My Tasting Note Evolution

When I started writing this blog, I wrote just about anything I wanted—no one was reading my words (not even my wife or my mother) and I was buying all the wine. And it was fairly straight forward. I did not see myself as the “next Robert Parker” (or even the next Dorothy Parker), but I knew that I liked to write and I liked to drink wine.

At some point along the way, a few people began to notice. Why? How? I have no idea, but they did, and they must have liked what they saw (or were desperate) for I started to receive samples in the mail.

For almost any beginning blogger (at least those who are willing to admit it), receiving that first sample in the mail is a bit of a rush—it’s a tangible recognition of all the work that preceded it. The months’ worth of hours spent writing, revising, and promoting your blog (as well as the  incredible time sink that is social media) had finally “paid off” in a real way.

Be careful what you wish for—sample wines have completely overtaken the kitchen…

…and the floor of my office.

I still remember some of the first samples that I received. At the time I had not yet adopted the policy that I would only publish “positive” reviews (more on this policy below). For this one wine, though, I really could not help it—it was truly dreadful. I just went to the producer’s website and while they are still making the second wine they sent me (which I actually liked), it does not appear as though they still make the Pink Panda (a god-awfully sweet pink sparkler in a bottle that glowed in the dark). They do have some cannabis infused wines, however, which says a lot. At least to me.

Yes, I checked. It did glow in the dark.

Despite my positive review for that second wine, I never heard another word from that producer, even though to this day it was one of my favorite reviews I ever wrote. I guess they were not enthralled with part of my note on the Pink Panda:

I was a bit worried about the nose of strawberry Jolly Rancher or Kool Aid, and on the palate there was plenty more of the same. And it was sweet. Really sweet. Really, really sweet. This is not a wine for a meal, unless that meal is a pop tart.

Of course, I thought (and still think) it was rather clever, but it was also probably a bit mean (albeit true). Shortly thereafter, I adopted my “positive reviews only” stance. Why? Well, briefly, I believe there are far too many good wines available and far too much negativity to get bogged down with negative reviews. And while negative reviews probably attract more traffic (Schadenfreude?) and can be more fun to write, I really see no point.

One could argue that the consumer “deserves to know” or other similar reasoning, and while there is a modicum of truth to that, I firmly believe that 90% (or higher) of the wines at or above $10 retail in the U.S. are technically “good.” While a particular individual or critic might not like a wine, it is probably not “bad.” Or, more precisely, there is a segment of the population that would find the wine at least palatable or even “good.” (I was going to make an analogy with the current political landscape, but, well, I will save that click-bait for another post.)

Go ahead. Disagree. That’s fine, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, no matter how wrong they are.

Since the beginning of this blog, my approach to evaluating wines has remained fairly constant: I try to taste every wine that I receive and assess it on its own merits, usually centered around a meal and over the course of a couple of hours. That is now proving to be nearly impossible—there just are not enough days in the week. So I either need to change the way I taste and evaluate wines, or I need to start respectfully declining samples a lot more. Or both.

There is a complication with that resolve, however. Over the course of the last several years, I have become friends (or at least friendly) with many of the people at the wineries and PR firms that send me samples. While I try very hard to keep those relationships out of the process, it is not all that easy. And it is nearly impossible (at least for me) to say “no thanks” since many of them have supported my blog and my writing for years.

My buddy Ed St. John of Pedroncelli poured his wines in my kitchen…

A great case in point: in September, on subsequent weeks, two good friends visited me in Houston, both representing their winery. I invited over some local writers and several folks in my neighborhood to try their wines with us. Both events, it seemed, were a huge success, but it was difficult (at best) to write down my thoughts on the wines while also serving as host, neighbor, friend. Don’t get me wrong—I encouraged the visits and loved having both of them here (and can’t wait until they come back), but it’s hard to be objective about someone’s wines when you know there is a chance you might see the guy in his underwear at some point over the next twelve hours or so.

…as did the incomparable Christophe Bristiel of Chateau la Nerthe from Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Nonetheless, this week I will be publishing my thoughts on the wines later this week (and next).

I would love to have some feedback on what you, the readers of this blog, think. Up until this point, I have tried to make my tasting notes on wines little stories unto themselves, either including tidbits about the producer, region, variety, or the conditions around which I tasted the wine, but with the volume of wine I currently have, it would take me several months (more like years) of just writing tasting notes to catch up.

I am contemplating writing shorter, more concise notes as I have done with my larger tastings (e.g., American “True” Rosé or Domestic Pinot Noir), so that it will free up time for longer articles on regions, wineries, travel.

I would love to hear your thoughts.





About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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16 Responses to My Tasting Note Evolution

  1. Samples are a blessing and a curse. Around this time last year I began to realize samples were dictating my content. For some that is great, for me it became a problem. Like you, I truly appreciate the many PR firms and wineries who have supported my writing journey. However, I have become the “no to samples” queen. I have begun planning my editorial calendar in advance, requesting what I need, saying yes to the few offers that fit, and no to all the rest. Samples sent to me without my consent are typically given away to friends, family, or donated to charitable causes. I keep a few – very few. Good luck finding your way revising your notes and sample policy

    Liked by 2 people

  2. How could they complain, you did offer a wine pairing suggestion. The next time I decide on a pop-tart for dinner, I’ll be looking for some of that Pink Panda!
    As to your notes request: I personally never pay attention to points, even yours. I like concise notes that might help me decide whether I might be interested in the wine. I do appreciate extra information about the background, winery, place, history, funny story. One of the nice things, it’s your blog and you get to do what you want to do, no editors!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I get the point thing, but I am growing increasingly fed up with the “traditional” tasting note. Does anyone really care if it smells like elderberry? Or crushed acacia? I just think that some (myself included) take tasting notes to the inane. After all, you and I are likely to have different descriptors–does that make one (or both) of us wrong?


  3. Anne says:

    I LOVE your blog(especially what we have been drinking) for the following reasons:
    1. Humor
    2. Technical descriptions are brief, you keep it real
    3. Personal stories included
    4. Frequent posts
    5. Keep politics out of it( you have occasionally slipped, but for the most part you remember we read for the wine review not political reviews)
    6. You are good writer!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. talkavino says:

    yes for the positive-only reviews – same approach here. Concise notes are fine. Stories are good, but for more purpose-driven posts; if you just cover a bunch of samples, go with the short, concise notes.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. aFrankAngle says:

    Cheers to your journey and the growth, enjoyment, & success that it has brought to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. wineismylife says:

    Depends on where you want to go with it. Stay with the current path? Cut back on the number of wines. Expand into even more notes? Stick to a precise, concise, clear and above all consistent tasting note that can be produced in two minutes. Your call. It is your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’d say you need a filtering mechanism, like Michelle, but you *do* have a filtering mechanism, time available. (There may be a 2nd mechanism, liver available.) Your blog shows that you make or save time to be with your family, and that’s critical. Beware coming to the feeling that your blog conflicts with that or–god forbid–consistently feels like work. That’s certain to happen some days, when writers block meets drinkers block, but it has crippled my blog for a while. Filter as needed, but keep doing what you’re doing. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Christophe says:

    Re:”a chance you might see the guy in his underwear at some point over the next twelve hours or so” – you should consider yourself happy that I kept it on…!
    Cheers! Christophe

    Liked by 1 person

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