On Keeping a Notebook
Why did I write it down? In order to remember, of course, but exactly what was it I wanted to remember? How much of it actually happened? Did any of it? Why do I keep a notebook at all? It is easy to deceive oneself on all those scores. The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally; only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.
-Joan Didion, from “On Keeping a Notebook” in Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Do you keep a notebook? Do you keep a book of wine tasting notes? I keep…neither, really….unless you put together all of the things that I write a down on the corners of important papers, post-its (so many post-its), the palms of my hands, napkins, the “notebook” app of my intelligent little phone, the first few pages of a journal that for a hot second I am always so dedicated to maintaining.
Most of my notes are rarely re-visited. Even if they are, I am lucky if I can decipher half of the scribble. But I wrote it down, so it happened, and that’s what counts. For me, anyway.
Seen: Highly effective looking guy reading Secrects of Highly Effective People on subway. Recording something in a gigantic black Moleskine.
Heard: How can one remember thirst? (narrator of Sans Soleil, incredible film!)
Travel notes: Graziano Motta in his desolate castle where the quiet enters you and makes you sad. Atop the hill in the town of Montegrosso (Piedmont). 150 yr. old technique so that barbera doesn’t become too acidic. Closed tank so that CO2 bubbles into pipe that goes into water. 1 week of pumping over in ferm vat. Fiberglass until January. Barrels- botti made from combination of French/Slavonian oak. Pretty lunch spread in room with fireplace. Table set by elves? Russian salad, beef carpaccio, roasted pepper, egg fritter, chocolate dessert thingy. Barbera 2001, 2005, 2007, 2009, ‘Ndre (a memory), Bonarda, 1 other wine hand-drawn label for Swiss market.
Random wine-type ramblings too: The La La La’s- like man, woman, and their kid. Are they really some of the greatest wines in the world?!…Old crotchety guy at Montague Street cafe upset that he was given a white wine when he ordered pinot grigio… Drank Woodbridge from a 1.5 liter bottle with Dee Dee and it was the most delicious fruit juice in the whole world because I was with her…Piedirosso, Pied de Perdrix, Piedmont, pied pied pied, feet, feet everywhere!!
And then there are actual tasting notes, which range from pretty technical to kind of dreamy. Comparatively, mine are barely informative. Would smoked wild strawberries, steadfast acidity, medium body, and the kind of wine that Julie Andrews would drink in her hill spinning scenes of The Sound of Music mean anything to anyone from one day to the next?
Some tasters keep them with great diligence. In organized composition books with their names on the front. Swishing, spitting, and communicating with wines for however long it takes to feel and taste and listen to what they have to say. Writing down thoughts and findings, facts and amusing notes in some sort of form, WSET inspired, or whatever.
I wonder if people ever go back to read them. Actually, I shouldn’t wonder because I know for a fact that people do. For professional purposes when buying for a shop or wine list, as a hobby, for pleasure. Example- Melissa, the adorable manager of the similarly adorable Brooklyn wine shop, Atlantic Cellars, let me know that her “tasting tablet” notes are precious to her. Wine is her everything, takes up a lot of her thoughts and energy and passion, and those notes are a kind of tangible proof.
Part of the thing about writing anything out is that it takes a moment and solidifies it. And the solidification is art because you can write it any way you like. A tasting note can script a wine into something ethereal and enchanting, downright gross, or simply simple with bare bone descriptions.
Even those can be tricky, though. I remember reading a piece in Diner Journal a few years back about tasting wine. I don’t recall who wrote it, but the thing that stuck with me was that the author said he doesn’t like to ascribe certain attributes to wine such as “It smelled like a peach” or “it tasted like a peach”. That would suggest that a peach smells like a peach or tastes like a peach. And what is a peach? A peach may taste like a pear, a pear like a Turkish fig, a Turkish fig like some exotic foreign land. Every palate reads differently, and the power of suggestion often reigns.
Is wine like any other aesthetic creature when business becomes involved, in whatever form, offering all sorts of potential for bullshit? Do we all just smile and nod and ohh and ahh when we taste with someone who seems to know a thing or two and they say that this wine is brilliant and it’s got a cherry cola thing going on? Are we just a herd of sheep tasters?
Dubious, I know. Every wine tasted by every person will be a little different from one palate to the next, one bottle to the next. Is that the point? Does it matter? Does anybody care?! And, considering that I seem to be questioning the importance of wine in the first place, the issue of how much weight a tasting note even carries seem to be mostly inconsequential, eh?
As cynical as I may sound, I do believe there is beauty beyond the bullshit. Lots of it. I tasted a Bandol yesterday that proved it so. I mean this. Was. Gorgeous. Totally moving. Old-vine mourvedre from the Bunan brothers at Mas de la Rouviere (disclosure- I work for the importer!) that brought me to a place, told me there is so much more to this- this day, this moment- than I go around believing. Made me realize for the billionth time just how far out wine is.
I don’t think tasting notes help anyone but ourselves, even if sometimes we pretend that they are so vital that a really great one could save the world from all its ails. Just the same, I don’t think we should stop writing them out. Like how one shouldn’t stop jotting down the thing that someone said when no one else was listening. Or recording the way the sky, or the sun, or the people in your world look to you on a certain day- the loneliness or joy or amusement that it inspired. You know, minute to minute news.
Wine notes may be just that. A cue to remember. Simply so that we don’t forget. Homage to the transience of a glass of wine. Moments alive, and we were alive right along with them. Maybe if we keep going we will finish stories, satisfy questions. Maybe years from now we will look back on our notebooks and find all of the answers. Maybe, maybe.
P.S. Too great not to share. Show some respect.