3 templates to take wine tasting notes and how to select one that works for you

Wine tasting notes help you remember what you experienced when tasting wine and share it with others. Choose the right template for you!




Published April 14, 2021


"Wine is bottled poetry", said Robert Louis Stevenson. 


Is it why so many wine tasting notes are pieces of literature rather than accurate descriptions?

Are you like me? But most of the time, I cannot comprehend what the writer has tasted or smelled? Isn't it the goal of a wine tasting note?

Let's not fall into that literature trap. Let me help you write helpful tasting notes to expand your wine knowledge and share with people you care for.


In this article, you will learn :

  • the purpose of wine tasting notes,
  • the 3 different formats they can take, and
  • how to choose a template that works for you.


What's the purpose of a wine tasting note?

It's simple. 

A wine tasting note helps you remember what you experienced when tasting the wine, how good or bad it was, and share it with others. 

Tasting apps are abundant, I reckon. They allow you to record your tasting impressions at your fingertip. But research shows that writing with a pen on paper helps you better memorize tasting perceptions. This simple task helps register the sensations perceived by your senses in your sensory memory centers. Then you can retrieve them when needed. 

Scientists call this process "encoding." Because writing down your tasting experience helps memorize, it's essential to choose the template that works for you. 

There is no right or wrong way of doing this. And, you can find many tasting sheet templates on the internet.


The 3 formats of Wine Tasting Notes

If you google "tasting sheet template," you will find three designs: 

  • free form, 
  • structured format, and 
  • flexible format.

Let's dive in.


The free format:

You can choose a free format and use a pen and a notebook. 

When tasting, you identify the aroma, taste, or feelings in the mouth and write them down as they arise. 

That's my way of doing it. I use a consistent process, though, still following my adapted 5S framework. 

Free format tasting notes

I do

  1. Smell without swirling the wine in the glass
  2. Smell after swirling
  3. Sip the wine and describe the dominant perceptions
  4. Sip again and focus on the retronasal aromatic perceptions
  5. Swallow or spit out, depending on the tasting goal.

A free form template works when I want to share my experience with the folks attending the tasting. But I admit, it's not great for achieving and retrieving the information later on. I tend to rely on my memory when I want to repurchase a wine I liked, which does not always serve me well.


The structured templates

A consistent and structured template can be the fix for retrieving past tasting impressions.


Most templates guide you to make a quality judgment at the end of the tasting. 

They don't usually allow you to keep detailed records of your tasting experience.


I know, I know. That's what you've learned during wine appreciation class.

Well, not everyone wants to be a wine judge, and not every tasting should be judgemental!

  • What about being a wine lover wanting to learn the aromas and tastes that you like or don't like? 
  • You may want to know the source of what you enjoy; does it come from the grape variety, the winemaking process, the region of origin (the so-called terroir), or the winemaker's know-how.

Structured wine tasting note

The structured templates often come pre-filled with attributes you have to score. The WSET Systematic approach (2) or the Court of Sommelier deductive method (1) takes you through several logical steps to get to a quality scoring.

  • First, you describe what the appearance is like? Clear? Cloudy?
  • Then what you smell through your nose, e.g., the aroma intensity rating,  aroma description.
  • Etc.


My objection to this process is that wine sensory perceptions are dynamic.

They change over time.

None of the accredited tasting sheets capture the dynamics of perception. 

For example, when you rate the appearance, the wine gets warmer in your glass. You can miss a very volatile aroma that would have evaporated once you're done deciding if the color is straw-like or yellow with green hues. It's better to focus your attention on the volatile perceptions rather than the stable ones, like color.

And as you know, I caution about evaluating the color and appearance first. What you observe creates many expectations; they will play tricks with your sensory receptors.

That's true. Following these mandatory steps expose you to several unconscious biases.


Here are three common biases.

1-Expectation

By seeing the color of the wine, your brain starts to class the wine in a framework you've learned before.  For example, you won't use red berry as a description for white wine, although you could perceive it in a white blend of fruity whites.

2-Logical error

This bias occurs when your mind associates two or more perceptions because the association seems logical. For example, you taste some bitterness, the wine color is a bit brown, maybe an older wine, so now you smell a tea aroma. Do you?

3-Halo error

When you start evaluating wine using a structured tasting sheet, you tend to review the list of suggested attributes, one at a time, from top to bottom. The halo of one feature may bias the rating of another feature. For example, the color intensity is light, and thus the aroma intensity is light.


The flexible template

This is the template that I teach to my students. 

The format guides you using the adapted 5-Ss method I described above. So, there is some structure in it.

It's necessary to have a consistent tasting practice. Still, it's also essential to trust your senses and capture what they detect at the moment. 

That's why you come up with your own words to describe what you perceive by:

  1. smelling the wine, 
  2. tasting it, 
  3. feeling it, and
  4. after you swallowed it. 

Assess your perceptions by categorizing them, like it's done on the Wine Aroma Wheel. 

Be generic if you can't find a specific term. It can be enough for you to remember and share your experience with others.

You capture on paper your experience as it unfolds in front of your senses. That's how you can record the dynamics of the perceptions.

Here is a snapshot of what it looks like. 

InnoVinum Flexible Wine Tasting Sheet
Isabelle's flexible template


This template is flexible because you record the way you want. You can write keywords, sentences, abbreviations, or even doodle. 

Actually, drawing wine impressions may not be such a bad idea. Research by Latour and colleagues showed that experienced tasters remember better the holistic wine experience by sketching rather than using an analytic method. See my previous reference to this work (3).


Choosing a proper format

The suitable format is the tasting note template that works for you. It can be a combination of the different templates I listed above. The critical point is that your record captures your tasting experience. 


1- Be clear on what you want to learn and remember later on:

  • Do you want to remember a wine you loved and repurchase it?
  • Do you want to memorize the sensory attributes of, for example:
    • a grape varietal wine you've never tasted before
    • A varietal wine from a region you have never tasted before?
    • An unusual varietal blend?
    • All the above, but using the mandatory template for your blind tasting exam?


2- Choose the template that will help you reach your goal. 

  • Free
  • Structured
  • Flexible


3-Adapt it to fit your learning style. 

Why not doodle? It's okay when you learn, don't do it during the exam!


4-Store the note in a classification that works for you

by region, by varietal wine, or else.

You can scan it and store it in a digital note program, such as Evernote.

But please, always finish by the appearance evaluation if that important to you!


Blank Wine Tasting note


Which wine tasting note template works for you?

Please let us know in the comment section below or take a pic and post it there.



References:

  1. Court of Sommelier Deductive Method
  2. Wine and Spirit Education Trust Tasting Approach
  3. The Path to Become a Wine Expert

Categories: Best practices