Ratings And The Benefits Of Wine Notes

Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2012 vintage may be the best to come from the winery PHOTO FROM ROBERTO VIERNES

Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2012 vintage may be the best to come from the winery

I write notes all the time. But what is their worth?

Are wine notes a thing of the past? Strange for me to even pose the question, right? If you distill it down to get to the hard numbers in selling wine, it all boils down to … well, numbers: ratings, stars and puffs, whatever. The higher the rating, the better it sells. Right?

Let’s admit it: We are a culture in which ratings are hugely important, whether it is a credit score, critics’ recommendations for cars or the number of stars a movie rates on Netflix. We look at scores to guide us to something that we would like, something on which we would be happy to spend our hard-earned money and that gives a positive return on investment, in whatever form that may be.

But I am not here to rail against the critic with a rating or merely to bash ratings in general. I want to express what makes wine notes important.

In wine notes, we as writers try our best to convey the experience of drinking a wine. Some do this better than others. This is based on the premise that each wine has a different personality — a myriad of different expressions just as complex and numbered as there are people. So we put into the written word what we experience in a glass, hoping that you will, in turn, find some attachment to the wine, find what you like in its personality and inevitably buy it to experience for yourself.

Where I think wine notes fall short is in describing how each wine affects our food and maybe even our psyche in a different manner. We elucidate the flavors, textures, characteristics, intensity levels, etc., but by and large we fail to recommend the other party at the table, which is the food. I also think that mood plays so much into what we like to drink that there is a place for pairing wines to different moods. There are wines that are simple and delicious but nothing to ponder. Then there are wines meant for occasions and to build a grand feast around with those who would truly appreciate them. There are wines that are fun to slug back a few glasses at a friend’s house, and there are wines that make you take notice and “geek out.”

Ratings are a quality ranking, but wine notes give flesh and substance to the number. Tasting notes should speak of where the wine comes from, if given enough space and time. Wine always should be given context. I know many times I fail to include this, but context is what binds each experience and expression to the next. We taste, smell or drink nothing in a vacuum. But so many wine notes are simply a few sentences of flavor trapped in a void without background or context.

Ratings also can speak of what wines we love, and conversely what wines we would avoid. But who really does that? Out of courtesy or otherwise, why malign something when you don’t have to? And just because you don’t like it does not mean that someone else wouldn’t. One man’s Burgundy is another man’s barnyard.

I have not succumbed to the ratings bug, which is not to say that I do not have favorites or wouldn’t choose one wine over another. But my choices are not based on one being “better” or “greater” than the other. They are based on what I enjoy drinking, and if it satisfies the craving I have for that particular style of wine at that time. Does it have a sense of place? A number could never convey the complexities, flavors, nuances and emotions that come with wine.

Recommendation: 2012 Melville Pinot Noir ($32) This vintage of Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir may be the best to come from this small, family-owned winery. It is sleek with sweet red and black berries and wafts of sweet vanilla, sandalwood and tea. I love the richness in the palate that leads on to a very long aftertaste. For me, this is not a salmon wine but is made more for richer meats like braised pork shank or bacon-stuffed pork chops. You can find this wine at Tamura’s Fine Wines and Liquors.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier.

Twitter: @Pinotpusher