Sunday, February 5, 2012

A footnote on notes

If, as I wrote in my previous post, I particularly value tasting notes as an invitation to a conversation, it follows that I don't much value those factory-farmed tasting notes consisting of nothing more than the name of the whiskey, the abv, and a dozen nouns and adjectives relating to various foods and odors, strung together with words like "gives way to" and "lingering."

I don't say I don't value such notes at all. Some nouns and adjectives -- "ambrosial," say, or "fetid" -- will prejudice me one way or another.

For the most part, though, I value descriptions of smell and taste more when they are accompanied by descriptions of mood, overall impression, and future intent.

"Where was a fireplace and leather armchair when I needed them?" "An unexciting but drinkable option." "I know what will be on my Christmas list this year!" These sorts of things complete the thought that the phrases of smell-and-taste free association begin; they move tasting notes from subjective sense data to intelligible thought. I have tried recommended whiskies and thought, "I'm just not getting the sumptuousness." I've never thought, "Where is the tobacco ash? Dammit, I was told there would be tobacco ash!"

In that light, I also value ratings on 100-point scales -- not as categorical rankings, but as shorthand for the overall sense of what drinking the whiskey was like, compared to what drinking a whiskey could have been like. If you give one whiskey an 86 and another an 83, I don't expect to like the first whiskey 3 units more than the second, I just expect you to reach for the first whiskey ahead of the second, more often than not, when you're in the mood for something like the first whiskey.

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