What Am I Tasting?

Rebecca Germolus on Jul 30, 2019

We love wine—how it tastes, how it smells, how it enhances a meal—yet we sometimes struggle with the question, What am I tasting?

After a tasting weekend along the Wine Road, your work colleague asks you to describe your favorite wine. You know which wine was your favorite, but you can’t describe what you liked about it or how it tasted.

When you plan a special dinner, and want the perfect wines to pair with the meal, do you feel like you aren’t sure what flavors are in the wines you selected or how they will match with the food?

You don’t have to describe wine to enjoy it, but there are times when it helps. Having the right tools can make a big difference. Yes, there are tools or resources that can help you describe what you’re tasting and smelling. And, these resources can also enhance your tasting experiences.

The Wine Aroma Wheel

After many years of research and fine-tuning, in 1984 Ann C. Noble, a professor in the department of Enology and Viticulture at University of California at Davis, published the Wine Aroma Wheel. One of the first tools of its kind, and still used by wine professionals, the Wine Aroma Wheel presents a framework of descriptors for the aromas and flavors in wine.

Carol Shelton, winemaker and owner of Carol Shelton Wines, was one Dr. Noble’s students, and was also employed by Dr. Noble to work on the Wine Aroma Wheel project. When I asked Carol to give me the “in an nutshell” version of the project, she said, “The Wine Aroma Wheel helped create a common language to describe wine that could be backed up by the things we can find in our kitchens.”

Simply Brilliant

As I paused to think about that, I realized what a simple yet brilliant concept it was. Every characteristic listed on the wheel is something we are all familiar with and understand what smell is associated with the word. Whether it is black pepper, eucalyptus, apple, or butterscotch, we know what that means in terms of an aroma.


Ann Noble's Wine Aroma Wheel
Sample of Dr. Ann Noble’s Wine Aroma Wheel

The Wine Aroma Wheel concept was so successful that you can now find aroma wheels for other beverages like tea, beer, or whiskey. There are several versions of the Wine Aroma Wheel online, or you can visit the official Wine Aroma Wheel website and learn why and how use it. This is just one tool that can help you hone your tasting vocabulary.

Wine Road’s Wine 101

A great reference for simple, quick answers is the Wine Road’s Wine 101 section. If you want to find it organically, look under Explore and select Wine 101. You’ll find an overview page, plus pages on Tasting Tips, Is That A Grape?, Glossary, Labels, and FAQs.

Image of Wine Road's Wine 101 website page

Too Many Choices

With the internet came more resources on wine, wine tasting, and learning how to better enjoy wine. If you were to do a web search on wine tasting tools, you’d find yourself a tad overwhelmed with options. Let me help you narrow it down to one of my favorite sites for wine insights, inspiration, and information.

Wine Folly

Recently someone emailed me to ask for a list of common descriptors used to describe Pinot Noir and what to pair it with. I started to write down the answers, and thought why don’t I just send them a link to a website that has already done that—Wine Folly.

Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack founded Wine Folly in 2011. Madeline merged her love and knowledge of wine with her graphic design skills to produce a vast array of content that is easy to understand. Maybe not all your questions can be answered on the Wine Folly website, but it is a great place to start.

Image of Wine Folly website Wine 101 page

Here are just a few of the topics covered in the site:

Keep It Fun

As you learn more about wine, don’t forget to keep it fun. Even though I write about wine almost daily, and write a few hundred tasting notes a year, when I clock off work I can still enjoy a glass of wine. I don’t have to analyze it, or try to describe it. I can just enjoy what’s in my glass, and I hope as you expand your wine vocabulary and knowledge, you remember to keep it fun.

Ben Franklin said it best, “Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”

Happy Sipping!

@TheWineRoad #AlongTheWineRoad @WineFolly #WineAromaWheel

Posted by Rebecca Germolus

Rebecca Germolus, co-owner of Maximum Value Marketing, loves Sonoma County and playing along the Wine Road. Rebecca daily immerses herself in wine country by providing cost-effective marketing and writing solutions to wineries and restaurants.

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