Writing Samples

taking tasting notesWRITING SAMPLES

I absolutely LOVE to write, especially about wine and wine-related topics. Being a professional wine writer and long time professional wine judge affords me a unique perspective, which allows me to write compelling text for my clients. Following are a couple of pieces I’ve written. Enjoy!

On Wine Judging
We sit, the five of us in pristine white lab coats, as if ready to perform some bizarre experiment. The first trays of wine glasses are wheeled in, tinkling merrily, and we get to work. We swirl each glass, check the color of the wine inside and dive in with our noses and palates, letting our senses be our guides.

This is the first morning of four days of intensive wine judging for the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. We, as judges, are responsible for future awards and the sales that they will result in for hundreds of wines. The responsibility of this task can be overwhelming, but the way that I deal with it is to go quiet, Zen-like, and focus, one at a time, on each glass that is directly in front of me.

We are in a large room, divided into curtained cubicles. In each cubicle, there are five judges and a coordinator to make up a panel. There are several panels in the room.

There is low conversation, often punctuated by laughter. There is the sound of tasting; indrawn sniffs and snorts, gurgles and gargles, the sound of mouthfuls of wine being spat out, the clink of glasses, the scritch, scritch of chalk on the blackboard, the rustle of paper.

We are taught that spitting in public is not polite, but spitting is a lifesaver when tasting over 100 wines in a day. The people that organize wine competitions usually provide large spit buckets for each judge, and often provide smaller, more discreet plastic spit cups as well.

I remember one year when a certain judge didn’t spit enough. By the end of the day, he was in bad shape, reeling around and muttering incoherently to himself. The other judges were disgusted with him, because he obviously couldn’t make good judging decisions if he was drunk! Wine competitions are judged by panels and when someone loses focus, it can throw the rankings of that panel off, and some deserving wine might not place as high as it should. We, as judges, take this very seriously, and do our best to maintain focus and rank all wines fairly. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

Wine tasting and judging is unabashedly sensual. That’s why I love it. Some judges, particularly winemakers, tend to focus on the flaws in a wine – they pick a wine apart like a hungry lion picks a carcass clean. I look at the drinkability of a wine. Will other people enjoy it?

When we finish with the flights, and have made our rankings (Gold, silver, bronze or no award), our panel coordinator writes the results on a chalkboard. We often argue the merits of a particular wine to raise or lower its medal. We don’t get to argue too long, because the next flight of wine glasses is always waiting to be judged, and we have many wines to taste each day.

After several flights of wine, we break for lunch, served buffet style in the other room. Judges sit with new friends from their panels or with old friends from previous experiences. Spirits are high, and we talk about the wines that we tasted this morning, about the wine industry and about life in general.

After lunch, it’s back to our cubicles and more flights of wine. Again, we focus on aromas, flavors, textures and colors, and argue the results, until sip-by-sip, we are finished for the day.


The Limo Divas from Hell, A True Story – Just Another Day In The Life…
The tasting room was crowded with cheerful visitors as I worked my way behind the bar, pouring wine, chatting with the customers and operating the cash register. Soft music played in the background. It was a good day.

As I poured wine for a Tommy Bahama clad tourist, I glanced up and saw a sight that made my blood run cold. The limo was long, black and sleek and parked directly in front of the tasting room entrance. Ten young women tumbled clumsily from the maw of this great vehicle like baby guppies being spawned.

As they tottered unsteadily on their high heels toward the front door, chattering as loudly as magpies and talking on their cell phones, fine beads of perspiration crowned my forehead and my hands began to shake slightly. It was a premonition of sorts.

I could hear them through the front door, which was closed. I steeled myself for the inevitable as they burst into the tasting room, enshrouded in perfume and group mentality.

The inclusion of this flock of weaving, squawking, perfumed and inebriated women had increased the decibel level to an uncomfortable cacophony. This new noise level was making it difficult for me to talk with and sell wine to my other customers.

As I poured small samples of wine for each of the women, I respectfully asked them to lower their voices. They ignored me. They accepted their tastes, turned toward each-other, and if anything, talked even louder.

I sighed and worked my way back down the bar, now having to yell over the din to my other customers. Meanwhile, more new customers were arriving, and the bar became two and three customers deep in places. I picked up my pace, yelling greetings to the new visitors and pouring wine, operating the cash register and writing up shipping orders even more quickly. Multi-tasking is a must when working in a tasting room.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I poured the group of women their third and final small taste of wine. I asked them a third time to please lower their voices, but again they blithely ignored me and continued to enjoy their own noisy party.

All of a sudden, things turned ugly. I was quickly pouring and yelling my way down the bar, when the same group of young women asked to try all three of the wines again. I took a deep breath and told them apologetically “I’m afraid that I can’t pour you any more wine – you have tasted everything here, and I believe that you’ve had a little too much to drink.” An uneasy hush fell over the group for a moment. I could feel the storm clouds gathering, and girded myself for their response.

A petite blonde detached herself from the group of women and positioned herself at the front door. She pointed a wobbly, French-tip-manicured finger at me as she bellowed “She sucks!” “This is the rudest tasting room I have ever visited!” “I am never coming back here!” Many other delightful pearls of wisdom fell from her perfectly shaped lips as she unsteadily stood guard and ranted at me by the front door. I did my best to ignore her as I busily poured wine for my visitors in the now packed tasting room. My hands were shaking with suppressed rage. I wanted to vault over the bar and throttle her, but you just don’t do that in the hospitality industry. Oh, well.

I continued hustling my way up and down the bar, pouring wine, yelling greetings and multi-tasking. I was trying to ignore the increasingly belligerent group of young women that had now joined their blond sister by the front door. We women are such delicate, ethereal creatures.

Finally, their limo driver came into the tasting room to shepherd his group back into the sleek sanctity of his vehicle. I silently pitied the poor man.

I have never been so happy to see a group of people leave the tasting room. As the front door of the tasting room closed behind them, my other visitors actually applauded me. I took a small bow and got back to work.