A recent newspaper column addressed an issue that's been debated before: the worth of wine tasting notes. Some people don't think wine tastes like mocha or prune—it just tastes like wine—and they think that critics are blowing smoke by using such descriptors.
I don't want to constantly argue with people who hold this opinion—different strokes for different folks. If you don't like what you're reading, or listening to, simply read something else, or change the channel.
But I am curious about what importance you place on tasting notes. I always emphasize that they are as important, if not more so, than the score given to the wine. The note should detail the flavor profile of the wine: is it a fruit-driven version or a terroir-driven version? Is it a modern or traditional-styled wine? Is it balanced, or is there some type of flaw? This information can't be conveyed in just the score, and so I feel it's critical to relay it through the note.
Tasting notes also convey the effect a wine has on me. I try to detail how the wine moves me (in good or bad ways), and I often draw upon my still relatively brief life experience in doing so (my "Kitchen Full of Flavors" column speaks to some of this). The more interesting a note, the more interesting the wine was to me. And the opposite holds true. If after tasting 20 Chardonnays in a row I can't come up with anything other than a repetition of terms such as "fig", "apple", "pear" and "toast", for example, then it means that particular flight of wines lacked a standout.
Quite a few years ago, I used to teach an introduction to wine class. When describing certain aspects of wine, I would always start to see a few eyes glaze over—the wine lexicon can be a bit daunting for novices. So to change things up, I'd ask people what they were familiar with—be it movies, cars, artists, actors—and then ask them to describe the wine using those terms. It wouldn't take long before a beginner struggling to describe a wine would start waxing poetic about it being a George Clooney wine, or a Ferrari wine, or what have you. Transferring those observations to the generally accepted wine lexicon was then but a simple step away.
I figure if I can turn a few people on to wine each year with some tasting notes, then I've done my job. But maybe I've gotten out of touch. Perhaps trying to detail the difference between a few dozen Châteauneufs from each new vintage has scrambled my lexicon beyond recognition for you. Do tasting notes seem like an exercise in futility? Does a note that says "raspberry fruit caressed by lush mocha, spice and toast" seem like a line of bs, or does it tell you something about the wine? And do you think such tasting notes would scare off novices who aren't familiar with the lexicon of wine? Or do these notes intrigue beginners instead, making them want to learn more?