Putting Flavor into Words
Our next question is – how do you take all this raw data and use it to tell a story? How do you take your first step into the realm of tasting notes?
If you’re just starting out, one really useful tool to have with you is something called a “flavor wheel.” And this is a visualization of some of the most common flavors in wines or spirits that starts general (in the center of the wheel) and then gets increasingly more specific toward the outer edges, helping you to identify specific flavor notes in your tasting.
So, for example, your first impression might be – “fruity.” And your flavor wheel can then prompt you to consider whether it’s a “berry” flavor, a “tropical fruit” flavor, or a “dried fruit” flavor. Then, once you decide it’s more of a “tropical fruit flavor,” you can use the flavor wheel to decide if it’s more of a pineapple, a banana, or a mango flavor.
Here are some links to a few different flavor wheels:
Telling a Flavorful Story
When you first begin to put your thoughts about flavor into words, it’s helpful to remember that you’re telling a story, and all stories have a few basic elements in common:
- A Plot
- A cast of characters
- A setting and context
- And a place in the wider realm of all the other stories that exist.
The plot structure is just like the tasting procedure we just described – start with visual cues, then move to smell, then observe the taste and finish. The flavors, of course, are your characters. And the cool thing about this is that sometimes characters are friends, and sometimes they have conflicts. The setting and context can be everything from the year on the wine label, the mash bill on your whiskey label, the type of glass your beverage is in, the food you’re pairing it with, and any other number of variables. And all of these features allow you to compare the liquid in front of you with all the other stuff that exists in the world and in your personal bank of flavor memories. Whether you’re simply comparing your red wine to other red wines, or your 18 year highland single malt with other 18 year highland single malts out there.
Pick Your Words Carefully
Ideally, you want to strike a middle ground between generalizing and being awkwardly (and inaccurately) specific.
In wine, “fruit forward,” is a perfect example of a useless tasting note that doesn’t advance the story. It wastes time. Most wines are fruity, let’s move on to something more specific and interesting.
On the other hand, it is possible to go overboard and start reaching for tasting notes that make for interesting reading, rather than actually describing the scene.
Ah, yes. This young, medium-bodied pilsner produced by one of the preeminent brewing families in the country displays vibrant carbonation, which stimulates the palate, paving the way for a seductive malted character, underscored by insinuating german hops, and culminating in a dry finish that betrays its beechwood-aged beauty.
The above quote describes Budweiser.
Just goes to show that flowery language doesn’t always do justice to the subject at hand. Instead, sick with specific nouns and adjectives – and if something seems weird or off-the-wall, it’s not necessarily wrong.