I realize that I may be the only person with a test engineering background writing about wine. Over the past 25+ years I have worked as an engineer and program manager responsible for testing combat systems which are integrated onto Navy guided missile cruisers and destroyers. My experience in that field is important as it provides background to a question which I am often asked, "How do you taste wine?"
In testing combat systems and evaluating wine you have to begin with requirements.
In the case of weapon systems the requirements are quantitative with binary answers being either "yes" or "no". Weapon systems do, or do not meet requirements.
In tasting/testing wine the requirements are qualitative with the benchmark established by the individual taster with input and assistance from others. I, for instance, lean heavily on my experience as Wine Director at Restaurant 213 where I tasted some fantastic wines and from other food and wine authors such as M.F.K. Fisher* and Robert Parker. The evaluation of wine tends NOT to be binary: that is, the answer is somewhere along a value-oriented continuum.
I have my own capabilities and limitations which I am mindful of when tasting. In my case:
- I see wine as an accompaniment to food and will almost always comment on a particular wine's ability to pair with food.
- I am mindful of the taste-holes. I have never, ever experienced violets when drinking a red wine - yet many of my wine writing friends mention it regularly in the reds they sample. I have never sensed tangerine in a white wine. Never.
- I am mindful of over-sensitive taste spots. In white wines I am quick to pick up vanilla, burnt toast, baked bread, flowers. In red wines I am quick to pick up cherries, raspberries and camphor.
I take notes as I drink but my notes are more like impressions than a listing of sensory experiences.
Quite simply, the first thing I ask myself is, "Do I like it?" That is an easy binary response and then based on that initial response I sip, chew and drink my way through the bottle. I jot down impressions as I drink the wine and I'll start my first draft on the computer the next day.
The second thing I ask myself is, "Would I buy it again?" A "yes" to both of these questions will always yield a favorable write up.
* If you don't know her - it is worth your time to research this writer - foodie (in that order).