H O W_ (A N D - W H Y)_
TO -T A K E
A_- T A S T I N G_- N O T E
Okay, here's the deal:
Procure a bottle of wine
Open aforementioned bottle
Pour the contents into a glass
Look at it, smell it, taste it
Write down the name of the wine, and what you see, smell, taste.
That's it! Pretty simple, huh? Here's what one of my first TNs looked like...
"Chateau Duplessy 1985: This wine is red. It smells kind of like... wine. It tastes pretty good, though. Smooth and tangy, I guess, but it kinda makes my mouth feel fuzzy."
As simple and elegant a TN as you can imagine. Now drink as much wine as you can and do this for EVERY wine you drink. Yes, every last one. Carry a notebook and pen at all times. Don't feel obliged to come up with the "elegant notes of sautéed seashell purée flit about in a mineral oil base and permeate the 96-second finish..." kind of note. Leave that to us. Self-parody is dangerous in the wrong hands.
So that's the HOW.
The WHY is the important part of the equation. The exercise of taking notes religiously forces you to truly pay attention to what your senses are telling you, and to articulate clearly and specifically what it is you like and dislike. Winegeeks, always on the prowl for good jargon, call this building palate memory. In other words, it's easy to just sip something and enjoy it, but learning what it is about it exactly that you enjoy takes a bit of attention, which is where writing it down helps immeasurably.
At first, you'll probably write notes much like mine above, but once you have some built-up palate memory it becomes easier to compare what you're tasting now with what you had before and to see the distinct character of individual wines (providing they have any), the effects of winemaking techniques, the differences in grape varieties, aging in oak, and other geeky stuff like that. But that does take time and attention.
My advice: taste as much as you possibly can. Go to organized tastings, if you have access to them, or get together with like-minded friends (you do have like-minded friends, don't you?), or just open things at home as often as time and budget permit. The more the better. Start cheap until you start figuring out what you like: there's lots of expensive junk and lots of wonderful cheap stuff. Most any wine shop worth its salt will have someone who can advise you, or check the TASTING NOTES ARCHIVE for stuff that we've enjoyed over the past few years.
AND get a book or two. Wine for Dummies is a good no-nonsense startup book, Fear of Wine is another that can help explain specific mysteries (grape varieties, U.S. vs. French/Italian/German labels and names) very clearly, to name just two.
Well? What are you waiting for? Grab the notebook and go! Go pull those corks! Run like the wind...!