Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How to Tame Your Wine Tasting Notes

One of the obvious pleasures of owning a wine shop is that you get to taste a lot of wines. One of the great drawbacks is that you have to find a way to keep track of all the wines you taste.

I would love to be one of those people who can taste a wine once and fix it in their mind forever more. Actually, I do have a good palate memory - I can taste a wine and remember the general sensations. But as a wine buyer, I also need to recall the producer, vintage, distributor, frontline cost, deal structure, order minimum, and split case fees associated with every wine I taste. Or at least every wine I might possibly want to buy for the store. Which given that I have very good sales reps, is a good deal of the wines I taste. So I need a system.

Some people just type their notes directly into an electronic device of choice - an iPhone, a Blackberry, a computer. But this doesn't work for me. As quickly as I can type (and I can type very quickly) there's a disconnect between my palate and my keyboard. The tasting notes just don't flow as well when there's a power cord involved. (And there's always the danger of dribbling on the key board.)

Some people may rely on the spec sheets provided by the sales reps. These are useful if I want to check how a producer or region is spelled without squinting at a wine-stained label. But they don't take the place of my own notes. And most damanging to this potential system, at least in my view: it would require 3-ring binders to keep track of everything. I hate 3-ring binders and 3-ring hole punches and those little sitcky reinforcement circles.


So I've turned to taking notes in a series of ruled Cahier Moleskine notebooks. Yes, these little books are now seen in the hands of hipsters everywhere, but hipster coolness factor aside, they work. They're light, they can be thrown in any size bag or purse, and they have a handy pocket in the back. This pocket is important because occassionally I can't find my current notebook and have to scribble tasting notes on Post-its or little scraps of paper. These stray notes can then be piled on the counter and later, tucked into that handy back pocket.

The only problem with this system....I'm now on my 12th book. And while flipping through 12 notebooks filled with tasting memories may seem like a wonderful way to spend an afternoon (oh, I remember that lovely Frappato, all roses and violets and fresh spring berries), it's not terribly productive when you're desperately trying to find the distributor for a specific wine you had back in May, or was it April? (Actually, it was January.)

So I am now in the process of cataloging my tasting notes on my computer so I can use the brute force of a spreadsheet program to sort through 12 books of tasting notes. It would be mind-numbing, except that it is quite nice to reflect on all the wine I've tasted over the last year and a half. Yes, it would be quicker if I could just do this the first time through, but like I said, it just doesn't work that way for me.

And anyhow, those Moleskine notebooks are really, really cute,

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