How to Write the Best Ever Wine Tasting Note


Writing is a cathartic exercise. The same can be said about tasting wine. Amazing things will happen when the two practices are merged. Tasting notes are an opportunity to sharpen your palate and uncover curious flavors. Pineapple tops? Dentist’s office chair? A laundry list of chemical compounds commingle in your glass to create unique tasting experiences. When it comes to tasting notes the truth is in the palate of the taster. But like all art, there is some science involved. We asked the web’s top wine writers to give us their thoughts on how to write a great tasting note. They also shared some of the most interesting flavors they’ve ever found in a wine.

What’s the most unique tasting note you’ve ever found? Let us know in the comments.
I was a writer long before I was of legal wine-drinking age, and I learned a lot about my writing style while studying journalism as an undergraduate. I loved interviewing people, posing poignant questions, trying to figure out what made the subject of the interview unique. When it comes to writing tasting notes (and I’ve written thousands of them), I take this same approach. I sit back and interview the wine in my glass.

It all comes down to asking the right questions. Is the color light gold or dark yellow, and what does the viscosity tell me about the wine? This wine smells spicy, but there are thousands of spices — is this clove, black pepper, anise, fennel? How does the body of the wine or the tannins, if present, balance out with the wines acidity? Fine wine has so many stories to tell, and I try to listen as well as I can when writing a tasting note. When “interviewing” my first Georgian Saperavi many years ago, I was trying to nail down a unique scent and flavor, and I settled on incense sticks (something I still come across in some Saperavi). I also love the flavor of ocean jetty rocks (yes, I’ve tasted them) I sometimes get in great Muscadet (perhaps the world’s most oceanic-tasting wine).

Isaac James Baker
Reading, Writing & Wine

As a writer, I've been moving away from tasting notes and focusing more on the total experience, whether it be a visit to a winery, attending an event, or having a meal paired with wine. I write tasting notes more sparingly because wine tasting is subjective and unique to a singular moment in time and place. Food, ambiance, location, and company influence the act of tasting and drinking wine. When I do incorporate tasting notes, I recall Wine & Spirit Education Trust's Systematic Approach to Tasting® (SAT), but I write in a way that is easily understandable to both beginners and professionals. I describe the aromas and flavors of wine using descriptors with which most people are familiar in everyday life, while I avoid those that are obscure or make no sense to many. Two of the most interesting flavors I have encountered in wine are meatiness in Pinotage and ​the flavor of olives in cool-climate Syrah. As I write tasting notes, I emphasize that my description is solely my impression of the wine that may or may not be the same for anyone else or the next time I taste. It's rare to recreate the same tasting experience twice. A tasting note is but ​a brief glimpse into my ever-changing, evolving palate.

​Elizabeth Smith
Traveling Wine Chick​

When I first started making tasting notes on wine, I quickly realized I needed a consistent structure for memorializing my impressions of the wines I tasted. I don’t recall where I found it, but to this day I mentally organize my thoughts around the color, aroma, body, taste and finish of a wine. Though the color of a wine may be a tip you of the age and/or condition of the wine, I think it’s optional. My primary focus is on describing a wine’s aromas, body (including dryness level, the body or “weight” of the wine, acidity and tannins), taste and finish (the best wines finish last!) For a wine’s aromas and flavors I use as many adjectives as possible (e.g. does it smell and taste of fresh or baked cherries or perhaps cherry jam) to flesh out the character of the wine. I prefer straight forward, rather than esoteric wine descriptors because I think that’s what the vast majority of wine drinkers relate to. For the body, I think it’s important to identify whether the wine is light, medium, of full bodied and to describe its dryness level, acidity and tannins. I like to complete my tasting note by describing the finish of the wine  - both how long the taste stays on the palate after the wine is swallowed and whether it tastes spicy, savory, bitter, tart, etc. The key a great tasting note is to find a systematic approach that will enable you to comprehensively capture your impression of the wine on a consistent basis. Find what works for you and practice, practice, practice!  Among the more unique and memorable aromas and or flavors I’ve captured in my tasting notes have been roasted sunflower seeds, marzipan, and canned peas!

Martin Redmond

Writing a great tasting note is an involved task. As a writer, the goal is to accurately describe what you see, smell, & taste, with any personal insight from your overall experience. I have my own set of rules to follow. First, Be honest! Shakespeare said it best: “To thine own self be true.” My brand relies on my integrity and honesty, so it has to start there. Second, Be helpful. Those who read your wine reviews want to know: Will I like this wine? When might I serve it? So it’s incredibly important to try and show which wine drinkers will like a wine, with examples of both the wine’s profile and possible food pairings. Third, Know your audience and speak their language. The general public does not care for WSET nomenclature, and I have learned the hard way to turn it down a notch. Use terms that are more comfortable. The oenophiles will adore reading “medium acidity, notes of petroleum and a hint of cat urine”, but those phrases will (and have) freaked out come of my dedicated readers, and they WILL let you know it!  Fourth, let your passion flow. If you love something about a wine, share it! That will convince your audience to step out of their comfort zone and try something new.

“Where the heck did you learn to taste that?” I’ve been asked about some of the most unusual flavor descriptors: barnyard (you can’t miss it when it’s there), eucalyptus, lychee, burnt sugar (from an 1853 madeira), and sauvignon blanc’s worst possible side effect, the dreaded aroma of cat urine. But more than any of these, I get the strangest looks and questions from group tasting when I use geologic and mineral identifiers, such as limestone, clay, slate, granite, sand, flint, & shale. Most of these I can thank my high school and college geology classes for teaching me, and others I learned over time by tasting terroir, as farmers and winemakers do. Growing up in Atlanta, Ga, I learned the taste of several different types of clay just the same way one learns the taste of beach sand- just by playing in it.

Jim van Bergen

My tasting note varies depending on the wine, or series of wines, that I’m talking about… But if you want to start somewhere, then I would recommend Michael Schuster’s Essential Winetasting as a great place to start and constantly refer to as you progress through the years. It’s good to get the color, aroma, flavor, structure as well as BLIC (quality assessed by balance, length, intensity, complexity, character, concentration), but as you get those points down you want to form you own style of tasting note. Honestly, I change mine up depending on what the wine inspires in me… sometimes I write very simple, structured notes… sometimes they are silly… sometimes romantic… sometimes I throw in a reference of how it reminds me of a character in a movie. I don’t think I can name the most unique flavors I have ever found in a glass as I taste way too much wine on a weekly basis to just pick the top two or three. So let me tell you about a couple I had recently: Mistinguett Cava Brut Rosé, made from 100% Trepat, had a distinct note of Rau Ram (Vietnamese coriander) that has a spicy yet lemon blossom note. The second, 2016 Herencia Altés “Experimental” skin contact, almost orange wine, White Garnacha (Granatxa Blanca) that I tasted in the supposed birth place of the mutation of White Garnacha – Terra Alta, Catalonia, Spain - it had a unique flavor of sea urchin dusted with cinnamon, which reminded me of a sea urchin dessert I tasted once… although it may sound odd, it was actually the best dessert I have ever had in my life. Hopefully we will see this new “Experimental” wine hit the market because it is now on the top of my list for skin contact whites.

Cathrine Todd
Dame Wine

You catch a scent in the air and it reminds you of someone, something, and you're transported back to another place and time: Old Spice is the hug from your grandfather; Carnations, fir and cinnamon from your first Winter Formal. The most powerful aromas and flavors are not those that demand attention on their own, but that evoke pictures, sounds, feelings, memories. Anyone can fill out a basic form: Color, Clarity, Fruit, Acidity, Tannins and Finish. Is there a presence of flaws? But those are the tasting notes one quickly forgets -- so I prefer to give the reader something more. Something they can carry with them from one bottle to the next, so they can recognize the grape in a different wine. My first Right Bank Bordeaux reminded me of red velvet rope. Not of the 50 Shades or Janet Jackson variety, but the timeless burgundy velvet stanchion of a grand theater. That is how I pinpoint a Merlot. In a Picpoul de Pinet, it is sunshine and seaside - sur la plage with sounds of gulls, the kiss of the breeze, the cold, crisp splash of the waves along the sand, the sun on my face. Is this wine memorable? Only if its aromas and flavors can transport me to a different time and place.

Amy Corron-Power
Another Wine Blog

For tasting notes, I take a no-nonsense approach. I find many people are off-put by too flowery language. I stay true to WSET standard descriptions of fruit, non-fruit, acid, tannins and finish. Since my focus is food pairing, I'm always careful to include how the wine was with the dish I prepared and some notes on why if it was particularly good or not so successful.

Jeff Burrows
Food Wine Click

Writing good tasting note is more of an art than science. It is easy to get carried away with the technical terms, which make a lot of sense to the professionals (ponder at "rim variation" or "maderized") - but this would not help general wine consumers to guess whether they will like the wine or not. My personal approach is to go over color, smell and the taste of wine, and come up with some sort of conclusion whether I like the wine or not. It is important to use the words many people can refer to - of course it doesn't mean to subside to the "sweet" and "sour", but it is better to avoid the words which refer to the "things" majority of the people never experienced. For instance, how many people can easily imagine the taste of Lingonberry, Jostaberry or Noni fruit? Or can you describe how bramble (Wikipedia: "In British English, a "bramble" is any rough (usually wild) tangled prickly shrub") tastes like? So the key to writing a good tasting note is ... keep it simple!

As far as most unusual flavors, I once used the descriptor "socks" for one of the red wines. Another very unusual one would be a "wet dog".

Anatoli Levine

Writing a great tasting note about a wine I am reviewing takes a lot more concentration than simply enjoying that glass of wine. What I see, smell and taste in a wine floods my senses. I have to really pay attention to tease out each part of what I experience. Evaluating each wine in the same way every time is essential. It is a skill that takes practice, and one I learned thanks to weekly wine tastings at a local wine shop. That orderly method of evaluating wine was reinforced as I studied for the Society of Wine Educators’ Certified Specialist of Wine examination. I begin each tasting note with the color (light yellow to ruby for example) and appearance (clear, translucent, dense) of the wine in the glass. Next I describe what I smell, first before swirling the wine in my glass and then after. I try to keep the descriptors as straight-forward as possible. I want them to be meaningful to the reader. Then I move on to the flavors, with the same attention to detail. Along with flavors I describe the weight of the wine in my mouth, the amount of acidity and the amount and type of tannins if present. Finally I describe the length and character of the finish of the wine. Is it short, medium or long? Does the wine finish with flavor or tannins or a combination of both? The flavors and aromas that are often the most interesting in wine are secondary flavors that develop as a result of winemaking decisions and aging in the bottle. I’m thinking of the toasty aromas and flavors that develop as a result of aging on the lees, or spice and cedar notes from oak aging and the leather and earthy flavors that develop in red Bordeaux wines with bottle aging. The most unique aroma I remember sensing in a wine is cumin — in a beautiful bottle of 2012 Storm "Moya" Pinot Noir from South Africa’s Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Wine memories, they are the best!

Nancy Brazil
Pull That Cork

I taste a lot of wine. In the beginning I was intimidated to write a tasting note for fear I would taste something wrong. For the most part I believe people taste what they taste. However, upon embarking on the WSET Level 2 certification I realized there are correct and incorrect wine assessments. Sometimes the “correct” read on the wine is a nuance. For example, stating a wine has medium- acidity when it actually has high acidity would be considered incorrect. When it comes to naming aromas and flavors in a wine the sky is the limit, almost. It would be incorrect to say a Chardonnay tastes like plums as much as it would be to say a Pinot Noir smells like gardenias. My biggest tasting note pet peeve is when the writer chooses poetry to explain the wine. A poetic tasting note is equivalent to poor driving directions. A tasting note is not the time to try to impress with descriptions that require a thesaurus. I now utilize the WSET Level 3 Systematic Approach to Tasting in order to provide clear insight to the wine consumer what I am experiencing with the wine. I have tasted a few unique flavors but once I taste them I can identify them with some regularity. A few of my favorites are lychee, dreamsicle and probably the most unusual is mercurochrome (a topical antiseptic for minor cuts), in a tasting note I would write it as medicinal.

Michelle Williams
Rockin Red Blog

One of the most distinctive and unique flavors in wine that I have fallen in love with is salinity. I now crave it, which is amazing to me since I am a mountain girl, not a beach fan. It astounds me how the environment can instill itself into the fruit and become such a dominant feature of the wine. Describing aromas and flavors in wine is a difficult task. Just because I smell a specific aroma and taste a particular flavor does not mean that another person will respond to the wine the same way. That is one of the attributes of wine that I love. It is a personal experience. Some flavors are more common and thereby easier to describe in my notes. Others are more unique and difficult to portray. When it comes to tasting notes, I am tenacious on two intertwined beliefs. Everyone’s palate is unique and you should drink what you like, not what someone else tells you to drink. I believe, these opinions make my approach to tasting notes a little different. With each new wine poured into my glass, my objective is always the same. I strive to be able to connect with the wine and provide descriptors so that in the future, I, or anyone reading my notes, can create a mental image and envision what it is like to sip and savor that particular wine, not be told whether it is a good wine or not. My goal is to remain consistent with each tasting by following the same format every time I taste. Through the years, admittedly, I have tweaked and revised that format, but as of recently I have settled on a modified WSET Level III tasting sheet. After being introduced to this format at the last Wine Blogger’s Conference in Lodi, California, I concluded the design to not only be simple to follow, but readily accepted by many.  A complete picture is created by guiding the reviewer through the three main attributes of sight, smell and taste. This allows me, in my opinion, to provide a complete picture of the wine tasting experience.

Lori Budd
Dracaena Wines

Mentioned in this article


Add a Comment

Search Articles

Best Wine Deals

See More Deals

Snooth Media Network