Wine Reviews and Tasting Notes

wine tasting classHere are some quick tips on writing wine reviews and tasting notes. I’ll be adding new tips to this list regularly. Got one to add? Please post it below.

You can also find tips on posting your reviews on this site and how to get the most of the site features to organize your reviews. Have fun!


What information should be in every tasting note?

The smell and taste of the wine are essential: aromas and flavours. This doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it gives people a sense of the style of the wine. The Wine Aroma Wheel is helpful in suggesting new descriptors. Also include if the wine is light-bodied (feels like the weight of skim milk), medium-bodied (whole milk) or full-bodied (cream) and a few suggested food pairings.

What else helps?

The colour of the wine and the finish (long is more than about 10 seconds and you’re still smelling the wine after you’ve swallowed which is an indicator of quality, medium is 5-10 seconds, or short is less than seconds) are two other aspects you can include.

As well, Amazon often suggests other books you might like when you buy one from them. This is done by algorithm so it’s imperfect, but it’s a terrific suggestion to include in your tasting note. For example, if you like the Mitolo Shiraz from Australia, you might also like the Two Hands Shiraz. You can even jump categories: If you like robust Australia shiraz, you might also like Argentine malbec, such as those from Catena.

What serving tips can I include?

Suggesting the right temperature for wine is helpful to your readers, as are tips on the right wine glass and decanting.

How long should my review be?

Your reviews can be short and sweet like Sandra and Gaby’s, as this is still helpful to others in that they give their opinion. You can also be more detailed in your reviews like Dan Trcka, though this is not mandatory.

May I include my own web site or blog?

Yes, of course! You can add your own web site or blog to every review that you post on the site, as Dan does above, so that visitors can find you.

May I post reviews I’ve done or my own site or elsewhere?

Yes, you may as long as you own the copyright to your reviews.

How many reviews should I post a week?

That’s up to you: more is better if you’re keen and you’ll show higher up on our contributor’s Wall of Fame and get featured in our newsletter that goes to 152,000 subscribers. However, some contributors post one review a week and often at the same time each week so it’s part of their routine say on a Sunday morning: it’s the regularity of doing so that will build up your personal database of reviews over time.

Must the wines I review be sold in liquor stores?

You may review wines sold at winery only, online, direct mail order, by consignment, from a restaurant list, wine club, wine event, auction, as well as in liquor stores. This also included older vintages of wines from your cellar that may not be available for sale any longer. This still helpful to others who have that wine in their cellar.

Which types of wines should I review?

All types of wines are welcome: white, red, sparkling rosé , dessert and fortified in all price ranges and regions.

May I review beers and spirits?

Although the focus of the site is on wine, we do allow reviews and beers and spirits. Most of the spirits sold in liquor stores are already listed on the site, though they are unreviewed. You can click on “Add My Review” to do so. Beers require that you enter them as a new listing: choose Other Wines/Drinks as the category please.

How can I improve my reviews?

Read them aloud, every time before posting them. This will help you spot typos. More importantly, you can catch run-on sentences and descriptions that don’t sound conversational. Also use spell-check, but don’t copy and paste text from Microsoft Word and other programs directly as it often adds weird characters and spacing. I use a text-only program called Notepad, where I copy and paste my text from Word first, then copy and paste online.

What about acidity?

Many wine drinkers get nervous when they see the word “acidity” in a tasting note. I usually handle that one of two ways, either I put that word in context, as in there’s lots of mouth-watering acidity that makes this wine pair well with a variety of dishes; or I’ll put acidic fruit in the description, such lime and white grapefruit or words such as zesty, tangy and mouth-watering.

wine tasting notepad

What can make it fun?

Malcolm Lamont, a contributor in Ottawa, says that he often pairs the wines he reviews with an occasion. I love this idea as it makes wine less intimidating, and gives your readers a story to share with family or friends as to why they bought the wine. You can even go beyond suggesting traditional occasions such as birthdays and weddings and pair wines with National Cheeseburger Day or the birthday of your favourite musician and so on. Also suggest when a wine would make for a terrific house wine.

What can make my reviews more interesting?

Include a bit of trivia or history about the wine or winery. For example, previous reviews of mine have mentioned that Hitching Post pinot noir is the wine featured in the movie Sideways and the Masi family are descendents of the Italian poet Dante, which is why one of their wines is called Algheri.

You can also quote interesting facts, such as it takes three old vines to produce just one bottle of this wine, or this vineyard is planted at one of the highest altitudes in this region, etc. Often you can find these interesting facts on the back label of the bottle or the winery’s web site. Adding them transforms your wine review into a mini story about the wine that readers will enjoy.

Should I give wines a score? If so, what do those scores mean?

Scoring wine is up to you: some people are against it, while others find it helpful. Here’s my own wine score guide.

How can I taste more wines each week?

Darlene Meyers, a contributor in Halifax, says that she goes to her local liquor store on the day when they put out new wines on their tasting bar. (Often the larger stores in your city will do that: call and ask.) She brings a note pad and talks to the store expert who’s pouring. She learns a lot and is able to post 5-7 more reviews each week beyond what she’s drinking at home.

The Ottawa LCBO on Rideau Street and the Gatineau SAQ both offer tastings of premium wines at their tasting bars, with a new batch opened every two weeks as do five Toronto LCBO stores, including one in Oakville. Let me know if you want to be on the distribution list of upcoming wines to be tasted at either of these. LCBO’s Vintages division hosts several terrific wine events every month: get on their mailing list.

Put annual wine events into your calendar now, and put your  name on the mailing list so that you’re notified when registration opens. Here’s a list of wine events to peruse. Let me know if I should add others that are missing.

You can join a wine tasting club such as the National Capital Sommelier Guild in Ottawa (you don’t have to be a sommelier), the Ontario Wine Society in Toronto and Niagara or a host of other clubs.

You can also organize an informal wine tasting club with friends as do the Drink Wine and Giggle Gals in Toronto: everyone brings a bottle and shares. You can talk about the wines if you’re all keen to do so, or just make it a social evening, but you take some notes on each wine that you can post later. Book clubs are great for this too.

Tell Your Story with Video and Pictures

For your own tasting club as well as for wine tastings, wine shows and winemakers’ dinners that you attend or wine regions that you visit, use video and pictures to bring the experience alive for your readers. I’d love to include your Instagram or other photos on a blog post for a specific event, so please send me your 3 best pics along with a paragraph with your thoughts about the event and we’ll put together an amazing post. Your mugshot and byline too!

Instagram has added a super easy way to record video for 15 seconds. You just click on the camera icon along the bottom, then on the video camera icon. Simply hold your finger on that video camera icon to record, lift it off to stop, keep recording by pressing it again. No editing or anything. It’ll post to Instagram and Facebook if you wish. Here’s a wine video I did for fun.

It’s fun to ask the person pouring the wines at a table or in the tasting room to tell you a bit about the wine in 15 seconds and/or take panning shots of the event. Give it a whirl and I’ll bet you’ll be using this app at every wine event you go to as there’s nothing like video to bring it alive.

Use this app as well when you travel to wine country for beautiful clips of the vineyards, chats with the winemakers or of your family having fun. Use it in restaurants for a mini food and wine pairing video of what you’re served. You can also use Vine, the video app by Twitter, or the YouTube app for iPhone or Android, that work the same way.

Wine toastWhich books do you recommend to learn about wine generally?

Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Wine Course is an excellent start. Here are more wine books I recommend. (Start with Summer in a Glass, then move down the list and back through older entries.)

Which wine books will help me learn about tasting and reviewing wine?

My first book Red, White and Drunk All Over has a chapter on wine writing that you may find useful. Most other books on this subject are part of the wine courses mentioned below. You may also find several wine videos here helpful, especially those with sommeliers and those featuring a tasting of specific varietals such as sauvignon blanc and pinot noir.

Which books on the craft of writing itself do you recommend?

There are several excellent books on the craft of writing itself, my favourite is by Stephen King (yes that Stephen King who writes horror novels) called On Writing. It is superb. Also take a look at Bird by Bird, Writing Down the Bones and On Writing. The classic grammatical text is Strunk & White’s Elements of Style. One of the co-authors, E.B. White wrote Charlotte’s Web, among other childhood treasures.

What wine courses do you recommend?

Many community colleges, such as Algonquin and La Cité Collégiale in Ottawa and George Brown in Toronto, offer wine or sommelier courses. You can also look into the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers (CAPS), the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) and the International Sommelier Guild (ISG), many of which offer their courses in many cities with local instructors.



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