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Notes On California Wine: Keeping Your Head Straight While Tasting

Drinking California wine doesn’t make you smarter, it just seems that way. That’s why we take notes on our wine tastings.

Writing tasting notes on a wineries’ flight sheet seemed like a no-brainer to me 10 years ago when starting these reviews for California Bottle of Wine. It helps keep me organized and lets me remember wine details. Since I’m going to write about it, the tastings need to be documented. Now, I even take notes when we’re not writing about a winery.

But while tasting with friends I field the query about my proclivity to write down details about the wine. Questions like, “I never thought of taking notes.” Or, “What are those little stars in the marks in front of them were behind them.” Another time my note taking caught the eye of the co-owner, and she wanted to know why I was taking notes. After telling her about our reviews I have a new wine maker friend.

The fact is, I would encourage everybody to take notes about their tastings. After a day of tasting 12, 14 or 16+ different wines how can you track which one was fruity, which was dry, which one tasted earthly with strawberries & vanilla or the most important, which one you like the most. Which are you purchasing?

Another reason for note taking is letting your wine host know you’re there to sample, enjoy and not just drink! When they see you writing longhand notes about their wine they’ll take notice. When you land on their radar this way, you’re likely to see other off menu wines showing up at your table. Because now they know it’s about the wine, not just the alcohol.

In our early days roaming California wineries in search of good Vino we also kept our tasting note sheets in a notebook. This way when we revisited an area we had an idea of where to go, and where not to go. Three ring hole punch it and you’ve a outline for your next trip.

So my recommendation is, query your wine host for a writing utensil (they’ll bring you their branded pen) and a flight sheet you may write upon. Use the method below with stars, or create your own 100 point scale or a 10 point scale. The app Vivino uses a 5 point scale. We use stars because even a -✰ is not an obvious slur against a wine.

Take some notes next time and watch what happens to your relationship with the wine host and your recollection of wines you are tasting. My bet is you’ll receive more attention, better wines and more options to taste. Cheers.


Some notes on our wine ranking system.

Bill & Erin Hodge write about California Wine, the estates & winemakers producing them and educational information about Vino. Living in California Wine Country provides a front row seat to the places you want to visit the most here in the Golden State.

– -✰  means -What’s next on your list of wines
-✰  means -Not liking it too much
✰ means  -We’ll drink this wine, especially if it’s hosted!
✰+ means -You’ve got our attention and we might buy this wine.
✰+ + means -We’re hooked and we’re going to buy this wine.
When you see -✰/✰+  with a slash, it means we disagree.

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