I recently came across this customer review of Château Sainte Marguerite Rosé Cru Classé de Provence:

“The greatest “session” Rosé in the world. Never a one bottle drink. The best Rosé at any price, providing you think Rosé is to be drunk for pleasure and not to analyse. Sacha Lichine eat your heart out, you can’t compete on price or quality!”

 I love it. It conveys a love for rosé and an appreciation of its charms (that it should be drunk for pleasure) as well as letting us know that the reviewer (known only as Nick, on The Great Wine Company website) knows his Provence rosé. He is familiar with Sacha Lichine, owner of Château d’Esclans and maker of Garrus, the world’s most expensive rosé – though perhaps more famous now for his mass market sensation that is Whispering Angel.

And he has introduced me to the concept of a session rosé, which I intend to take up enthusiastically.

As well as bringing a smile to my face, it made me wonder, what are tasting notes really for? And who are they for?

Nick’s review says nothing about the colour, aromas or flavours of the wine, or even how it feels to drink it. Yet it certainly made me want to get hold of a glass of it, as I have a sense of how much I might enjoy it. And Nick’s obvious enthusiasm for and familiarity with the world of Provence rosé makes me feel as though I am in safe hands. So has it done just as good a job as a more conventional tasting note?

I’ve long been a sceptic of the WSET systematic approach, with its straitjacket of clear and bright appearance, medium plus tannins and ruby cores with garnet hints. It is undoubtedly a useful framework which is designed to ensure a comprehensive treatment of every wine, but it is woefully lacking in the ability to tell anyone whether they might actually enjoy drinking it. “Medium plus intensity of aromas you say? I’ll have a bottle.”

And what do consumers make of it all? Does a normal, wine-drinking person need to have an appreciation for “lively strawberry fruit and a creamy texture” in order to enjoy a glass of rosé? I doubt such thoughts ever cross the mind of most wine consumers. And why should it?

My own tasting notes vary in tone and content. I’ve been a judge at the Decanter World Wine Awards for the past few years, where I’ve judged Provence among other regions, so the world of rosé tasting notes is close to my heart.

But elsewhere in my professional wine tasting life, faced with a line up of well over 200 wines at a supermarket press tasting say, I have been known to resort to an anguished “Noooo!” as a note for a wine that I would clearly never recommend nor buy – why say more?

When I’m judging, I do try to play it fairly straight – partly because I want to give consumers an insight into what to expect. So yes, there are mentions of white nectarine, tangerine and the like. But frankly, will anyone else agree with my descriptions? And would they convince anyone to buy the wine in the first place? Would we all be better off leaving those tidy conventions behind and, to coin a phrase, being more like Nick?

What’s the most memorable tasting note that you’ve read – one that made you want to go out immediately and buy the wine?

Post script

Judging at Decanter this year we awarded 2 gold medals to rosés. When the results were revealed, one had gone to Sacha Lichine’s Garrus, with 95 points (£120 a bottle from Roberson Wine). The other was awarded to Château Sainte Marguerite Cru Classé La Londe “Fantastique” 2020 (£24.20 from Vinatis) with 96 points. You pays your money…

Nick’s session rosé may not quite reach the heights of Château Sainte Marguerite’s Fantastique cuvée, but at just under 20 quid, I reckon it’s worth a punt.

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2 Comments
  1. Vivienne Franks 4 months ago

    I use different types of tasting notes.

    If I am judging, I am objective, I have to score the wine and think about who is reading my tasting notes, what is useful to that person? wine style, flavour, price, ageing possibilities, food pairing options? I try to show enthusiasm and passion for high scoring wines with my words.

    If I am at a Press Tasting, my notes are very short, I consider if I like the wine enough to show at Tastings. Is it typical of it’s style, I consider quality and value, I look for the unusual wines. I give the wine a score out of 100, as it will jog my memory for future purchase and I write at most ten words.

    If I am teaching WSET courses, I have to force myself back into the mindset of the formulaic Systematic Approach, which as Heather says does not really entice you to buy the wine.

    If I am tasting for myself, I am subjective and just enjoy the pleasure of drinking the wine!

    To answer your question Heather, one of the most memorable Tasting notes that encouraged me to buy a wine was many years ago. It was a note describing Ken Forrester’s Chenin Blanc from Stellenbosch, South Africa. The Wine Is called FMC, after a Tasting note which described the wine as “FMC” (F***ing, Magic Chenin)
    I always giggle when I see that label!

  2. Richard Lane 3 months ago

    Thought provoking, Heather. As a newish WSET educator I know what you mean about the SAT system and its limitations, though of course as you say it is a framework to help train folks to objectively describe a wine as accurately as possible; descriptions that entice us into the romance of wine they are not. I blind taste regularly with a very knowledgeable friend, and one simple question we ask ourselves quite often is this: does the wine sing? Some wines seem to have an expressive joyful character, not related to their prestige/price. And related to this, I have recently noticed how many wines that tick all the ‘worthy boxes’: focus on terroir expression; use of natural yeasts, limited winemaking interventions – can sometimes lack something akin to a necessary joie de vivre. They are technically and politically (wine-wise) correct, but sometimes wearing the hair shirt too often. 3 organic reds from Languedoc tasted last weekend perfect examples. Well made, organic or biodynamic wines, alcohol restrained a touch (average 13%, low for Languedoc reds); upper end of mid-price and they all had one thing in common: they did not ‘sing’. This is not a dig at organic/biodynamic as I have tasted countless such wines which definitely have a voice; I just wonder sometimes whether in the attention to detail of some terroir-driven wines whether a bit of fun and life of the wine might be taking a back seat.

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