June 27, 2011

Aroma Wheel  *

A useful tool developed by the University of California at Davis that helps wine tasters identify aromas in wine. Get one!

It’s tempting to think that Dr. Ann C. Noble invented the Aroma Wheel. In fact, she did develop the wheel that’s now standard for coaxing aroma identities out of the wine and from your memory, but the wheel concept is a well established teaching tool for sensory evaluation. You’ll find flavour, aroma and ‘structure’ wheels for all kinds of food products, from olive oil to maple syrup. There is even a pinotage wheel!

The idea behind the sensory wheel is simple. When evaluating a food or beverage, you’re goal is to identify the characteristics inherent in the product. In wine, you look for recognizable aromas, both good and bad. Take faults, for an obvious example. You stick your nose into a glass of much anticipated wine and the first thing that hits you is a vague sherry-like smell. OMG – as the kids say these days – what is that? A quick trip to a wine wheel shows the word ‘Sherry’ on the outside circle, and the inside circle says ‘Oxydized’. So, this wine is oxydized. Thanks aromas wheel. (In this case we’ve worked from the outside toward the middle. Normally you start at the innermost wheel and work your way toward the outside.)

It gets a bit trickier when you have a quality wine that shows a lot of complexity on the nose. A riot of aromas can be hard to sort out. Aroma wheel to the rescue. Is that an herbal aroma? Could be, but which one? The wheel gives you Herbaceous/Vegetal as a starting option, followed by Fresh, Canned or Dried. Follow the path to the outer ring and you find Cut Grass, which is much desired in sauvignon blanc but not wanted at all in cabernet.

The key to the aroma wheel, or any other such tool, is to use it to develop your skills. Then, when you are reliably pulling aromas out of wine and confidently naming names, you can leave the wheel behind.

* There lots of wheels to choose from, but my own “Wine Style Trios Wheel” is the only one that can guide you toward wines you’re more likely to enjoy. Check it out at http://www.frugal-wine.com/bookstore/styltrios.htm

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