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23 September 2005

Stoneleigh Riesling: 1 Wine/2 Reviews

Our recent discussion on Bob Parker's adjective orgy got me thinking.  Catherine's comment (referencing a Decanter article penned by Hugh Johnson) in particular, made me wonder if assigning multiple fruit adjectives to a wine is the best way to describe/review wine.

For example, which statement is more helpful?

"This wine offers up scents of lime, apricot, and honey"
"The wine offers typical Riesling scents"

We frequent wine sippers likely understand right away what is meant by 'typical Riesling scents.' However, what about those relatively new to wine?  Perhaps it won't mean much.  In fact, it just might confuse them, or make them feel inadequate about wine (everyone must know how a typical Riesling smells).

Let's try approaching my take on Stoneleigh Riesling with a tasting note written from the standard point of view and one written in a strict, descriptive style.

StoneleighrieslingMore Qualifying/More Adjectives

Stoneleigh Marlborough Riesling, '04 ($13) [get it here]

  • From the Marlborough region of New Zealand
  • White gold in color with a subtle green undertone & thin, watery rim
  • Youthful, fresh scents of peach, ripe pear, and honey
  • In the mouth this wine is medium-bodied and off-dry with balancing acidity.  Citrus and peach flavors give way to a simple honeyed finish

*** (3 stars out of 5)

Less Adjectives/More Descriptive

Stoneleigh Marlborough Riesling, '04 ($13)

  • From New Zealand's Marlborough region
  • Pale gold in color with a narrow rim
  • Typical, straightforward Riesling scents
  • This medium-bodied Riesling is made in an off-dry style.  It is balanced by acidity, offers simple flavors, and a finish of moderate length

*** (3 stars out of 5)

I'm curious.  Which review do you prefer?  Which would be more helpful in understanding how the wine will smell & taste?  I'm all for writing tasting notes/reviews that are more helpful and less poetic (although I enjoy being poetic with wine once in a while).


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For me the more "qualifying" is the one. Any varietal will always have some common characters but its the differences in flavors that help define the qualities of an individual wine. This was very obvious at a tasting of 1995 Bordeaux that I attended last night. Only the most simple assessment would have come up with "typical Bordeaux scents" for the wines involved. And the differences were made even more apparent by the inclusion of several wines from 2000 (i.e. aroma versus bouquet).

Just as an aside. Although it was a single blind tasting we were provided with tasting notes from reviewers like Parker and Wine Spectator. For one wine the Parker tasting notes almost constituted a small essay! He's not short of words, whether we can all agree on their accuracy is another thing.


Ian Scott

Why not both? Perhaps one description is helpful to some, while the other helpful to some others!


I much prefer the former. It evokes specific scent-images, which helps me to better imagine what the wine is like, and therefore whether it fits my mood/meal.

The problem with the descriptive style is that people are not used to picking apart scents and flavors, let alone talking about them. That's the sharpest part of the wine learning-curve.

I don't think less information is the way to go though.

The main benefit of the latter is the convey the additional information that this is a typical Riesling. That information is missing from the first review, and might provide significant value to those new to wine.


Mike - Good points. I agree. The qualifying approach works for simple, textbook wines. But then, 95 Bordeaux, or a well-made Shiraz demand to be described in detail. Many of my 'during-the-week' wines don't deserve an essay. Yet, the occasional, weekend gem definitely requires a bit more writing.

Ian - I think I'm going to hybridize my reviews - make them more concise where appropriate; yet add as many descriptors as register in my brain.

Mithrandir - Very true. I want as much detail as possible. For me, wine isn't so much a utility (like water) but something that enhances a meal, an experience, a mood.


Most of what I'd say has already been said, but I'd also add that one reason I prefer the first review to the second is that mouthfeel is very important to a wine - and that is not conveyed in the second review in any clear way. Whether or not that was part of the attempt to "keep it real"...

It's an interesting conundrum, isn't it? We want to make wine writing accessable, but the latter is just as alienating to the novice for it's "typical riesling" comments as the former with its "jargon". in the end, I ask myself, what's wrong with expecting people to learn a few terms when taking on a new pursuit? Not as a barrier to entry, but because those are the tools of the trade. So long as it doesn't start suffering the effects previously discussed in the Parker review...

Eric B

The problem with saying "typical" flavors is that the flavors are distinctive depending on region. For example, a Washington State Riesling has different flavors than an Australian Riesling which is different than a German Riesling. Maybe if you qualified "typical" with the region it is from, then it may make more sense.

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