The Art of the Tasting Note
Do you record your thoughts about the wines you taste? Two Hands proprietor Michael Twelftree does. “I keep them all in one big black book that I carry on my at all times,” he says. There’s a professional side to this obsession of Michael’s, of course, but if you’ve met the man, you know there isn’t a more eager, curious taster out there. And yet even someone who has tasted thousands and thousands of wines all around the world can find the tasting note to be a bit daunting.
“The thing with tasting notes is that they can be really bloody good or really bloody bad,” Twelftree says. “I personally find it quite challenging to put my thoughts about wine down on paper, so to make it easier I follow a pretty set regimen.” We asked him to describe the process in detail:
First, I make sure I’m in the mood. Second, I use the exact same glass every time, and I taste in a similar environment. One of the most important aspects of tasting is the serving temperature, so I shoot the glass with a handheld laser (I have the pro version but you can get them from a car parts place for a few bucks) and make sure the wine is sitting around 16C for reds (61F) and 8C (46F) for whites. If need be, I heat or chill the wine until it’s spot on.
I like doing tasting notes later in the day, between getting home from work and playing with the kids. Once the kids are in bed I can put down my thoughts just before mealtime. The biggest mistake is to open a bottle and blast out a note, a trap for young players. The wine needs to have been open for about 30 minutes before you attempt to grab your thoughts.
I don’t really care much about color. Yes, black on black is impressive but my time tasting on several trips a year to Burgundy has taught me you can have a killer wine with low color. I like to start with a few notes on the bouquet, and generally the more complex wines have more things jumping out at you. I’m not really a big one for flavors across the palate—I’d much prefer to read about the experience across the palate and how the fruit unfolds within the structure.
What am I looking for in a great wine? The model is that the fruit is like a train pulling into the station; the acidity is the foundation of the wine, or the train tracks; and the tannin controls the mouth feel, playing the role of the train’s brakes. The truly great wines get all these components in perfect balance. The train pulls perfectly into the station and leaves your mouth in complete balance and perfect harmony. (As I always say, it’s easy to make a wine start, it’s easy to give a wine mid-palate, but it’s almost impossible to make it finish. It’s that finish that you are paying those extra dollars for.)
In our next post, Michael explores the art of the tasting note a little further, dissecting one of his (and that of a wine critic) for the 2007 Two Hands Ares.