The problem of tasting

Last week, I wrote 465 tasting notes on (mostly) red wines from the 2016 vintage in the southern Rhône. This is less of a boast than a plea for sympathy. At an average of 116 per day, it was an onslaught on the senses, and brought up the perennial problem of how to taste wine in the most efficient yet fair manner.

This applies to any tasting situation, but is especially pertinent for en primeur tasting. With young southern Rhône reds, the volume of alcohol, tannin and fruit quickly becomes problematic. The result is a seriously impeded ability to assess every wine properly. Tannin build-up leaves the mouth parched and astringent, alcohol dumbs cognition, and flavours start becoming samey. And on top of all this, there is the increasing difficulty of writing notes which are concise, informative and avoid excess repetition.

After 50-60 wines the cumulative effect is very challenging. I know - oh, boo-hoo. Professionals should surely be able to get used to it and get the job done. But in my experience, the impact of alcohol and tannin on the senses doesn't lessen with increased exposure. Tasting a large set of reds is always going to present the same problem.

The simplest solution - to taste fewer wines in each session - is not practicable. There is comfortably enough time in the day to take more than 120 tasting notes, so stopping after 60 would mean leaving half a day unused. When you are in a region to taste the new vintage (and already taking two weeks to do so), this would be too inefficient.

I'd like to propose a solution.

But unfortunately, I can't think of one. The current system is how the wine trade has operated for generations - if there was a better way, it would almost certainly have been introduced already. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be discussed and thought about - it will certainly be on my mind when I go back to the Rhône on Monday morning to spend another week tasting 2016s.