Tag Archives: how to describe wine

What’s the Difference Between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot?

Checking the most common searches, lots of you seem to be wondering what the difference is between Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Let’s take a quick look:

Which do you reach for most often? Do you have a favorite brand?

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Today’s Wine Word: Horizontal Tasting

What’s a horizontal wine tasting?

Don’t worry – you don’t have to lie down. Unless you want to 😉

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Where do the Plums Come From?


Or cherries? Or spice?

Why the heck should the wine smell like plums when it’s made from grapes? 

Do you ever use the Wine Aroma Wheel when you’re tasting? What’s the most bizarre aroma or flavor you’ve ever noticed? 

Photo from Our Locality on Flickr

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What is The Tasting Group?


“Authors waiting for their books to be agented”       courtesy of author Judith Land, on Pinterest

Question from Andre: Hi! I enjoy your blog. Why is it called The Tasting Group?

Reply: Hi, Andre. Thanks so much for writing! The Tasting Group is the name of a book I’m working on. The idea is to learn about wine by tasting it in an organized way with your friends. The photo and caption above feel quite literally true. One of the first rude awakenings for an aspiring author is that it’s almost impossible to get a literary agent to represent you. It took me forever to find mine, but I believe I have a good one. 

The story, below, is the introduction to my book and tells you why I believe so strongly in the concept: 

When I moved to Napa Valley, fresh out of school, and took an entry-level job at Robert Mondavi Winery my boss handed me a copy of Maynard Amerine’s Wine and was only half joking when he said “Commit this to memory.” This textbook was far too technical for the novice I was at the time so I bought a copy of Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Wine Course to begin educating myself.

Yet wonderful as that book is, after a full day of work, hitting the grocery store and getting dinner on the table I found my eyes drooping and my attention wandering as I tried to absorb the information in Zraly’s book. How was I ever going to learn and retain what I needed to know to forward my career? And, what could he possibly mean by describing a Sauvignon Blanc as “flinty?” Continue reading

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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?  Continue reading


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Vanilla in Wine

Question from Karen: It seems like a lot of wine descriptions say “vanilla.” Why would something made of grapes taste like vanilla? 

Reply: Hi, Karenl. Thanks for writing! We usually assume that vanilla character is extracted from the barrel (the barrel would have to be relatively new). Vanillin occurs naturally in raw oak and it becomes more noticeable with toasting, up to a point (the wood staves are bent into place over an oak fire. Then they toast the barrel, a little longer, over the fire in most cases). 

There are lots of different characteristics in wine that are barrel derived and vanilla is in the top five, which is why you see it so often. Other common flavors/aromas: Coconut, caramelized character, smoke, coffee, spice (especially clove), nuttiness, dill (especially American oak), tobacco… 

We can never be 100% sure that any of these characteristics are barrel derived. For instance, spiciness may be barrel derived but some grape varieties are inherently spicy: Zinfandel, Gewurztraminer and Syrah come to mind. Hay and tobacco aromas may come from the barrel, but Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc display those characteristics whether they’re barrel aged or not.

I think that’s part of the fun. For everything we think we know there is an equal number of mysteries – especially when it comes to fermentation aromas. 

Hope that helps. Cheers!

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