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About Dry Notes
‘Dry’ tasting notes, are where you write a tasting note from memory, an identikit version of a typical example of something.
The idea is that when you then taste that wine, you’ve got a version of the notes that you need in your memory bank, so that it’s not a panic or a stress when you need to answer a question on that wine.
I’m torn on their merit.
Dry Tasting Notes
So. Let’s elaborate just a little further. Take for example a basic £19 Bourgogne Pinot Noir. We know what it should taste of, and then we know what it physicallytastes of.
Go on then. Describe how it tastes.
Sort of like cherry, and redcurrant. A little bit earthy, some crunchy acidity.
That is a fair start. Using solely the information in the quote above, it could feasibly be any number of red wines. Mencia from Bierzo? Sangiovese from Tuscany?
What are the tannins like? What colour is it? Is there any oak? The intensity? The fruit character?
There’s still a world of variables that you need to use just to get you fully describing this as Pinot Noir, yet alone, getting into Burgundy.
Taste, Through Words
Retail tasting notes, such as the endless catalogues I receive in the post from The Wine Society, the shelf talkers in that shop you like, or the tweet from that influencer you follow.
Their purpose is to describe how this wine is effortlessly unique from any other, why you should pay attention to it, and why you should, eventually, shell out some cash for it.
For the MW, the Practical Exam, the tasting note, is none of the above. The purpose is to explain precisely how it isn’t unique.
The skill is to explain to the examiner exactly how you know it is what it is, and why the wine is representative and to be entirely expected and deduced.
Building a Bank of Dry Notes
The purpose of practicing endlessly these notes, is so that in the exam, you spot the Bourgogne Pinot, and within 2 minutes, you can begin to rattle off your pre-prepared notes.
Bourgogne Pinot Noir.
As evidenced by …
At this point you need to get in all the evidence from the glass, along with the specifics that justify not only how you know what it is, but the most important thing that proves it isn’t anything else either…
Cherry and redcurrant aromatics, with ripe, fleshy red fruit on the palate, moderate, supple silky tannins, light bodied and pale ruby colour, all key indicators of pinot noir.
Ok, you’re on to Pinot Noir. Buy why Bourgogne over Sonoma or Otago?
Break down what you can taste, and why it points to one or the other. Would Otago have a riper, richer texture and be more fruit driven. Is Bourgogne therefore a touch more subtle, does the fruit have a bit more restraint? Is the tannin structure fine grained but silky in Bourgogne, and more ripe and silky in Otago?
Sonoma is clearer cut, on paper, with a riper structurer, higher alcohol, maybe some vanilla and sweet spice from American oak, a teeny hint of RS?
The restrained, subtlety of fruit intensity, some mushroom notes, slight herbaceousness, with lower abv (12.5%) and moderate, crunchy acidity all suggesting cooler, old world origin.
No obvious sweet spice or vanilla character that would point towards use of american oak, indicating warmer New World origin, confirming cooler climate.
These notes, read like a stereotype, but if you read them back could still get you into Germany, or Alto Adige, or even Mencia from Bierzo. Is there any winemaking techniques you can taste? Carbonic? Some dissolved CO2, some old oak, some whole bunch? Does the colour intensity suggest high extraction, warmer ferments?
What is really going to get you, quickly, in an essay, into Burgundy, as well as Pinot? Why is it Bourgogne AOC, over Fixin or Gevrey-Chambertin? Can you deduce quality?
Where Dry Notes Fall Down
Identification. When you taste a wine, and you haven’t got the faintest idea what it is.
All the above notes work well based on the fact that you know what the wine is. I told you at the start what the wine was.
If you’ve got three wines in front of you, and you literally have no clue what they are, spewing out all the dry notes in the world isn’t going to help you.
What happens is that you begin to craft an answer from your dry notes, haphazardly guessing at what it could be, get a mention in for all the possibilities. Wildly funnelling between the tannin structure of Tuscany, the body of Bierzo and the alcohol of Alto Adige.
Likely you’ll end up stuffing down some pre-prepared nonsense that doesn’t actually correlate to the wine, but more to the wine you wish it was.
Why Do It?
Because, at the same time as practicing what you’d say in the essay, you’re learning how to identify the wines.
Body & Structure
Oak & Winemaking
Balance, Length, Intensity & Complexity
And if you’ve done that 100 times for 100 wines, when you taste them in the practical exam, you should have a fair idea how to deduce what they are.
Dry notes are just that.
They’re not a method for cheating the exam with pre-prepared answers.
They’ll help you identify the wine, through a reasoned understanding of the structural complexities of wines from around the world.
And. If you get stuck, you should be able to figure out which one of your pre-prepared notes it definitely isn’t, and that might get you on your way.
16 Minutes from YouTube MW Konstantin Baum on tips for passing the MW exam. Skip to 4 minutes for some thoughts on blind tasting Pinot Noir, and some dry notes from a mock exam.
“You have 2 hours 15 minutes, with 12 minutes per wine. That is not enough time to be making important decisions”
A recent blog post from Noelle, who’s also an MW S2 student with a bit more info on how the MW makes sure students are studying, and offering them feedback on practice answers. I’m still torn on their merit, but they keep me focussed.
PAMS are tough until you get comfortable writing dry notes. It’s confusing because you know what the wines are, yet you’re being asked “What’s the variety and origin?”
Dry notes also require moving away from the SAT that many of us learned in WSET and all that medium-minus and medium-plus terminology.
Getting into the mindset of “how would I justify this was Syrah on an exam? What evidence would I use?” is challenging and it took several months of practice for this to click for me last year.
It requires consistent practice – and learning from feedback.
Physical Taste. To me, the actual taste, pour, sniff, drink, swirl. In real life.