I struggle with tasting notes. Always have. For a start I grew up in South East London; as such I know very well what diesel, dogshit and doner kebabs smell like – I have to work hard at linalool, lavender and lychees. For what it’s worth I’m pretty good at Chenin Blanc of a certain type as I am very familiar with the smell of a wet dog. And, while I’m thinking of it, a spectacular bottle of Penfold’s 1967 Bin 7 tasted a couple of months back did start off smelling quite distinctly of ashtrays: here I am expert.
So when I started I just wrote down absolutely everything from the surroundings, the journey, the conversation, the name of the winemaker’s dog: the lot (Luc Thienpont’s huge dog was called “Pepsi”, Sylvie Esmonin’s obese Labrador “Reglisse” …. I could go on, and I’ve pictures too).
I started to get the hang of it about five years ago, though my notes remain very much an aide-memoire for myself rather than prose for an audience. And I still write everything down: if this is rule number one then rule number two is this: never write your name in your tasting book. Leave it somewhere and —— ——- of Ch. ——– won’t be best pleased when he reads that he’s an odious toad whose wines are decent enough though for the most part soulless. And the aftershave? Come on.
Where I still struggle is to close my mind to the conversation around me. A few winemakers are epically good at writing your notes for you, and there is little point in me writing down Paul Pontallier’s note (this man is the master) for any given vintage of Ch. Margaux when the whole point of what I’m writing is supposed to be my opinion. But, at the same time, a fellow taster can come up with the word, the descriptor, that you’re searching for you.
One of my favourite descriptors, one particularly suited to young wines, and one picked up from a colleague, is “energy”. You could substitute this with “dynamis”. It’s essentially a wine that has vigour, that is alive, that is bouncing. 2009 Latour comes to mind – Sun-like in its energy – as do most of the wines of Domaine des Croix and, in a nervously energetic kind of way – coiled spring sort of thing – the 2009s from Domaine Jobard. It is a rare element and a special one.
Two or three weeks ago I was fortunate enough to drink some 2009 Roc de Cambes, courtesy of one of my most generous friends. It had some pretty serious companions throughout the evening in 1989 Segla (this really is lovely, proper, old, claret, still very much alive in magnum) 1989 Crozes-Hermitage, Domaine de Thalabert (from magnum like the Segla, and this is spectacularly good wine, even more so when you think about how little it costs, even now). The Roc de Cambes was brought for me – this was a wine that I used to follow in the days when I had some spare cash – and I was waiting for it all evening; a present under the tree, if you like.
After a great deal of wine (the above two mags plus the same format of 2008 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett and 1995 Batard-Montrachet, Gagnard, not consumed in their entirety by me), some pretty serious food (a review of Benares is written though I’m not sure if resto reviews are my forte) the last bottle can be lost, though this one is perhaps the strongest memory of the evening. I didn’t write a note – I didn’t really need to: this is the next case of wine that I am going to buy. I remember kirschy-black fruit; minerality; balance; a bit of sweet-shop sherbet. Most of all I remember the energy – you could light a torch with this wine.
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