TastingBuddy – electronic tasting notes

xTasting notes are what makes the entire wine world go round. From the notes scribbled by the supermarket wine buyer as he or she travels the world looking for the next big thing, to the influential journalists whose words can make or break a wine, to the wine-lover whose enthusiasm and knowledge is widened and deepened by the discipline of writing down his or her thoughts on the wine in their glass.Yet for many people the science (or is it art?) of writing tasting notes is challenging. Structuring your thoughts and pulling those perfect descriptors from the dark recesses of your mind can often be elusive, no matter how evocative the aroma or taste you are experiencing.For some, studying and learning a methodology is the way to crack the tasting note problem. Courses such as those run by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) teach a disciplined, structured approach to tasting that evaluates wines in a strict sequence of questions and answers, in an attempt to bring a certain precision to the task.

For others, a much more free-form, sometimes almost poetic approach works best, where the words used in the tasting note will employee simile, metaphor and all sorts of inventiveness to capture the personality of a wine.

For wine professionals – winemakers, merchants, writers and sommeliers – and for the truly dedicated wine nuts amongst us, there is the added problem of what to do with all the notes: where to file them, how to order them, and how to make them a useful resource rather than allowing them to become just a dust-collecting pile of notebooks

xStep forward TastingBuddy, a new tasting notes system designed for use by both professionals and dedicated amateurs. Not only can TastingBuddy make the process of composing a note much easier, but it is a smart method of capturing your notes electronically, with the ability to store, sort and search your entire catalogue online.TastingBuddy is a software package that you can download from the TastingBuddy website for installion onto you hand-held. Compatible with Microsoft Mobile Pocket PC Phones and Pocket PCs, a BlackBerry version is in the pipeline.

TastingBuddy has been designed with two very different methods of inputting data. The first is an analytical mode, that steps you through a tightly structured tasting sequence, prompting you to analyse each aspect of the wine, with a clever array of drop-down lists, sliders and radio button choices to make the compilation of a detailed qualitative assessment extremely quick and easy (screen shot of one of the pages, left).

xThis method encourages the taster to examine a wine in a structured and repeatable fashion, which in iteslf is an excellent training tool. Optionally, the taster can call up lists of descriptive terms that many will find useful in overcoming the ‘mental block’ in pinpointing familar aromas and flavours.The second method of inputting notes is perhaps more suitable for experienced tasters who are used to recording tasting notes. Known as ‘freestyle’, with this method appearance, nose and taste are assesed in simple text areas by typing or writing (using the device’s hand-writing recognition capabilities) freely. Additional drop-down and slider options are used to record the wine’s drinking window and score. In using the device I found the latter method the one that suited me best, allowing me to quickly make notes in the style I am used to. It is also possible to combine the two methods effectively, by adding textual comments to your notes in the analytical mode.

But it is once notes are safely saved in your pocket PC that the fun begins: TastingBuddy synchs to the TastingBuddy web site, where you can upload your notes into your own private space. This seems remarkably easy and intuitive, and once your notes are uploaded, you have powerful searching and reporting tools at your disposal, and you may edit and categorise your notes from your PC. You can also choose to share your notes with others, and can type notes straight into your TastingBuddy webspace if tasting with the aid of a laptop and internet connection.

Some of the system developments that are currently underway are exciting: already a few retailers are making lists of the wines they are showing at large tastings available to TastingBuddy users in advance of the event, meaning your handheld will be pre-loaded with all the wine names and prices ready for you to start taking notes. Also, you will be able to dump notes into Excel, and you will be able to interact more fully with other members of the TastingBuddy community.

According to the people behind it, TastingBuddy is already proved extremely popular with everyone from fastidious note-takers Andrew Jefford and Steven Spurrier, to the Wine Buyers for some major businesses who find its ‘on the road’ capabilities especially strong.