A question I get often from guests at the winery is, “Are there more than just grapes in this wine?” It’s a pretty valid question if you think about it. For someone new to drinking wine, every winery they visit has very detailed tasting notes written out for them for all the wines on the tasting menu. This is commonplace, and I have not run across a winery yet that didn’t have tasting notes available to guests. These tasting notes often have descriptors such as “bing cherries, vanilla, dill, and blackberries,” for example. If I were brand new to wine, I am sure I’d believe those things listed were added to my wine to offer more flavor.
To set the record straight, the answer to the question is generally no. There are exceptions as there are indeed wines that have additional fruits and flavors added. But for the most part, only wine grapes make up the entirety of the wine the majority of the time. This is the case especially when it comes to dry wines. These descriptors we see on tasting menus are basically reference points. They are flavors and aromas many of us would agree the wine reminds us of. There have been numerous studies that determine that many different fruits, including wine grapes, have similar compounds that are the makeup of that particular fruit. This is a big part of what we smell and taste as individuals when we drink wine.
That brings up another point. We all taste differently, so why should we pay attention to the tasting notes on a wine menu? Is it fair to the consumer to tell them what they are going to taste in a particular wine? Does basic psychology move us to smell or taste those distinct tasting notes after reading the description? Should wineries still be using tasting notes? These are all good discussion points. My opinion is yes, wineries should list descriptors alongside each wine on the menu. This gives most people a starting point on which to lay a foundation for the tasting.
However, it is also my opinion that tasting guides and sommeliers might want to back off a bit when it comes to detailing each wine as they lead the way down the menu. I believe it is unfair to the consumer to lead them down a path of smells and tastes that are already paved for them. Let the guest decide what they think about each wine, whether they choose to seek out the tasting notes or not. I always concentrate on the origin of the wines, and structural descriptors like tannins and acidity.
If we are to educate wine consumers about Texas wines especially, it might be wise to put more emphasis on teaching about Texas wine, terroir, vineyards, AVAs, etc. This is very beneficial to people to help them understand what is currently happening within the Texas wine industry. I am not saying to never mention tasting notes to guests, but to emphasize more of the most important factors of each wine. Details that are not merely opinions such as tasting notes, but facts such as mouthfeel, barrel program, etc.
As a Texas wine consumer, do you find tasting notes to be beneficial? I would love to hear your opinions on the subject. Please comment and let us know what you think of the wine tasting notes on tasting menus.
Sip, savor, and enjoy my fellow aficionados.