firm, grainy tannins and a refreshing acid line before finishing very long with aniseed and lingering blackberry preserves notes. This is clearly a wonderfully opulent and a magic vintage for this label."

Here are the opening lines of a long tasting note on the Grange 2008 by Philip White of Drinkster: "This smells like an old slate gravestone covered with lichen. In the summer. Beneath, you can also smell the old dead Lutheran way down there. They smell a bit like ancient linen in a cupboard not opened for generations. A good place to learn what I mean is the cemetery at Salem, by the Bremer east of Callington".

I will leave you with the thought that White is a wine writer and world-wide there might be half a dozen more.

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