Our Blogs

Wine Aroma Wheel Expands Your Oenological Vocabulary

Posted by CM Support
May 18, 2012 | Keywords: Ann C. Noble  aroma  David J. Duman  oenology  smell  taste  UC Davis  Wine Aroma Wheel  

For a novice wine taster or a budding wine aficionado, coming up with the right words to describe the aroma of a wine can be a challenge. We often know that we like or dislike a wine’s aroma, or bouquet, but describing that bouquet in precise terms is another story. Oenology is the science of judging that bouquet and taste, and it’s not easy.

Moreover, many different aromas will layer atop one another and blend together to form a complex bouquet that is often difficult to distinguish. Because taste is primarily a product of our olfactory senses, there is the added complication of separating what we taste when we drink the wine from what our noses are picking up before we’ve tasted the wine.

The Wine Aroma Wheel, developed by sensory chemist Ann C. Noble at UC Davis in the 1980s, is a helpful starting point for developing wine tasting vocabulary. Having a set of common objective terms and categories can help novices feel more comfortable putting a name to what they smell in a wine.

The analogies help to tie a new aroma to something more familiar, and we agree with David J. Duman that beyond these broad categories, wine aromas are very subjective. We don’t consider the list to be exhaustive or to preclude you from putting your own name to an aroma if you think it fits better.

In fact, one of the delights about enjoying fine wine to celebrate special occasions is that each wine’s aroma is forever tied to that beautiful tropical vacation, that special romantic evening, or that gathering of friends.

The center of the Wine Aroma Wheel begins with broad categories of aromas: fruity, spicy, floral, microbiological, sherry, pungent, chemical, earthy, woody, caramel, nutty, and herbaceous or vegetative.

The outer edge of the wheel includes some of what you would expect—strawberry and cherry, cloves and vanilla—and also a number of terms that would describe faulty or defective wine—diesel, wet dog, skunk, sauerkraut. Thankfully, we have yet to taste a wine featuring some of the wheel’s more unusual aromas, such as bacon, cabbage, garlic, and artichoke.

There are too many categories and specific aromas on Noble’s wheel to list here (although you’ll find the full list on this website). If you’re interested in trying out the wine wheel in your next home tasting or when you go to a winery, you can order them from the wine aroma wheel official website: winearomawheel.com. If you are local and want an excuse to head to the ocean, we also carry the aroma wheel at The Half Moon Bay Wine and Cheese Store. They make great party favors or stocking stuffers!

—Valeta Massey

Photo © A.C. Noble 1990, 2002