Tasting wine. It can be quite casual, or it can be quite formal/serious. Sometimes it’s in between.
Casual, any wine tasted with friends, even at organized, focused tastings. I take notes less than half the time at these events any more (I used to take notes, fanatically, documenting everything). The reason being that I (now) prefer to spend the time with my mates first, and consider the wine, second.
Formal, a wine tasted with a winegrower, typically one-on-one, sometimes in the presence of the agronomist, too, if/when possible; sometimes they are the same person. Most of my tastings are done this way. It’s the best way, for me. The winegrower gets to control things like serving temperature, prior aeration, decanting for sediment, etc. This is my preferred method, and I go to great trouble (i.e. time and expense) to make it happen. The wines, and the work that’s gone into producing them, deserve my commitment. If the wine (soulful, of place and grape/blend) is respectful enough to be honest, I will be respectful enough and go and and extend the full effort to taste it.
Trade tastings. Ugh. My least favorite way to taste. I’ll list a few reasons: People camp in front of the winemaker/rep as he/she pours wines, with zero regard for anyone else that may be attending the event. Sometimes for in excess of 30 minutes. Serving temperatures too warm/too cold, whatever, not ideal, so therefor not fair to judge a wine. Then there are the people (in this age I think they are called ‘media’) that walk around trade tastings with their little notepads and make notes – all while it’s stiflingly warm in the room, with the wines likely to be proportionately too warm – I really can’t stand them. Maybe because I used to be one of them; that’s another story. But what’s the point in talking about a wine (i.e. a tasting note) if it was served 5 or 10 degrees too warm/too cold? There is no point, except to hear yourself talk, to think you’re somehow qualified to judge. There’s certainly nothing in it for the consumer, I can tell you that.
My second favorite way to (critically) taste wine, is of course, with a meal, with family, or friends, or the winemaker and his/her family. If it’s just me and my two girls, they’ve gotten used to me sniffing and swirling (usually well before and after the meal), and talking to myself. I’m sure I probably come off as rude or tuned-out some times, but they’re forgiving (I think!); or, after 20 years, they’ve just given up. I will usually write notes when I open a bottle, which generally comes just before meal preparation. (It wasn’t always this way, in the early days I sat there like a dolt and wrote notes instead of participating in a conversation – what a dufus).