The Limits of Tasting Notes

At Vinisud, I had the pleasure of introducing an alternative wine tasting for the Outsiders.

The Alternative Tasting

Basically, we just did a fun wine tasting where we encouraged people to describe our wines with images that Louise Hurren had picked out for our tasting booklet.  Forcing people to think about a wine with images instead of words gets them to think outside the box instead of falling back on the oft repeated tasting note vocab like rich, balanced, and a laundry list of fruit.

Furthermore, it empowers novice drinkers to review wines without worrying that they’re using the wrong word.  The experts can make us feel inadequate about language sometimes, but they pretty much have no dominion in the land of photo reviews.

Why was this tasting on the Pavillion 2.0 space?

This tasting was held at the Internet space of Vinisud and there’s a good reason for that!  The reason for the prominence of the tasting note is largely grounded in the limitations of print media.  Limited space means we talk in pure descriptors without any conjugation.  But the Internet doesn’t pose the same challenge.  We can have infinite words and infinite photos in full color.  And heck we can even use moving pictures, music, and other media that were previously impossible to include in printed wine journalism.  The Internet provides us with a path to escape the tyranny of the tasting note!

So I did a little presentation on this topic to get everybody thinking outside the box before we got to drinking outside the box:

All the slides are available on slideshare with relevant links to related articles in the penultimate slide.


I’d say everybody had a blast.  Including a lot of wine journalists (showing once again that even they can be fed up with tasting note format).  I originally wanted to do a tasting with music and video and all sorts of crazy stuff.  Thankfully, our group’s organizer Louise had the good sense to rein it in and focus on photos.

We had less than an hour to run the event so it was good to keep it simple and focused.  We got insanely good feedback about the event and it has already spawned several requests for similarly styled “alternative tastings”.  We also got several good ideas from our tasters who offered up ways to evolve the program and make it even more interesting.  Doing physical touchy feely tastings, doing musical tastings, tasting in darkness, drawings instead of photos, and so on.

In terms of tasting notes, I think we all received a wide range of notes.  I got everything from Lego man to Dutch masters.  I got several of the He/She picture that makes me wonder if I shouldn’t change my look.  Some of the outsiders noted that certain age groups tended to pick certain pictures (the more daring ones) more frequently than other demographics.  I’m sure we’ll compile more on this at our next meeting.

Everybody had fun tasting and I think this sort of event gets people to think and talk about wine in a new and stimulating way without feeling overly stuffy or pretentious.  A success!

The interviewer becomes the interviewee.  How the tables have turned!  Nina Izzo from Lost in Wine dropped by O’Vineyards and we sat in an enormous wine fermentation tank to talk about my appellation, the Cabardes.  This is part of a new series she’s doing called My Wine Rocks in L-R.

Here’s the video:

You can find either of us floating around ViniSud if you’re in Montpellier this week.  Although if you’re looking for Nina (let’s face it: nobody is looking for me) then keep in mind she’s no longer blonde.

On the off chance that you do look for me instead, I’ll be glad to share more information about Carcassonne, the Cabardes or the O’Connells.

It’s the end of carnavale. Carnaval? Whichever way it’s spelled, the masked dancing is hilarious.

Also, it means that I’ve had lots of themed meals built around cassoulet and sad clowns dancing down the streets of Limoux. Aude is home of the longest carnaval celebration on the planet. (Maybe a bit too long?) We go from January til March with six parades every weekend.

The video above is from an excellent dinner I had at Chateau Pennautier where the CIVL hired a banda and some dancers to lead us in some carnaval shenanigans at the end of the meal.

While Carnaval is wonderful (and that dinner was especially great), I can only take so many brass bands… so I’m happy to say that it’s over. Sunday is the Fete des Rameaux. The weekend of Toques et Clochers!

Toques et Clochers is a big auction of single vineyard Chardonnay produced by Sieur d’Arques.  They also do a big party in one of the towns that produces the wine, and they rennovate a local church tower with the money raised by the auction.

Earlier this year, I got a sneak peak at the barrel samples, and they were very exciting.

I’m looking forward to this weekend to see how those barrels are coming along.

This weekend’s Toques et Clochers 2011 schedule:



Voici le programme de la 22ème Édition de Toques et Clochers :

-10h :    Ouverture des Caveaux de Dégustation des «AOC Limoux»  Sieur d’Arques : Vins Toques et Clochers millésime 2009 et Première Bulle

-10h30 : Célébration en l’honneur de la Basilique rénovée Notre-Dame-de-Marceille

-15h : Inauguration officielle : «Cortège et Défilé des Vignerons du Sieur d’Arques et Parade Limouxine»

Points de Restauration,
Animation de rues,

Entrée obligatoire 1verre : 5€
Accès à la fête par navette :

Quartier du Paradou
Départ Limoux, route de Carcassonne
Départ Couiza, devant La Poste

Accès à la Basilique :
Départ Limoux, Allée des Marronniers

Vous trouverez ci-joint ce mail l’affiche de Toques et Clochers de cette année.

2011 toques et clochers flier

For every good idea I have, I get at least three ridiculously bad ideas.  And some of those bad ideas make it far beyond the planning stages.

So, last week, I was joking about the rhetoric we terroir-lovers tend to use.  We get very wrapped up in the importance of a wine reflecting a sense of place and we can often minimize the efforts of the winemaker.  We say that winemakers should only act in order to produce good fruit that reflects the place where they’re growing the fruit.  Anyway, we can get a little carried away with the rhetoric.  So in the spirit of making fun of myself, I bottled some vineyard dirt and put it up  for sale on the website.

The idea, unfortunately didn’t stop there. Once I had a bottle of dirt, it was pretty much unavoidable: I had to do a dirt tasting.

Tasting notes: dry, abrasive attack; strong minerality; dead leaves; low alcohol; significant sediment; muddy finish

So, without further ado, Ryan O’Connell from O’Vineyards tastes some dirt and makes fun of himself.

If we can learn anything from this ridiculous exercise, it’s that the perfect wine is not 100% vin de terroir or 100% vin d’effort but some clever middle path between these two extremes.

Buy now 🙂

Couleur bouteille

Last week, I had a delegation from Naked Wines customers visit the vineyard. The “angels”, as they’re called on the website, tasted several wines from the region the day before. And they had expressed some curiosity about the term garrigue that comes up all the time when tasting wines from this area. Garrigue refers to the underbrush in the region, but it can include a lot of different plants.

I wrote a post about some of the plants around the vineyard and I took cuttings which the angels got to smell. Here is a video of the experience taken by one of the visitors.

I know the blog has been super self promotional lately, but it’s because I can only tell you about lifting wires so many times before you start to hate me.

joe the winemaker in his cabernet 2
Here’s a picture of dad lifting wires in the Cabernet (which we finally finished!) But now we have to go back to the first wires we lifted in the Syrah and lift them some more. Like painting the Golden Gate Bridge, by the time you finish the far end, you have to go back to the beginning.

But amidst all this lifting, I took some time to organize our media and press coverage (no easy task because of the variety of languages and the fact that so many traditional media outlets refuse to get online).

And I found a comment that I really liked. Bol d’Air, a magazine insert that comes with l’Independant once per week, finished an article about my family and our wines with a nostalgia-filled reference to Suzy Delair’s singing. What better way to bring you a breath of fresh air than Suzy Delair showing off her Trah lah lah?!

This is from Quai des Orfèvres (1947) where Suzy portrays the seductive Jenny Lamour.  People always ask me why I named a wine Trah Lah Lah. Here is one more reason.

Hey everybody!! My Flip UltraHD came in the mail. I’m really excited. This camera is gorgeous.

I celebrated by traveling to Carcassonne and shooting everything I could including this pensive pigeon.

I will do a lot of random picture posts to share the vineyard and the region with you.  Hopefully they won’t all be Nouveau art-films about pigeons considering barred windows.

The back of the castle

The back of the castle

Could he be any Frencher?

Could he be any Frencher?

Gargoyles and crucifix

Gargoyles and crucifix

Pigeage is more than just a funny word with indecipherable vowel distribution. It’s a way of life. For weeks, all of our wines are going through an extended fermentation where the grapes and grape juice are turning into delicious red wine. This is a critical period known as maceration when the wine will draw its best qualities from the skin and the seeds in the tank. The undamaged grapes of harvest time impart their best qualities to the juice which will one day soon be fine wine.

But it’s not smooth sailing, my friends. The tanks we hold the grapes in contain 80 to 100 hectoliters (converted to nonmetric: a lot) of grapes. And the pristine purple marbles that fall into the vat are crushed and torn asunder by the chemical forces at work when yeasts ferment the juice. What’s more, there’s a byproduct to all this fermenting: CO2. The Carbon dioxide rises to the top of the vat like bubbles in soda and they will lift the majority of the skin and seeds to the top, forming a thick hard cap.

Two or three times a day depending on where we are in the fermentation (determined by measuring the density and temperature of the wine in the cuve). This is hard. It’s a struggle to push the grapes back down into the juice. Especially the first time. Especially the first hole. That first puncture is rough, but we’ve gotta’ do it!

I’ve been looking for excuses to push back the daily pigeage ritual to give my tired arms a rest. My finely tuned ability to procrastinate led me to make a video about pigeing. And now, in an effort to avoid the afternoon pige, I’m writing a blog post about pigeing.

Now you can learn the ins and outs. See the tools I use. Learn the theory and strategies that I usually ignore. You too can use this blog post as a way to not do the work you should probably be doing right now.

Behold punch downs:

Wine punch down – Pigeage

oh, music by Phunt Your Friends available for free download at

I have a new video for you all. This is a little video that describes how we go about tasting the grapes to decide whether or not they’re almost ready to harvest. You all know how to taste things, so it’s a little basic. However, sometimes, it’s fun to hear about the specifics like … what exactly does tasting the seed show about acidity and maturity or … how do you go about randomly picking grapes for a 200 berry sample that you’ll bring to the lab.

Yes, these and far nerdier questions will be answered.

Tasting Merlot before Harvest

Pre-emptive Q & A:

Q: Ryan, isn’t it a little late in the year to be checking your grapes’ maturity? I thought that the Cabardes would have harvested most of its Merlot by now.
A: You are such a precocious reader! Yes, it’s true that this is late. I filmed this in September and then got too busy actually harvesting to edit the video (also, I had to debug it because iMovie HD was giving me some trouble).

Q: How about a harvest update?
A: Harvest is going well. The Merlot and Syrah are in and they’re fermenting. We just started punching down caps today on two of the vats and it’s as hard as I remember. There’s a new harvester that is amazing so our quality will go up even though we are harvesting a little less by hand this year. That’s awesome, because it means less stress for me and better wine for all of us. 🙂

Okay, so the team (currently consisting of my dad, Joey Quigley, and me) is out in the Cabernet Sauvignon lifting wires.

In a nutshell, we want the most leaves possible on each plant since leaves with direct sunlight get energy for the plant, but we want to avoid crowding or dense packs of leaves because leaves stuck in a pack won’t collect energy AND they increase the chance of mildew and rot on the grape clusters come harvest time.

The best way for us to guarantee greeaaat foliage coverage with a lot of vertical surface area (horizontal is good too except that it would bump into the plants beside it and get undesired crowding) is a moveable wire trellis system with high posts. We went through the whole vineyard and ripped all the old posts out of the ground to make place for new posts. The new posts have lots of hooks on them so you can adjust how high the wires are set.

When the plant is just sprouting, we drop the wires. The leaves and vines grow in on top of the wires. Then we go around and lift the wires and hook them to the post. This lifts all the foliage up at once and guides the plant upwards while also providing support to grow extra long without snapping (this is especially important on more fragile varietals like the syrah which has vegetation that can easily snap under its own weight when unsupported).

The other cool part of this video is just talking about a peculiarly pesky weed called Les Americains (the Americans!) which we have to rip out of the ground whenever we see. It kind of looks like grapevine and it tends to sprout near the base of the vines and leech off of their root system. Left unchecked it destroys everything and suffocates the grape plants.

They’re called Americans because they were introduced when France took in a lot of California plants after a blight devastated most of their own vines. The American clones apparently introduced this previously unseen weed to the countryside. Enjoy the irony of Americans ripping up Americains.

Questions and comments are appreciated on the blog or at the youtube video itself. Thanks for keeping up with our adventures!

How to find us

Domaine O’Vineyards, located in the North Arrondissement of Carcassonne, is just minutes from the Carcassonne train station, the Medieval City, and the Carcassonne Airport.
GPS coordinates: 43.259622, 2.340387

Wine, Dine, Relax at our Boutique Vineyard
Unique thing to do in Carcassonne
Wine Cellar. Winery Visits. Wine Tasting.
Wine & Food Pairing

North Arrondissement of Carcassonne
885 Avenue de la Montagne Noire
11620 Villemoustaussou, France
Tel: +33(0) 630 189 910

  1. Best by GPS.
    Follow the signs to Mazamet/ Villemoustaussou using the D118. At the end of the last straight part of D118, you will come to a roundabout with the Dyneff gas station.
  2. Take the exit towards Pennautier. Continue 500m to a small roundabout and go straight over.
  3. Look out for the second road on your right, Avenue des Cévennes which curves up hill (about 1km) to Avenue de la Montagne Noire on the left.
  4. At the last juction, bear left. the road sign “Ave de la Montagne Noire” (confusing as it seems to show a right turn)
  5. After another 500m you will see our red brick color building in the middle of the vines.