Have you ever wondered how wine experts can identify those different aromas?
Well, there's a tool for that - it's called the Aroma Wheel.
We will take a closer look at how the Aroma Wheel can help you improve your wine-tasting ability and what makes it one of the handiest tools in wine.
We'll also explore why taking a moment to smell your wine will completely change your experience with wine.
Whether you're a novice taster or a seasoned pro, read on to learn more about this indispensable tool.
The Aroma Wheel is a tool used by wine professionals to help identify different aromas in wine.
The Aroma Wheel is a powerful tool designed to help identify different aromas present in a wine. It consists of sections divided into various categories, aromas that encompass nearly every possible scent detected during a wine-tasting experience.
The wheel also contains subsections listing derivatives of each type, providing an even greater level of detail. This tool is a helpful asset to beginners learning how to identify aromas and gives professionals a unified vocabulary to 'speak wine.'
It was created by Ann C. Noble, a professor of viticulture and enology at the University of California, Davis.
Ann C. Noble, a professor of viticulture and enology at the renowned University of California, Davis, is well known for creating perhaps the most influential wine classification systems ever developed.
It remains one of the most reliable ways for accurately describing and classifying several types of wines based on their overall taste profile. The system was first introduced in 1979 and quickly adopted by many public and private institutions worldwide.
Ann C. Noble's approach has influenced countless other wine-tasting practices since then, and her work in this field is still celebrated. Before her system, wine descriptions were wordy and superfluous, providing the reader with more entertainment than information.
Ann's aroma wheel provided an agreed-upon vocabulary to discuss wine and established a formal language of wine.
The wheel is divided into quadrants, each representing a different family of aromas: floral, fruity, spicy, and earthy/vegetal.
Understanding what is possible in the glass is vital when tasting and savoring wine. Before the wheel, there was no agreed-upon way to do this.
The purpose of the wheel is to systematically break down all of a wine's aromas and flavors by categorizing them into broad sections like - floral, fruity, spicy, and earthy/vegetal.
Having a grouping of attributes generally found in the glass will engage your brain to search and decide if that is present. Looking at a list of descriptors provides a brief pause for you to determine if that is a possible attribute and gives your brain a moment of focus and clarity instead of the overwhelming task of trying to pull descriptors from just memory.
It is generally accepted that humans can identify and name around 10,000 different aromas. In practice, that number is closer to 100 for your average American.
This aspect of wine appreciation is where the average person lacks and, conversely, where wine professionals are highly adept. A substantial part of wine education is focused on developing the ability to detect and name smells.
While it may seem daunting to try and double or triple your aromatic vocabulary, it is also one of the most enjoyable pursuits in wine.
In the beginning, any wine smells like wine. To the uninitiated, wine descriptors are just a bunch of nonsense.
We see Sommeliers swirl their glasses, stick their nose in, and begin to claim a litany of fruits, flowers, and adjectives you would never even think of if that glass was handed to you. It can be both impressive and suspect and often deflating for the newbie who only smells a glass of wine.
Yet like any other skill, it takes time and practice to unlock what is in the glass.
Our incredibly powerful sense of smell.
Of our five senses, it is the sense of smell that triggers the strongest memories. It is also the first to develop. Certain smells can instantly transport you to a specific time and place.
Identifying exactly what that smell is can be the challenging part.
The smell of an old book, your grandfather's cologne, your mom's meatloaf- these aromas illicit solid emotions and memories, something your other senses cannot do as well. Every smell that is perceived is first passed through the memory and emotional parts of the brain before you can attempt to identify it.
These aromas light up your amygdala, the area responsible for emotion, and your hippocampus, which is linked to your memory.
The sense of smell plays a vital part in wine tasting, as wine is perceived through smell initially before it is tasted on the tongue. This will influence the perception of a wine's taste because humans can detect certain odors associated with flavor compounds found in wine.
The wine's aroma is integrated into our overall perception of its flavor and taste. Therefore we have a much more pleasurable experience and memory of wine tasting if we allow some time to take it in.
This is not self-evident, as many of us, when given a glass of wine, generally go straight for the sip and skip the process of noticing the bouquet, missing out on all that delicious information.
Once you allow yourself a moment to appreciate the aromas, you will discover that wine will never taste the same again.
To use the wheel, smell your wine and try to identify which quadrant the aroma falls into.
The process is simple: take a good whiff of the wine, and identify which section on the wheel a noticeable aroma falls into. For red wines, a good starting point is the Red and Black fruit section of the wheel.
The wine's aromas will often be more pronounced towards Red or Black fruits. Focus profoundly and see if one of the words resonates with you as a possibility. There is also a White Wine Fruit section.
You then rotate the wheel around while you sniff and decide if your wine may have that descriptor lurking amongst the many.
A good practice is to challenge yourself if you can identify 3' fruits' and 3 'other' (Fruits composes about 25% of the wheel, the rest can be thought of as 'other').
You will only sometimes succeed, but in short order, you will notice a substantial increase in your perceptions. If you take just a minute or two and go around the entire wheel, your learnings will equip you to decide what is in the glass instead of someone else telling you.
Tasting with others.
Sharing a bottle of wine with loved ones is one of life's greatest pleasures. When you are in curious company, the aroma wheel can liven things up a little as you deliberate about the possibilities in the glass.
This is great fun for those who are not even wine drinkers! Next time you have guests over, watch what happens when you pull out the Aroma wheel and challenge them to identify a few aromas.
The flip side of the wheel identifies certain chemical compounds found in wine.
For those wanting to take a deeper dive into wine science, the reverse side of the wheel has two main sections, one of which is chemical compounds often found in wines that have had wood aging.
The aroma, the chemical compound, and a little more information on possible grape varieties or winemaking methods are listed.
There are some varietals and styles with such distinct aromas that they can be identified simply by smelling. Syrah is notorious for having black pepper notes (rotundones), Chardonnay with its buttery notes (diacetyl) from secondary fermentations, and Riesling and its calling card of petroleum notes.
The chemistry of wine is complex and fascinating, and the reverse side of the wheel will help those scientifically minded explore further.