I've recently started taking a more serious approach to wine tasting and have started taking more extensive notes when I do. Any ideas for keeping my notes organized? And any tips for not seeming too obsessively geeky when I'm in the tasting room or at a restaurant?
No doubt any system you adopt will change over the years, so I wouldn't worry too much about starting with the exact perfect recording system at the start. I first started taking notes about wine when my wife and I joined a group of friends to form a wine tasting group in the late 1970s. We still have most of those old rating sheets tucked away, though I seldom refer to them now. Like white wine, old notes tend to lose their appeal after enough years pass.
One of the best recent ideas my wife and I recently adopted is taking cell phone pictures of the labels on wines we have especially enjoyed. Since cell phones, BlackBerries and iPhones are ubiquitous in every setting, a quick discreet photo, even in a restaurant, is a great way to track the name, vintage, vineyard, etc., without having to write down a bunch of information.
With the dizzying proliferation of terms that are plastered on wine bottles these days, just making the notes to ensure you're keeping your notes on the "Select Reserve" distinct from the mere "Reserve," and not mixing up the "Canyon Superior" vineyard with the "Cañon Inferior" vineyard can be important.
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I'd also advise that you not waste much time making notes about wines that seem really average, unless there's something you want to remember - for example, the first time you tasted an unusual variety such as an Alvarihno or a Zweigelt.
Notes on paper have worked well for me, but for the crowd that's really adept at texting, I suppose a cell phone could serve as well. And, for the clever, the text and photo can be easily combined, sent to your home e-mail and filed either digitally or on paper.
One word of caution about depending solely on digital storage. Your hard drive can crash so hard you lose all your data. And losing a decade or so of lovingly prepared notes, photos and other research is maybe even worse than dropping a $100 bottle of fine red wine.
At least the wine can be replaced.
For me, it's been more useful to try to keep my notes organized by winery, along with any materials I may have picked up at the winery. But you might want to organize yours by wine varieties, by vintage, by AVA, by a broader region (Idaho, Oregon, B.C.), by alcohol content or by any other category that appeals to you.
If you get really geeky, you can put them all on a spreadsheet and make every nuance searchable. There's no doubt someone out there who likes to track his/her tastings and wine cellar by all those categories and more.
But from your question, I expect you'd rather not get too "geeky," so go with what makes sense to you for now.
Wine Words: French hybrids
The avid Northwest wine explorer won't travel far without running into a bottle containing one or more of these grapes, several of which were created by the avid hybridizer Eugene Kuhlmann in the Alsace early in the 20th century when the French were scared to death they would lose all their vines to the phylloxera louse, which began ravaging the vineyards of Europe in the 1860s.
Kuhlmann gets credit for creating what's likely the best-known French hybrid in the Northwest, Marechal Foch, and Leon Millot, both of which are grown in Washington and British Columbia, especially on Vancouver Island.
The best-known breeder of French hybrids is generally considered to be Albert Seibel, who developed scores of them starting in the 1880s until 1936 in Aubenas in France's Rhône Valley. He receives credit for the Seibel grapes, which include De Chaunac and Chancellor.
And another Seibel grape, Rayon d'Or, was crossed with Ugni Blanc by breeder Jean Louis Vidal to produce Vidal Blanc, the premier ice wine grape in New York and Ontario, but also common in B.C.'s Okanagan region, where Jackson-Triggs Vintners, Inniskillin and Arrowleaf Cellars, among others, make ice wines and dessert wines from it.
Other French hybrids grown in the Northwest include Baco Noir, developed by Francois Baco. In Oregon's Umpqua Valley, Girardet Wine Cellars produces a wine from this grape that The Oregonian's Matt Kramer recently praised as one of Oregon's best reds.
The French now put their noses firmly into the air over these hybrids and dismiss them with no more than a sniff.
With our Northwest ranges of climate and the willingness to experiment, many of our region's winemakers and viticulturists are not writing off these hybrids.
Lon Rombough, in his book, The Grape Grower, cites a story about the renowned German grape breeder and researcher Helmut Becker secretly entering a hybrid grape wine in a prestigious European competition and winning it, much to the chagrin of the competition's organizers.
Becker, by the way, was among the most famous European wine researchers from the 1950s until his death in 1990, and an early supporter of the effort to develop a Northwest wine industry. He helped recruit Germany's Langguth family from the Mosel region to try its hand in Washington, resulting in the Columbia Basin winery that subsequently became today's Saddle Mountain Winery.
Ken Robertson, a newspaperman for 40 years and a Wine Press Northwest columnist since its founding, has enjoyed sipping and writing about Northwest wines for 32 years. He lives in Kennewick, Wash. Have a question for Ken? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.