The Wine Aroma Wheel: What Do You Smell?

Have you ever been clueless when it comes to deciphering the aromas of wine? When you’re just beginning to drink wine, it’s not uncommon to have a difficult time expressing what you smell. Lucky for us, there is a tool called the Wine Aroma Wheel to help us link words with the aromas.

Created by Dr. Ann Noble in 1984, the Wine Aroma wheel has 12 basic categories that start on the very inside of the wheel: Caramel, Chemical, Earthy, Floral, Fruity, Herbaceous/Vegetative, Microbiological, Nutty, Oxidized, Pungent, Spicy, and Woody. Working your way from the inside out, you get more specific terms within the basic categories, such as Black Currant, Honey and Tobacco. The terms mentioned on the wheel are not the only terms used to describe wine, but they’re some of the most common.

Wine Aroma Wheel

Wine Aroma Wheel

If you’ve looked at the Aroma Wheel and you’re still unsure of how to describe the smell of the wine you’re tasting, one of the quickest ways to train your nose is to do a physical comparison.  To do this, gather physical standards such as pineapple, vanilla, fig, apple, etc. Then, separate your standards into individual wine glasses and cover them so that the aromas don’t escape. Once those are in place, pour your wine and conduct your tasting. First, smell one of your standards and then smell the wine. Do you notice similarities between the physical standard and the wine? Does the wine have the same aroma as the vanilla or the buttered popcorn? By having the physical standard on hand to smell at the same time as the wine, it heightens your sensory perceptions and trains your brain to think in terms of those descriptors.

If all else fails and you continue to have trouble pinpointing the aromas of the wines you’re drinking, don’t get discouraged. Just keep exploring new wines one sip at a time!

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2 responses to “The Wine Aroma Wheel: What Do You Smell?

  1. Hi, Do you have another or better picture of this wheel? Or a link to this wheel to purchase? I have two other, likely newer versions of this wheel, but I like this much more, and would like to obtain a copy of this wheel… Any Ideas? THANKS!

    • Hi! This wheel photo was taken several years ago at Louis M. Martini’s Napa Valley vineyard. I was on a behind the scenes tour and happened to see this large display of the wheel. Unfortunately, I don’t have a link to where you can purchase something similar. Sorry about that!

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