Wine Aroma Wheel: Describe Your Wine Without Feeling Snobby

Wine Aroma Wheel: Describe Your Wine Without Feeling Snobby

Have you ever heard someone use the word “harmonious” or “well-rounded” to describe a glass of wine and wondered what the heck they’re talking about? Well, you’re not the only one. Enter the wine aroma wheel, the perfect addition to your next wine tasting party.

In this article, we’ll tell you all about the wonderful tool that is the wine aroma wheel, and we’ll show you how to use it to better decipher your favorite wines. Whether you prefer red wine or white wine, Champagne or port, this little wheel will help you feel more confident talking about wine.

What Is a Wine Aroma Wheel?

Simply put, the wine aroma wheel is a device that allows wine lovers to easily describe wine aromas and wine flavors. Check out the wheel here!

Invented in 1980, the wine aroma wheel is a visual representation of all the many flavors and aromas wine can possess. It’s displayed like a pie chart and color-coded in a way that signifies types of fragrances.

The wine aroma wheel was invented because, before it, wine academics used “flowery” language that was difficult for wine novices to understand. The wheel gives wine enthusiasts precise descriptors and general terms, which they can use to compare and understand the wine they love.

While named the aroma wheel, this useful tool also relates to flavor. You can use the wheel to better understand the unique taste profile of each wine, as well as it’s aroma. However, when it comes to wine tasting where you’re comparing many wines at once, the wheel allows tasters to use their nose to decipher the wine, rather than drinking far too many glasses.

Common aromas and flavors you will see on a wine wheel include:

Fruit

  • Apricot
  • Grapefruit
  • Blackcurrant
  • Raspberry

Spice

  • Anise
  • Black pepper
  • Nutmeg

Floral

  • Orange blossom
  • Geranium
  • Violet

Vegetable

  • Green pepper
  • Green almond
  • Bell pepper

Flavors That Suggest Aged Wine

  • Nutty flavors, such as hazelnut
  • Tobacco
  • Licorice

Who Is Ann C. Noble?

Wine aroma wheel: Usual Wines bottles and rose on the table

Dr. Ann C. Noble (A.C. Noble as she’s known in some circles) is a sensory chemist and retired professor at the University of California. She’s also the creator of the wine aroma wheel.

After earning a Ph.D. in food science, Dr. Noble was hired by UC Davis to join their sensory research program. It was here that she developed the wine aroma wheel with a mission of simplifying the process of wine tasting.

Organizing the many flavors and aromas of the world’s wines was no easy feat. In order to create the wheel, Dr. Noble had to analyze wine taster’s descriptions and label them with specific terms, then measure the intensity of the words used to create a scale.

Dr. Noble says she created the wheel because she was tired of hearing ridiculous wine descriptions that were helpful to no one.

“People use words like ‘harmonious.’ It drives me crazy! I want to say, ‘Are we talking punk rock or Beethoven?’” — Ann C. Noble, UC Davis Newswatch

Her invention has revolutionized the wine world and made wine tasting more accessible to the novice wine lover. Her wheel has been translated into eight different languages and is distributed worldwide. She now runs a website where she guides people on how to use her wheel.

“Novice tasters often complain that they ‘cannot smell anything’ or can't think of a way to describe the aroma of wine. They don’t have the words!” — Ann C. Noble 

If you love wine but feel unable to describe what you’re drinking, the wine aroma wheel is a brilliant tool to have in your arsenal. You can use it to compare wines, find new favorites, or even stay clear of varietals you don’t like.

How Do I Use a Wine Aroma Wheel?

Thanks to Dr. Noble’s mission to make wine accessible to everyone, the aroma wheel is very easy to use. There are just a few steps:

  1. Pour your glass, but don’t go overboard. To really get the full clout of the aroma you’ll want a lot of room left in the glass. Pour a small amount, just under a quarter of a standard glass is plenty.
  2. To amplify the scent of the wine, try gently swirling it in the glass with your palm pressed gently over the mouth to catch any spills.
  3. Put your nose into the glass and inhale deeply. Think about the aroma that first comes to mind and look at the aroma wheel.
  4. Starting at the center of the wheel, look for the aroma that first comes to mind. While there are many versions of the wheel, the most common aromas are: vegetable, earthy, spicy, floral, citrus, woody, and fruity.
  5. Once you’ve decided which primary flavor comes to mind, follow the wheel inward to start breaking down the flavor further. If you think it's fruity, you can follow the wheel to decide if it’s a tropical fruit, a stone fruit, a berry, or so on.
  6. Once you’ve decided the wine tastes like berries, you can break it down further by following the wheel to the outer tier. For example, does it taste like blackberries or raspberries?
  7. Because wine has such a diverse aroma profile, we advise you to repeat the process several times, as a wine that smells fruity can also smell woody or spicy.
  8. Write all of these aromas down.
  9. Next, take a sip of wine, holding the wine in your mouth for a moment before swallowing. You will probably taste new flavors, so repeat the process of following the wheel to find a word that best describes these flavors.
  10. Keep tasting and smelling, writing down each word that comes to mind. Then look at your list — these are the words you would use to describe the wine to another wine lover.

A wine aroma wheel is the perfect addition to a wine tasting party. You could each taste the same wine, write down your notes, and then compare. You may have written down the same descriptive words, or you may have completely different ones. Either way, you can discuss, compare, and discover new wine favorites together.

The wheel is also useful when trying to decipher what kind of wine you really like and what kind you don’t care for. Keep a wine notebook (or just a note on your phone!) and write down your favorite flavors when using the wine wheel. Then when you go out, you can tell the sommelier what you like in terms you’ll both be familiar with.

Wine Terms Everyone Can Understand

Usual Wines bottles

Gone are the days of wine academics shutting out everyday wine lovers with absurd terminology. The wine aroma wheel gives everyone a comprehensible way to describe and compare different wine varietals. 

It’s easy to use whether you’re a confident wine buff or just sparking your love of wine. Make sure you have one handy for your next wine tasting party.

If you use your wine aroma wheel when tasting some of our Usual Wines bottles, let us know which flavors come up most — we’d love to know what you think!