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View Full Version : Tasting note adjectives - how specific can one really be?



Jono
01-08-2013, 15:44
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taste

I know there are "supertasters" who can pick out more flavor elements than the rest of us. However, as much as
I enjoy either listening too or reading various "tasting" notes, I am somewhat doubtful of the dozen or more
various notes some people pick out.

We all have the basic - sweet , sour, bitter, salty and "umami" / savory.
Other possible notes are - cool, dry, fattiness, "heartiness, numbness, hotness, temperature.

Now, within these categories we can say "sweet like honey or sweet like sugar" etc.
Personally, I tend to pick out 3-5 flavor notes at most. Now, maybe if I had a nosing kit and really
trained my senses I could add more. Some notes are just hard to describe.

When you read of notes with 12+ individual scents or flavors......bee honey from South Africa, honeysuckle from Georgia, an unusual tea,
various candies, vegetables, fruits etc. do you experience them yourself or do you hunt for them after reading the notes?
I think the mind will find what it is looking for in these situations. Just comparing notes on the same whiskey or other beverage shows
a few common experiences but quite often very different notes as well. How much B.S. is a part of such reviews?

How many individual notes do you think you can pick out for each phase...nose, palate taste, after taste?

In addition...Supertasters are not indicative of the rest of us so their reporting is really not applicable.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supertaster They are more sensitive to certain flavors...if the average person isn't it
will not matter.

squire
01-08-2013, 16:03
I put it down to professional reviewer ennui. I recall whisky writer Jim Murray commenting he occasionally had to come up with new tasting terms to keep his reviews fresh. To me that's like saying 'there really isn't any tapioca root or tamarind rind in this whisky, that's just something I thunk up on the spot'.

Parker Beam said it best in a broadcast interview, "I don't find all these tastes they talk about in whisky, to me it just tastes like whisky".

Jono
01-08-2013, 16:20
Well, two extreme stances....I think Parker was being a little simplistic but I get his point.

I love Ralfy's reviews but he does find multiple notes. I don't doubt he experiences those scents and flavors, but I know I don't
have that level of specificity. Coming up with a descriptor for those notes is the subjective impression of the taster.
If I get a fruit note is it pineapple or is it tangerine? If I get a chocolate note... is it bakers chocolate or is it milk chocolate? Is it 60% or 80% dark?
Another person may say, neither, it is dragon fruit or it isn't chocolate, its coffee.

Sometimes, talking to somebody as you both are tasting shows similarities and differences. Other times, you find yourself
hunting for the note they detect. Sometimes you think you find it and other times not.

ChainWhip
01-08-2013, 16:23
My wife can pick out all kinds of scents as she's got an incredible sense of smell - I call her "supernose" sometimes. This translates to tastes too IMO because she can pick stuff out that I can't in food/drink (until she says something and then I'm like "oh yeah it does!")... It's either that or she's suggesting tastes/smells to me and my brain just nods along & agrees to everything she says.

portugieser
01-08-2013, 16:27
I can identify some relatively broad flavors that might translate to corn, spice, sweetness, oak, and floral tones. And sometimes a broad descriptor like "spice" might be more specifically identifiable as cinnamon or clove, or "sweet" as maple syrup or burnt caramel. But some of the esoteric stuff mentioned in reviews is really quite silly. Why is the taste "vanilla fudge" and not just "vanilla"? Why "orange rind" and not just "citrus"? Why caramel, toffee and nougat? I love complex bourbons with emerging and varied flavors, but certainly couldn't identify three such similar flavors.

ChainWhip
01-08-2013, 16:34
Also from a cultural/culinary perspective, one's exposure to flavors tends to inform their perceptions of taste. Coming from an Asian background, some the notes I read really leaves me scratching my head. Other times, I get flavors that remind me of a Chinese candy or herbal medicine and I don't think it'd be understood by one without the same exposure.

Jono
01-08-2013, 16:37
ChainWhip I certainly try to pick out such notes after having read a review...sometimes I think the mind will act on the suggestion. Like a supertaster, a supernoser detects things the rest of us don't....of if we do, they are buried within other scents and none rise up and shout so we are left with a sensation but cannot put it to words.
Good point about the food and cultural influences.
Vanilla fudge can also just be vanilla and chocolate notes. I agree Portugieser that what you report is similar to what I find myself able to pick out.

T Comp
01-08-2013, 19:55
I once got pounced on by somebody here for using the term "lead pencil". Fortunately I don't recall ever actually tasting one but I can certainly imagine that taste from all the grammer school pencil shavings I experienced in the early '60s :grin:.

And at times whiskey has smells, tastes and flavors of foods or spices I don't much care to eat but they're damn good in the whiskey.

There is also a specific smell and taste in the 15 and up VW's that I think makes them so appealing to many, but I can't put my finger on what it actually is...or has anybody in their reviews nailed it for me either.

WAINWRIGHT
01-08-2013, 20:13
I believe that certain tasting notes are quite prominent,at least to me they are many are glammed up generalities.I believe that if these reviews weren't interesting and over the top no one would read them so things must stay glitzed to the hilt.I have found what I taste isn't what others get from certain profiles anyway,I use them as a guideline and not a staple of to which I base my purchases.I believe if all palates were the same all whisk(e)y would taste the same and variance is what keeps it all interesting and ever changing,even my own from day to day.

soonami
01-09-2013, 08:13
I think that some people are very "creative" in describing things that they taste but other people have a good sense memory. Whenever I sample beer, wine, whiskey, etc for a review, I try to relate a smell or taste to something very specific. For example, if I smell something that is fruity, do I just say it's "tropical," or do I think more about what that scent reminds me of. Maybe it's mango or pineapple, or maybe it's pineapple upside down cake, or maybe it's mango lassi. I try to be as specific to relate to other experiences that I've had in order to give the tasting more weight and saliency. Otherwise, almost every review could be boiled down to, "very woody with some caramelized sugar, some spicy notes, grain flavor and a touch of char in the finish." I think specificity based on your experiences makes for a more enjoyable review.

Some people are just better at cataloging taste memories and can conjure them up when necessary. Others are better at identifying a taste or aroma component by name. Still others are just good at making up flowery terms for ordinary tastes. Finally, there are people that just like to drink and not think to much about it. After all, if you drink Coke, which is a mix of orange, clove, citrus and other essences or Dr Pepper and it's 20+ flavorings, you aren't there just trying to pick it all apart, but you just drink it and

Brisko
01-09-2013, 09:01
One of the problems I run into is that I often smell or taste things that I recognize, at least marginally, but can't identify. Very frustrating.

If you read the late Michael Jackson's reviews, what set him apart from everyone else was that he just tried to describe the whiskey clearly and conscisely. Sometimes that meant specific taste elements, but often not. David Broom occasionally acheives this, but lacks MJ's economy with words.

p_elliott
01-09-2013, 10:21
Most of the time I'm like a lot of you on here that taste like something but I just can't put my finger on it. Sometimes I get a fleeting rush like a few weeks back I opened a new bottle of private bottling of Bowman's and got bubble gum. Then there are a few I get the same thing every time Like GTS I get brown sugar(some may call this caramel maybe) or OGD 114 the brownies like a lot of people do, Jamison12 pears some with Blackbush too. Woodiness is a characteristic of lot of bourbons especially older ones.

IowaJeff
01-09-2013, 10:50
While some descriptions may be gilding the lilly, I enjoy reading other people's tasting notes. I generally pick up on general categories of flavor: oak/wood; sweet/sugar (which can vary from just bland sweetness to something more nuanced like caramel or brown sugar; vanilla; spices i can't individually identify but associate with baking; fruit (which sometimes will give a more specific impression, like banana or citrus); floral. Those are the good one's anyway. Although I might not specifically taste something like 'dead sea salted caramel covered with dark bavarian chocolate,' If I'm looking for something with sweet caramel notes with some depth of flavor that might help steer me.

Beyond general tastes, like a bourbon that has a lot of wood on the profile, its all very subjective. That's what makes it beatiful and fun, like art.

kickert
01-09-2013, 11:33
I am for the super-specific adjectives because I have had those pours where I taste something very distinct (i.e. fresh cut field with goldenrod). Sometimes something clicks and it isn't just a generic flavor, but soemthing that brings to mind a very specific memory. What I don't understand is when people have a list of 20 flavors they get from the same drink. At most, I can pick out 4-5 and that is pushing it.

Restaurant man
01-09-2013, 20:25
In one whiskey I might get chocolate. In another it might be burnt brownie pan corners. Sometimes it's dark cherry and sometimes it's cherry cordial, or stewed cherries or just plain cherry or fruity. I'm cool with it if that smell or flavor reminds you of something specific. Or if it doesn't. I don't think it's a superiority thing. Just some people care to make more specific associations. I've seen hundreds of blind tastings in the wine world that had multiple people picking out the same things. And many where people didn't necessarily agree. It's subjective as we all have different sense memories but ultimately I think that the basic 12-20 flavors are objective. I think chuck said it bes when he observed that flowers are a descriptor for bourbon "if you detect chrysanthemum, more power to you"

squire
01-09-2013, 21:12
When writing a review I try to describe what I'm tasting.

When reading one I want to feel like I'm tasting.

bigtoys
01-09-2013, 23:30
I, too, often "can't put my finger" on what I'm smelling or tasting in whiskey. a few, however, I get, like vanilla in Pappy 20.
If I have Lagavulin and Talisker side by side, I can differentiate peaty from smoky.

I've also seen 2 "experts" use vastly different terms to describe the samy whisk(e)y, so I think there's a fair amount of bs.

wonder if there's anyone who can identify all 10 4R recipes blind???

oke&coke
01-10-2013, 01:45
wonder if there's anyone who can identify all 10 4R recipes blind???
That would actually be a fun experiment.

wadewood
01-10-2013, 07:53
Some of the adjectives are BS. There are no cherries put into straight bourbon. However their are chemicals in bourbon that we taste and smell as cherries. In the case of cherry that comes from an ester, geranyl butyrate, created during the fermentation and distillation process. It's the same with all the other "flavors" one may taste in a spirit.

squire
01-10-2013, 08:51
If my nose were that good the whsiky makers would be paying me rather than the other way round.

Crowes
01-10-2013, 09:47
I really enjoy reading tasting reviews. Everyone's palate is different, and while I may not taste the exact same flavors that someone else is describing, it does give me a general idea as to a bourbons' overall flavor profile. Is it a more spicy bourbon, or more sweet, woody etc. I have started writing reviews of bourbons on a personal blog, mainly for my friends who want to learn more about it. Am I a professional taster? Of course not. But food and drink have always been an important part of my life. I have many friends who are chefs, and I consider myself an amateur chef. Does that make my palate better than yours? I think not. But what it has done is provided me with many memories of tastes and flavor profiles that I really enjoy. I will sit and do tastings with one of my friends who recently got into bourbon and we'll compare notes. He will always tell me that his palate must not be sophisticated enough because he doesn't pick up as many specific notes as I do. I don't really think that's the case though. I just think, because food is a more important part of my life than his, that I have built up more memories of specific flavors that I enjoy. A larger dictionary if you will.

I have no doubt that when a reviewer points to a strange flavor that they are tasting, like say bubble gum, that most likely they really are getting that flavor. Doesn't mean I will, and that doesn't make them wrong, nor does it make my palate any less than theirs. I think once you get past a lot of the basic notes like vanilla, caramel, maple, brown sugar, ripe green apple etc, what happens is that the combinations of these flavors creates specific notes that we may all interpret a bit differently. I recently bought my first bottle of Baker's. I was having a glass one night and there was a distinct flavor and scent that I was getting that I couldn't peg and it was driving me nuts. It was soooo familiar, and was bringing back memories of childhood. What was it! Finally I figured out that it was something akin to yellow cake with vanilla creme, like a Twinkie. Now, I have never read a review about Baker's that mentioned Twinkies, but that doesn't mean that's not what I tasted. And if I were to write that in a review, I wouldn't really expect someone to taste the exact same thing either. Again, it was tied into a specific food memory for me and I don't doubt that someone else may look at me like I am crazy, or bullshitting.

But again, drinking any fine spirit is all about enjoyment. Some may get the most enjoyment by just drinking and enjoying, and not worrying about dissecting every little flavor they detect. For others, doing that is what makes it enjoyable and fun. Neither are wrong or any better than the other.

p_elliott
01-10-2013, 10:11
I
wonder if there's anyone who can identify all 10 4R recipes blind???

I would put money that Jim Rutledge couldn't do that. Nothing against Jim he's the best but it just can't be done.

MauiSon
01-10-2013, 14:26
Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it!

squire
01-10-2013, 17:00
They said it couldn't be done,
and he with a chuckle replied,
how do you know it cannot be done,
when you haven't even tired?

So he chucked right in, with a bit of a grin,
and set himself right to it.

He tackled the thing, that couldn't be done,
and by George, he couldn't do it.

scubadoo97
01-12-2013, 13:42
Some of the adjectives are BS. There are no cherries put into straight bourbon. However their are chemicals in bourbon that we taste and smell as cherries. In the case of cherry that comes from an ester, geranyl butyrate, created during the fermentation and distillation process. It's the same with all the other "flavors" one may taste in a spirit.

Wade, totally agree with ya. The esters give us those fruit aromas and flavors. geranyl butyrate is known to have floral, rose, fruity and pineapple aromas.

Flyfish
01-15-2013, 13:35
I put it down to professional reviewer ennui. I recall whisky writer Jim Murray commenting he occasionally had to come up with new tasting terms to keep his reviews fresh. To me that's like saying 'there really isn't any tapioca root or tamarind rind in this whisky, that's just something I thunk up on the spot'.

Parker Beam said it best in a broadcast interview, "I don't find all these tastes they talk about in whisky, to me it just tastes like whisky".

I have heard that the sense of smell is the most powerful stimulus to memory. Once in a while something triggers an association with things long past--the smell of the garage behind the house where I grew up, the Murphy's oil soap my mother used. The trigger never actually smells like the old things associated with it. Perhaps it's just a misfiring synapse or a glitch in the old corpus collosum.
Still, there are times I find something highly specific in a bourbon that was not there before and never returns again. This makes me suspect that what I found was not actually in the bourbon. If you can't duplicate the experiment, it ain't science.

smokinjoe
01-15-2013, 15:24
Some of the adjectives are BS. There are no cherries put into straight bourbon. However their are chemicals in bourbon that we taste and smell as cherries. In the case of cherry that comes from an ester, geranyl butyrate, created during the fermentation and distillation process. It's the same with all the other "flavors" one may taste in a spirit.

I ain't a puttin' my nose anywheres near geranyl butyrate....:crazy: What are yas, crazy!!!???!!!

squire
01-16-2013, 00:12
I have disciplined myself to keep drinking until the experiment is duplicated.

AaronWF
01-16-2013, 08:35
There is no wrong way to describe a taste. There are degrees of accuracy, there can be agreement and disagreement, but when you labor to define a sensual experience, you're talking about art more than science (as someone else mentioned in this thread).

Bourserker
01-16-2013, 20:26
I, like many who replied to this thread, cannot make out more than a handful of flavors in any one whiskey either. I am also amused by tasting notes that have all kinds of exotic descriptors in them. I find them entertaining, but not that helpful. I can say one thing though, even though I can only pick out a few flavors in a given whiskey, I can definitely tell the difference between decent quality and crap.

p_elliott
01-17-2013, 10:19
I, like many who replied to this thread, cannot make out more than a handful of flavors in any one whiskey either. I am also amused by tasting notes that have all kinds of exotic descriptors in them. I find them entertaining, but not that helpful. I can say one thing though, even though I can only pick out a few flavors in a given whiskey, I can definitely tell the difference between decent quality and crap.

If you can tell the difference between decent quality and crap that's all you need to know!

tanstaafl2
01-17-2013, 10:36
Just have to keep in mind one person's decent quality spirit may be another person's crap!

p_elliott
01-17-2013, 10:41
Just have to keep in mind one person's decent quality spirit may be another person's crap!

Very true................