I'm a little tasting noted out. It's not just because I'm fighting a cold or that I had the misfortune to sample some of Tesco's more deplorable offerings recently, though the latter certainly gave me reason to pause. It's more the repetition. As a writer I find myself cringing with every mention of 'citrus' or 'forest floor' (the latter is certainly one of my crutches). As a reader I find them increasingly boring. How many times can you type or read 'pencil lead' and 'cassis' before you want to crack open a bottle of Budvar and be done with it?
Tasting notes didn't used to be like this. They weren't a list of other things that the wine in question smelled and tasted like. Instead they were meaningless metaphors about picnicking at Easter or wandering the moors on a midsummer's eve. Immensely fun to read but of no use to anyone who wanted to know what the wine actually tasted like. Like, you know, the consumer. Parker called them all on this, screamed bullshit and did his own thing. So instead the whimsical wine metaphor was replaced with lists of fruits, herbs, condiments and in some cases none of the above (manure). And while more people know what blackcurrant and bramble tastes like than what wandering the moors on a midsummer's eve tastes like, I feel there's a sad rut that that this almost entirely unimportant literary genre has reached. So broken down are wines becoming within these lists of fruit and whatnot that you can't see the forest for the trees. You get a hint as to what a wine tastes like, but not how it tastes. There are exceptions: Jamie Goode's occasional 'complete' tasting notes, in which he describes not only the wine, but the surroundings and situation in minuscule detail are fun and fantastic in how they acknowledge that situation is essential in how a wine tastes. Gary Vaynerchuk's Wine Library TV isn't everyone's cup of tea, but he's done more to explain flavours in wine to the masses than a library full of fruit salad tasting notes. But the vast majority could be cut-and-pasted from one wine to another and no one would notice.
And maybe there's something to that. Perhaps wines just taste too much alike these days and their differences are too minute for the limitations of wine vocabulary. Is the vocabulary itself to blame? Is it too limited? It seems whenever a wine-writer strays back towards the old metaphor-style, they catch all manner of hell. When Andrew Jefford describes flavours as 'helicoptering', people call bullshit. Andrew Jefford is one of the best booze writers in the world. His New France is among my favourite wine tomes. Then he turned around and wrote Peat, Smoke & Spirit, the best whisky book I've ever read. Have we come so far from those whimsical wine-writers of the past that we cannot see some of the positive points of their writing? Is it time for another upheaval within our writing and wine assessment? Michael Broadbent still waxes the whimsy rather beautifully and his notes are a joy to read (though often fill me with a wrathful jealousy) but it's as though he's the exception that proves the rule. Once again I look at Vaynerchuk's style and content to see what might be coming next. He uses an extraordinary number of descriptors, from classic fruit salad to the geological with healthy doses of the flavours of childhood. But he also chucks in the odd metaphor - ugly girlfriends and WWF heroes - a far cry from picnicking at Easter, but people do seem to respond to it.
Of course, that brings up a question of who these tasting notes are for? Are they purely for the consumer? If so, how interested are they, really? When I host tastings for people just getting into wine and guide them through the nose and palate, their first response when I ask what aromas and flavours they get is always 'wine'. Sometimes it's 'red wine' or 'white wine'. Which is fair enough. I sometimes think that there are those in the wine trade who feel that you can't even casually appreciate wine without an understanding of the vocabulary that comes with it. And a lot of wine writers seem to be writing only for their peers and their paycheques. If that's the case, then there's even less of excuse for mundanity and repetitiveness of tasting notes these days. Am I the only one seeing this?
I write my notes for me, to provide some manner of written record of what I'm tasting. From now on I'm going to stray into the more ambiguous, whimsical and metaphorical because a) it's more fun to write and b) it's more personal for me. That's not to say there won't be a dusting of fruit salad here and there, far from it. There'll just be a touch more garnish to go with it.