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Of Tasting Notes and Photographs

274px-Sunbaker maxdupain nga76.54Tasting notes are often criticized. People complain about lack of context, too many flavor descriptors, confusing quantifiers (“medium-plus”) and over-the-top enthusiasm. Some consumers are turned off by tasting notes because wine, when they taste it, doesn’t always match what’s written.

There’s only so much a tasting note can do. There will always be missing details. And, because wine and our own perceptions change and are influenced by outside factors, descriptions that are wholly accurate when written will never again be as perfectly precise. Tasting notes are like photographs, portraying a subject at one brief moment in time and without a back story.

A picture can communicate a lot, a thousand words they say, but leaves just as much out. Black and white photos show form and texture, but reduce color to shades of gray. Color images may be more life-like, though bright hues in one area distract from subtle details in another. Depth of field focuses our attention by blurring the foreground or background.

Pictures rarely communicate much context. Only a trained eye can view a photo of a swimsuit model on a beach and know how much time was spent on hair and makeup or what complicated lighting arrangement was used. We don’t know what the temperature was at the beach, or the amount of humidity. Is her hair blowing because it’s windy or because someone trained an industrial fan on her? And then there’s Photoshop.

To me, photographs are actually more compelling because they don’t tell us everything. They make us ask questions and use our imagination or personal experience to fill in details. Some photos are impactful because their focus is so limited. They communicate just one thing, be it color, form or an emotion.

I think of tasting notes in the same way. Good notes are neither a compleat description nor some chemical analysis that might be more accurate than any conventional note but would tell us nothing about the experience of drinking that wine. They are a portrait of a wine at a particular point in time. You get the only the writer’s point of view and see only what they think is important.

The goal of a note is simple. Illustrate the wine just clearly enough for you to decide whether or not to try it yourself. You might be attracted to someone in a picture, but you can’t really know them until you’ve met.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved. The 1937 photo "Sunbaker" by Max Dupain is in the public domain because it's Australian copyright has expired.

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