Today’s Wine Word: Wine Aroma Wheel


Doesn’t it just drive you crazy when you smell something in the wine, and you know that you know what it is, but you can’t come up with the word? Wine Aroma Wheel to the rescue!

This is one of my all-time favorite tools. I actually had this wheel blown up into poster size to teach wine-tasting classes. 

The purpose of the wheel is to give us common language to describe wine. Rather than saying something esoteric like “This wine reminds me of a warm afternoon on the Champs Elysées.” – what the heck does that mean? – the terms are things we can all relate to. Like strawberries or licorice for instance. 

There’s a guide on the aroma wheel website that give you detailed instructions of how to use it. But, the big picture, as I see it, is that the wheel asks you questions that lead you to be specific in your in your description. In the center of the wheel you see the most general description, like “fruity” or “floral”. Say you think the wine smells fruity. As you work your way out, the wheel says “Okay – if the wine is fruity is it like citrus fruit? Or berries? Or dried fruit? What do you think?” If you select berries it goes on to ask if the wine is more like strawberries or blackberries. If you think it’s citrusy is it more like lemon or orange? 
You don’t have to pick one. Wine is usually a delicious mix of varied characteristics. But the wheel helps to get your sensory wheels turning. 

If you take a good look, you’ll see that some of the descriptors don’t sound so delicious. For instance, “sweaty” or “diesel.” Well, one day, as students began to arrive for a tasting class, one of them began studying this poster-sized aroma wheel I had on display. Suddenly he kind of yelped. So, I said “Are you okay?” Then he started laughing. He said “When we were at a winery in Michigan and I said the Riesling smelled like diesel everybody made fun of me. But, here it is!” Yup. Diesel just happens to be a classic descriptor for Riesling. Of course, if the wine smells of nothing but diesel, there’s a problem. But if diesel plays a subtle part in a large cast of pleasant Riesling players such as “peach” or “floral” it can add an intriguing note to the wine’s complexity. 

The wheel can’t begin to display the thousands of aromas our amazing noses can detect but it’s kind of like a sensory prompter.

As you know, my number one suggestion for learning more about wine is to form a tasting group and taste regularly. This wheel is a terrific and very inexpensive enhancement. And, each purchase helps to finance a very distinguished Ph.D’s retirement! Cheers! 

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2 responses to “Today’s Wine Word: Wine Aroma Wheel

  1. Even after years in the wine biz, my wife and I regularly whip out our his and hers aroma wheels. Incredibly useful for "figuring out" a wine!

  2. Nancy Hawks Miller

    Hi, Jon! Me too. There are always those descriptions in the back of your mind that need a little push. Great to hear from you! Best ~ nancy

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