Recently, I had a customer describe one of our wines with one of the most vivid descriptors I’ve ever heard. He said it was like a Northern New Mexico gift shop. My mind and memory went there right away. Leather souvenirs, old cedar floors, piƱon tree incense, a wood burning fireplace, berry flavored candles… it perfectly paints a picture of a really good wine.
When reading tasting notes written by professionals and experienced consumers, a new wine drinker may be intimidated by how these guys and gals describe the various aromas and flavors in a wine. Don’t be. While their descriptors may range from flowery and poetic to crass and profane, a tasting note should reflect your own experiences. A big proponent of trusting your own palate and describing wine based on your experiences is current media darling, Wine Library TV creator, and the owner of Wine Library, Gary Vaynerchuk. Gary’s tasting notes can really push the descriptor envelope. One may never hear Robert Parker say a wine reminded him of Big League Chew bubblegum or dirty gym socks forgotten in a locker for a few months, but such descriptions are typical from Gary.
So next time you’re trying to describe a wine, close your eyes as you drink and see where it takes you. I bet you’ll like the journey. I may not know what your Grandma’s gooseberry pie at Christmas tastes or smells like, but you do and it may be the perfect descriptor for a wine you’re enjoying.
If you need a little help to job your memory and get you started, Alder Yarrow of has a convenient aroma/flavor card on his website.

One Response to “How do they come up with all those wine descriptors?”

  1. Mike Duffy says:

    One thing about Gary V.: he’s probably actually put all those things in his mouth to taste them (as opposed to relying on smell alone).

    I just posted a link to a Wall Street Journal article about the problems of being a wine critic. It mentions descriptors:

    At the end of the day, wine is an individual experience, that we struggle to share with words.

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