I've been a bit agitated recently with the subjectivity of tasting notes. One man's raspberry is another's black cherry, after all. I'm an advocate of structural descriptions like acidic, tannic, and full bodied, just to name a few, as opposed to description by analogy like naming very specific smells and flavors. But the question is, how does one best convey these structural terms?
Ann Noble's Aroma Wheel offers a great starting point:
While there are specific aromas listed, aromas are grouped into families such as fruity, herbaceous, woody and so on. The broader families are what I'd term as structural descriptors, as opposed to analogous descriptors. However, the aroma wheel doesn't paint a full picture because it only addresses smells.
To bring flavors and mouth feel into the picture, I've come up with a polar plot representation that I'm hoping will offer a relatively straight forward graphical depiction of a wine. It's still subjective, of course, but it largely dodges terms that rely heavily on individual experiences:
The 9 (it could be more or less, certainly) structural categories are:
Body - A measure of weight or viscosity, ranging from light bodied at the smallest radius to full bodied at the largest radius.Here I've plotted a 'stereotypical' Parkerized wine and an Old World wine as an example. The graphical representation really highlights that the modern, California style wine stresses fruit, oak and density in the mouth, while a typical French or Italian wine will often be focused upon aromatics, earthy and funky qualities, and acidity. It also suggests the two styles are near polar opposites in terms of acidity, funkiness, fruit expression and use of oak.
Aroma - The strength of the aromas, with a very 'tight' wine having a small amplitude.
Fruity - The presence of fruit character, ignoring whether it's blackberry, cherry, citrus and so on.
Herbaceous or Earthy - These are sort of arbitrarily grouped, but represent the strength of aromas and flavors of bell peppers, mushrooms, veggies, leafy stuff and basically anything that grows or come from dirt.
Funky - This encompasses meaty, barnyardy and sulfrous aromas and flavors or even aromas like ethyl acetate (nail polish remover smell) that could be considered flaws. It's kind of a measure of umami, as well as generally unexpected qualities that are neither fruit nor veggie.
Floral or Spice - Again, an arbitrary grouping to limit the number of categories, but I think of these as both 'high-toned' aromas.
Oak - This category includes vanilla, toast and certain spice aromas as well as the occasionally astringent woody flavors and mid-palate weight resulting from barrel aging.
Tannin - Purely a measure of the intensity of mouth-drying tannins, though there is some ambiguity as tannins can be astringent, soft, sweet, fruity and so on depending on their source and maturity level.
Acidity - This is how sour a wine tastes, as well as how mouth watering it is. The more sour, the higher the acidity and the larger the amplitude plotted.
Since I've been critiquing standard tasting notes, I guess I ought to propose an alternative. Well, here it is. I'll be using these polar plots with my notes to offer a graphical representation of each wine I post here. I'll be interested to see how this little experiment turns out. My thinking is that at the very least it may make it easier to justify the use of terms such as balance or complexity. Chances are if you see a curve that's more spiky than round, a wine is not balanced and probably lacks complexity as well. Meanwhile, a mundane wine may have a round shape to its plot with small amplitudes, indicating that it's balanced but provides little of interest to the taster.