How to Distinguish Wine Notes

The Wine Aroma Wheel

Especially for someone new and unfamiliar with wine, it can be hard to identify the many scents associated with different wine varieties. It's easiest to describe something when you can compare it to something else. That's why Ann C. Noble and some of her co-workers at the University of California at Davis created the Wine Aroma Wheel [source: Essman]. The three-layer wheel aids people in describing the different scents they detect when smelling a wine. It provides the users with descriptive terms they can use to make analogies that will more clearly communicate the scents they smell. The wheel doesn't cover every term used for wine notes, but it includes many of the most commonly accepted terms.

The wheel is three concentric circles, like a three-tiered bulls-eye. The inner circle has the general terms, which are fruity, spicy, floral, microbiological, sherry, pungent, chemical, earthy, woody, caramel, nutty and herbaceous or vegetative [source: Ashland Wineries]. The terms get more specific and localized as you work your way out. The second ring breaks the general terms down into more specific categories and the third outermost ring is extremely descriptive. Some of the terms here include lemon, pineapple, licorice, sweaty, mousy, horsey, sulfur dioxide, natural gas, bacon, oak, asparagus, hay/straw and tobacco. By using these terms, which were chosen because they were descriptive without passing judgment, tasters can learn to associate and identify notes in wine [source: Ashland Wineries, Noble].

These are just analogies though, so don't think that because you smell hay that it's an ingredient in the wine.

Now you know the wine wheel, but what about the specifics of how to find these characteristics in the wine you're drinking? Check out the next page for information on how the wine's aroma or bouquet can help you more fully understand it.