Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A word on tasting notes

When sampling wine I tend to think and write about smell, then taste, then conclusions, which is why my notes end up looking like bad haiku. The one thing I ignore is color, which is not very professional of me since a wine's color, "la robe" as the French so elegantly put it, is an important part of its identity. Color not only gives you aesthetic pleasure but will tell you about the varietal, about age and body and, if you are very experienced, perhaps about decisions made in the winery. On wine-judging points scales, correct and pleasing color contributes to the wine's final score.

All well and good, but my difficulty is that I am running out of new words for dark red, pink, and very pale yellow. For a writer the search for these words should be a healthy challenge, and up to a point it is. Allow me, in fact, to challenge you. Next time you look at something colorful, a sunset for instance, try to precisely name all the tints you see. Beyond red and orange. Try naming various shades of gray. Is that lovely cloud oyster, or gunmetal, or mother of pearl? The real pros at this color game are the fashion industry marketers who name eyeshadows, lipsticks, and hair dyes. The people who name car colors are not far behind. I especially love it when they don't cheat and name something "razzle dazzle," but really pin down the shade, often in subcategories like "mattes," or "velvets" or "sea foam." It's endless. One can only bow the head in awe.

But wines? They come in that small array of reddish-purple, pink, or very soft, silvery-gold tones, either opaque or not. Fabrics have more variety. Anyway if the reader already knows enough about wine for the color in his glass to speak to him, it doesn't follow that he needs to know exactly what the color in my glass spoke to me. It's different with eyeshadows and cars. Enchanting and a propos color descriptors there at least help sell the product.

One obvious exception: a glaring color problem will tell you about a flaw in the wine, especially a white. A pinot grigio turning brownish may be well past its best. (I'd be pleased to learn how color could so instantly demonstrate a flaw in a red.) But as for everyday, good, well-meaning wines and well-meaning tasting notes, -- well. Garnet and mulberry, or the "pale straw" so often repeated, pretty much sum it up. Unless we encounter something extraordinary, shall we take all as read, and move on to our usual haiku?

2004 Artesa tempranillo reserve, Alexander Valley CA

black red color
leather -- cloth -- (clean cloth)
gentle smoky blueberries
-- later -- the moist end of a piece of plum cake
light tannins, nice late acids
-- later -- vanilla barbecue -- still good

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