We had an in-depth chat about the format for Full Pour’s notes before we started publishing this site, so what you see here is, for the most part, the result of deliberate decision-making. There are notable omissions, for example scores and drinking windows, as well as elements that may require further elaboration.
In general, we write up each bottle as we find it, the intention of which is to reflect the real world drinking context as closely as possible. There may be the occasional mass or comparative tasting, but in general, each note is the outcome of a bottle consumed in leisurely fashion, possibly over the course of a few hours or even days.
One inevitable outcome of this approach is that bottle variation may be difficult to assess. So, we should make it clear that we are reviewing a single bottle of wine, and notes should not be read as a review of every bottle of a particular wine. Those who have spent much time drinking will appreciate this distinction and read into our notes the appropriate uncertainty. If a wine seems faulty, we will note this, and we may also retaste from another bottle if possible.
Price is another highly variable factor, the difference between RRP and street price at times being enormous. The price listed on Full Pour is usually the price we have paid for the wine, in the currency used to pay for it. At times, no price may be listed if it is not relevant (for example, an old wine from one of our cellars).
As with all wine enthusiasts, we’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time pondering the nature of tasting and its expression through notes. Further thoughts from each of us follow.
Tasting notes, despite being ostensibly straightforward, are often a minefield of assumptions and undeclared intentions. Everyone experiences wine in their own fashion, and the challenge with a tasting note is to try and convey that experience in a way that makes it, to the greatest degree possible, understandable and hopefully even somewhat vivid to someone else.
Perhaps it’s easier to start with what I don’t do in order to communicate how I experience wine in a positive sense. If you’ve read a few notes on Full Pour already, you will no doubt have seen a lack of points scoring, drinking windows, and esoteric flavour descriptors, amongst other things.
To the last point first, the reason why I don’t list a multitude of “like” flavours for each wine is that, simply, I’m incapable of it. More to the point, I find the pursuit of flavour analogues when I taste wine to be a distraction rather than an aid in fully understanding the wine in question. When I taste a wine, the flavour spectrum is of course of huge importance, and I try to convey this by using simple flavour associations that strike me as more or less correct, or simply by referring to a generally understood aspect of varietal character. I make no claim to being able to exhaustively identify each flavour present in a wine. I think it’s more meaningful to convey the nature and complexity of the flavour profile, its sources if possible (fruit, oak, trickery, etc), its balance, and so on.
For me, wine is an experience that flows from nose to palate (entry right through to finish), and with each note I try to describe how the wine exists at each stage of this process. Inevitably, one resorts to loaded terms like “complexity,” “balance,” “structure,” etc. These problematic and often highly subjective terms are, ironically, the ones that mean the most to me when I taste, in that they often represent those aspects of a wine that most define its quality and interest.
Drinking windows are something that would seem useful on the surface. The reality, though, is that there’s an ongoing debate around which wines should be drunk young or old, and if old, then how old, etc. Factor in personal taste and the question of when to drink a wine becomes quite contested. Better, I think, to indicate how I suspect a wine may evolve, to at least assist others in their decision around when to drink it. Of course, if a wine screams for some cellaring to soften and integrate, I may suggest this. At the end of the day, though, it’s your wine, and it’s your call as to when you choose to drink it. I may indicate my own personal preference on when to drink this wine or that, and I suggest you take this for what it’s worth — the expression of my own tastes, nothing more or less.
As for point scoring, it’s not something I feel especially qualified to do, simply because I can’t find in my head (or in someone else’s words) a satisfactory way of applying points to wine. The notions of enjoying wine on the one hand and of scores out of a hundred on the other are diametrically opposed and, for me, scoring a wine misses the point almost entirely. I calibrate my perception of quality and interest against internal notions of stylistic preference, versatility, food-friendliness, mood, setting and often simply what I feel like drinking at the time. How to score such a thing? Better not to try, I think. Having said that, points may represent a useful tool for calibrating the experience of a single taster, so an absence of scores on Full Pour isn’t intended to demolish the notion of scoring wine in all contexts for all purposes.
So what will you find in my notes? Well, from my last point, it would be fair (and correct) to assume that my tasting notes are personal, subjective and at times opinionated. I make no attempt to score a wine as one might in a wine show, as useful as this is in a specific show context. I drink wine, whole bottles of it, mostly with food, almost always with company. It is that experience that I try to convey with each note. I’m also writing a note that describes the wine from a particular bottle. Experience (often frustrating) has demonstrated the enormous variability between bottles of the same wine. So I write up what’s in the bottle, and may at times retaste the same wine and note any differences found.
I’ll let Julian’s notes on notes stand as the reference here, but to me, tasting notes are supposed to be entertaining first and foremost, and helpful if at all possible. It must be awesome to be able to identify notes of creamed spinach or agapanthus flowers in a wine, but I can’t, so I prefer to try to give a general idea of what a wine feels like, smells like, and whether or not it’s original, interesting, lame, a good value, or what have you. With any luck, I’ll either tempt you into wanting some or warn you away from blowing your paycheck on a bottle of crap.
As far as points go, the only ones I’m worried about are the kind that you get on your driving license. To me, wine is either awful, passable, good, really good, delicious, memorable, or so damned good that you’ve lived on Top Ramen for a week just to afford another bottle. Plus, pace Tolstoy, every wine, good or bad, should have something interesting about it; I hope to find that instead of worrying about whether or not trying to score rieslings from Oregon, the Clare, Alsace, and Nahe on the same scale. They’ll all be different, so why pretend they can share a common number?
Finally, please allow me to repeat myself: if I’m not entertaining you, and if you’re not getting anything out of your drinking, then we’re both doing something seriously wrong. Wine is a luxury and an entertainment – don’t forget to treat it as such. When it’s bad, enjoy the badness if you can, and if you can’t, give up and open another bottle. Life’s too short.