Understanding Aromas and Flavors in Wine

I’ve been hesitant to broach this topic because I feel it has been abused. Well meaning and sincere folks blazed the path of describing flavors and aromas found in wine in an effort to describe the wine. Much in the same way that we might say, “Aunt Matilda reminds me of Audrey Hepburn.” Or, “This candy tastes like watermelon.” Or, “This perfume smells of sandalwood.”

In short, it’s a way to identify certain characteristics and to describe it in a manner that is commonly understood.

Then, along came the heretics of such helpful invention and turn the whole thing into an annoying game of snobbishness. Not to mention creative fiction as I firmly believe many, many wine snobs just make stuff up in an embarrassing effort to convince people they know what they’re talking about…. I don’t need to go further as I’ve already delved into these silly realms already (see link above).

That said, there is a validity and usefulness in describing smells and flavors found in wine. How else are you going to know whether or not you care for certain characteristics? You’ve got to be able to define them first, just as you might describe what you like about a certain person.

Once defined, you can then identify these same characteristics in other wine, and learn those tastes and aromas you prefer and those you don’t. It will help when you want to discuss a wine with another person as well, just as you might discuss a book or a movie. Descriptions are key to communication.

So, preface affected, how do you identify flavors in wine?

Well, you can smell the herbs in your kitchen spice rack to start, or taste the jams in your fridge. Common flavors often found in wine descriptions are peppery, spicy, oak, chocolate, cloves, cherry, blackcurrant (cassis), mushroom (snobs prefer truffle), vanilla, smoky, coffee, tobacco, green bell pepper, lemon, apple,…even band-aids (not a good thing). The list goes on and on. Really, your imagination is the limit. But if you want a well-used list of commonly described aromas in wine, check out the wine aroma wheel link below (And no, I’m not selling or getting any commission from this link or the one below.)

This aroma wheel is a very well respected (and used) resource for wine folks globally. And, the cool lady who came up with the thing (Ms Ann Noble–a sensory chemist) even agreed to let me post sections of her wheel for your oenilogical edification! I’ve got the vegetable and fruit flavors posted separately below.

Fruit Section of Wine Aroma Wheel

From Wine Aroma Wheel,
Copyright 1990,2002 A C Noble;www.winearomawheel.com

Vegetable Section of Wine Aroma Wheel

From Wine Aroma Wheel,
Copyright 1990,2002 A C Noble; www.winearomawheel.com

Another helpful resource is the Australian “mouthfeel” wheel posted on:

Page 9 of this pdf shows the wheel, but this article provides lots of other helpful insight as well. While it does not list specific aromas, but it does illustrate sensations that you may experience when tasting wine in terms of its weight, presence and consistency in your mouth. And, it references Ms Noble.

So, things really do come full circle!

While I think both wheels are super useful, antiwinesnob would like to encourage you not to rely solely on either for exploring the sensations you may find. They are each a tool, not an end-all-be-all in wine aromas, flavors and texture. Just as there are no limits in nuances one might find in a cup of coffee or descriptions on the feelings watching Doctor Zhivago incited.

And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, RENT THE MOVIE. Seriously.

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