Taking Tasting Notes

(Originally published February 2000)

A few of Hanes's loyal followers have come to him recently with similar complaints regarding the decreasing amount of inexpensive wines Hanes reviews. So, Hanes thought he would say a few words about how he decides what to drink (or, more accurately, how it is decided for him).

Hanes works part-time in a wine store, The Chelsea Wine Vault, and most of the wine he samples is from there. A great deal of the wine is stuff either (a) poured during free in-store tastings by distributors (both for the general public and for store employees only) or (b) opened by store management for staff sampling/guzzling. Obviously Hanes has no control over which wines our distributors want to present -- these run all over the place both pricewise and geographically. For example, one distributor has been pouring a lot of Italian wine lately so that gets reflected in my tasting notes and review. His selections have run from $10.99 to $32.99 per bottle. When store management pops open a bottle to try it is usually seen as a "treat" or "perk" and thus the bottle is usually an expensive one (for example, the Crocker & Starr Stone Place Cuvée for $49.99). Now, who is Hanes to say no, eh?

So, in many respects Hanes has little control over what he drinks. Don't believe for a second that Hanes actually purchases all of these wines himself (although he does spend waaaay too much money on wine). Hanes firmly believes in seeking out good "value" wines and that's part of why he still buys bottles at other stores (where he unfortunately does not have a generous employee discount). Hopefully, more $12 and under wines will appear in The Hanes Wine Review over the coming months.

Another complaint Hanes received is that the print-out of the review is excessively long. Unfortunately, the review as email cannot be formatted like a website page with tables or columns that would compress the information into a smaller space. Hanes has tried to present each wine's information with a separate line for each bit of data (grape varietal, vintage year, numeric score, etc.) because it is easier to read this way. However, starting with this review Hanes has combined some information onto a single line in order to conserve space and paper. Perhaps one day Hanes will either (a) have the review on a website where it can be formatted more elegantly or (b) attach it as a Microsoft Word document or PDF with columns and smaller font to minimize its size. He welcomes any suggestions.

Now, a word about taking tasting notes. Hanes thinks it is quite important that even casual drinkers attempt to record and keep tasting notes, if for no other reason than it helps one remember what one liked when making future purchases (thus avoiding all-too-frequent "what was that wine I liked?" situations). Not only is wine drinking a wonderful sensory experience, it is an intellectual and social experience as well. It can force you to really focus on what you taste, smell or see and discover how you can express this in words. This type of rigor can only benefit one in many other aspects of one's life. Increased general awareness comes through training not as a natural fact. Beyond this, it can often be a great pleasure to express a wine's impressions on you with your fellow tasters (although this holds more for the first bottle of the evening than for the sixth). Hanes thinks we all have experienced the great divergence of opinions a single bottle may produce on three or four different tasters. And sometimes you may be struggling for the right descriptive word and a friend blurts it out -- perfect! Just as sharing an appreciation for a movie or musical group may produce a certain measure of bonhomie among friends or family members, so too may a shared love of wine. So, do not only sip of the vine but write down your thoughts! Whisper them in your lover's ear!

And bring your notes to the wine store the next time you go to buy so the employees don't have to listen to your lame mumbling about this wine you had and really liked, if you could only remember it's name! It had a green label and it...

Below are three links to some fun wine glossaries with basic terms. Hanes recommends printing them out and reading them as you taste some wines. This will forge a stronger link between the taste experience and the standard descriptors used by wine lovers around the globe: