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stirring the lees with james molesworth

When Was the Last Time a Tasting Note Moved You to Try Something Different?

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Aug 15, 2007 11:39am ET

Today's post is a spin-off from my most recent blog, in which I asked how important a tasting note is to you. The overwhelming majority of you agreed that the notes are very important, primarily for steering you towards the style of wines that you like and away from those that you don't like. If you find yourself in step with the critic (and assuming the critic is consistent) then the tasting notes are a critical part of the process.

Now I'd like to know when was the last time a tasting note convinced you to try a wine that you normally wouldn't buy? If you normally like modern, polished, fruit-driven wines, has a note moved you to try a wine described as having game, iron or grilled herb notes? Or, if you like all that game and herb stuff, when was the last time a note about a fruit-bomb turned you on and you said, “Man, I gotta try that”?

I can admit that it’s happened to me. While I try to taste as much wine as possible from outside the regions I cover officially for the magazine, there is still a lot I don’t get to taste often, such as California Chardonnay and Sicilian Syrah.

Some of you might be thinking ‘Why worry about a dearth of Cali Chard crossing your palate?' But when I read my colleague James Laube’s recent note on the Ridge Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains Santa Cruz Mountain Estate 2005 (95, $35), I thought, 'Man, I gotta try that.' So I purchased a six-pack of it and have already moved through three bottles. I've really liked the wine—no boredom factor despite the oaky style—and the acidity is there to age (if the other three bottles are lucky to last that long). While the combination of score and price were certainly factors, it was the note—describing a range of flavors along with a sense of finesse despite the oak-driven profile—that made me want to try the wine.

Another time a note turned me on was when I read my colleague James Suckling’s review of the Rapitalà Sicilia Solinero 2001 (91, $40). I know, some of you are thinking, ‘Why bother with a Sicilian Syrah when you get to taste Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage so often?' I like Syrah, so when I hear about a potentially interesting one from somewhere else, I don’t discount it. I’m willing to give it a try. Besides, how can you appreciate Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage within the scope of the wine world if you don’t taste other Syrahs? Suckling’s note described the wine as up-front and bursting with fruit, along with notes of mineral and tar and a good grippy quality—so I said, 'Man, I gotta try that.' Alas, I never found the wine at retail (even the Italian wine shop next door to our offices seemed to stumble over the Rapitalà name when I asked them). But I’m always on the lookout for it, thanks to that note.

So, when was the last time a tasting note made you reach for a wine outside of your normal preference?

Jeffrey Ghi
New York —  August 15, 2007 1:43pm ET
It happens alot with sweet wines. Usually the wine is so sweet it's really hard to find something away from the typical "Honey", or "chocolate". But while definitely enjoyable, I remember reading a TN for an elderberry liquor that read along the lines of lychee effervescense balanced with a beautiful chrysantheum nose. As I never ever finish a whole bottle of liquor I just had to get a friend to pick it up =)
Jay J Cooke
Ripon CA —  August 15, 2007 3:53pm ET
The James Laube 92 rating of the Londer Estate 05 Pinot was intriguing. However, when I went on Londer's web site it was their tasting notes that made me order 6 bottles on the spot. Key words were caramel,chocolate & soft tannins.
Aaron Mandel
Saint Louis —  August 15, 2007 4:13pm ET
Other than hearing about a great wine from an odd location, a tasting note is more likely to get me to venture outside of my usualy wine realm than any other factor. The most recent was one for a Colli Tortonesi Timorasso, a grape I have not tried, that sounded intriguing.
James Molesworth
August 15, 2007 4:24pm ET
And I should add - after tasting the wine, how did it match with the note that turned you on to it?
Jay J Cooke
Ripon CA —  August 15, 2007 5:46pm ET
Londer has not been able to ship my wine yet due to the hot weather. However, I have yet to be dissapointed in one of Mr. Laube's recommendation. So with his recommendation & Londer's tasting notes I am expecting a really good wine.
Ralph Pepino
August 15, 2007 7:34pm ET
I'm probably more influenced by the overall point score than I am the actual notes. In my experience, I've rarely met a well put together 92 pointer I didn't like regardless if skewed towards the fruit side or the game and herb side. What I will use the tasting notes for is to attempt to train my own palate and attempt to seek out those same scents and flavors. I'm not always successful with some of the more obscure flavors (tobacco pouch anyone?) but it has helped me with some of the more common notes.
William Andreotti
Aurora, IL —  August 15, 2007 7:36pm ET
After reading several reviews of the Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, I finally bought some for myself with the 2006 vintage. I'm pround to say I have drank at least 10 bottles since, and still have a few more!
Debra Hemsey
west new york, nj —  August 15, 2007 9:23pm ET
i am tempted to try something i wouldn't otherwise if the tasting note suggests the subject example is trying to distinguish itself from the norm. For example, having been less than impressed w/multiple reasonably expensive and high-rated bottlings of nebbiolo from barolo and barbaresco, i nonetheless purchased the Oberto Fabio 2001 based on the reviewer's remarks that there were "unmistakable notes of roses, licorice, and tar. Spicy, lush, of excellent intensity and with an extract of real quality, is a fine example of what modern Piedmont is all about."
Colin Haggerty
La Jolla, California —  August 15, 2007 11:33pm ET
James- If we weren't influenced (at least to some degree), you'd be out of a job, my friend.Colin :-)
Roy Piper
Napa, CA. —  August 16, 2007 1:06am ET
Excellent topic! The answer is yes, and the very same Ridge Chard is an example for me also. Often the determining factor is the enthusiasm of the reviewer. It means as much or more than the score.
Jeffrey Nowak
scottsdale, arizona —  August 16, 2007 3:37am ET
may i turn the tables on you? regarding the chardonnay, did you want to try the wine because of the tasting note, or did the high score grab your attention?
Debra Hemsey
west new york, nj —  August 16, 2007 4:47am ET
i am tempted to try something i wouldn't otherwise if the tasting note suggests the subject example is trying to distinguish itself from the norm. For example, having been less than impressed w/multiple reasonably expensive and high-rated bottlings of nebbiolo from barolo and barbaresco, i nonetheless purchased the Oberto Fabio 2001 based on the reviewer's remarks that there were "unmistakable notes of roses, licorice, and tar. Spicy, lush, of excellent intensity and with an extract of real quality, is a fine example of what modern Piedmont is all about."
William Keene
Winston-Salem, NC —  August 16, 2007 8:16am ET
Hey James. My life really likes Chardonnay - All types, particularly ones from California. I don't buy a lot of it, but I do check Laube's tasting notes on them and try to pick out stuff that we will both enjoy. Last year I bought a fair amount of the Chasseur chardonnays, particulalry the Lorenzo and the Durell to give them a try. I thought Laube's notes on the wines were right on the money and we both thought they were great. My wife really likes them too. She is not a big proponent of spending a lot of money on wine so it's funny to see her compromise her position since she likes them so much.

I don't buy a lot of sweet wines either, but I did pick up some of the 2005 Baumard Quarts de Chaume based on your notes - quince, persimmon and orange blossom sounded too good to pass up. It has been too hot for shipping, so I have not tried it (nor any of the Quarts de Chaume wines). I can't to get my hands on it this fall and try it with Tarte Tatin.
James Molesworth
August 16, 2007 9:05am ET
Jeffrey: It was the note that made me want to try the wine...there are plenty of 95 point Cali Chards out there that don't really interest me.

William: QdC with tarte tatin - should be perfect...
Eric P Perramond
Colorado Springs, CO —  August 16, 2007 10:12am ET
Yes, although none of the ususal descriptors like "cherry bomb" or "chocolate" or "tar, tobacco" are enough anymore. It has to say something notably different: "Where's the horse that left this behind?" or "Dirty socks are on immediate display here" -- something with character that most people would NOT like. epp
Austin Kosiak
Elmwood Park, Illinois —  August 16, 2007 5:04pm ET
As both a wine consumer and retailer, I love to find wines with interesting tasting notes. Often it is an invaluable tool in pairing wines with foods. Given the huge variation between wines based on grape, terroir and winemaker's intent and ability, the tasting notes can be a better guide than the score (within reason, of course). I will gladly choose a wine rated in the 80's over one rated 90+ if the tasting notes more closely match what I am looking for at the time. As a retailer, my customers rely on the tasting notes I provide for all of my wines as they provide far greater insight into the wine's "character" than can usually be found on the label. I find short of actually tasting the wines, the notes are the next best thing.
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  August 17, 2007 8:36pm ET
James, I just bought my first wine from the L-R area based on your tasting note. It's the DOMAINE GARDI¿ C¿tes du Roussillon-Villages Tautavel Vieilles Vignes 2005. I seem to be a sucker for the word "unctuous" these days and I don't believe I've seen you use it often (Laube does, and he's always right on with what I would consider to be truly "unctuous"). I can't wait to try the wine!
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  August 18, 2007 1:53am ET
Oops, my bad. That was a recent Kim Marcus review! Still moved me to buy 3 bottles!
James Molesworth
August 20, 2007 9:16am ET
Troy: Yes, that's actually a note from my colleague Kim Marcus (initials KM after the note). He's our resident Languedoc / southwest France critic.

You're right, I don't use 'unctuous' too much in my notes...I think each critic probably has a few favorite catch phrases they use...
Bruce Harvey
Syracuse, —  October 29, 2007 9:01am ET
James-I'm a bit late to the party, but your description of the Catena Zapata 2005 Malbec made me want to try some, though I had never really ventured into South American territories before. I found a bottle here at just under $18--what a treat! Thanks so much for the review and the recommendation.

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