You may have read tasting notes describing a wine using an incredible array of complex or unfamiliar terms: “ripe cherries”; “crisp apple”; “oak undertones”; and so forth.
This kind of terminology serves a good purpose, in that it allows a wine’s flavors and aromas to be described in writing, and stored for later reference. It can also be very helpful for matching wines with specific foods.
But to the casual wine drinker, tasting vocabulary can seem a daunting proposition. Thankfully, most everyone can train their nose to detect specific aromas in a wine. With a little practice, you can learn to distinguish between aromas, in the same way your eyes can tell the difference between the colors red and orange.
In 1990, after extensive research, Professor Ann C. Noble of the University of California at Davis devised the Tasting Wheel. It divides various aromas associated with wines into 12 separate categories. Beginning in the center of a wheel, wine drinkers can identify general flavors and, moving outwards from the wheel’s center, identify more and more precise aromas in the wine. Ultimately, the taster arrives at a specific set of terms that best describe what they experienced in tasting the wine.
At the permission of Professor Noble, we have reproduced a low-resolution version of the wheel here. We would encourage anyone interested in owning a copy of the tasting wheel to visit Professor Noble’s Web site, and purchase a laminated, detailed wheel from her. Her Web site may be found at:
Start right here! Wine 101 was developed to help wine enthusiasts such as yourself get a foothold on tasting. This section has been organized to guide you from general concepts of a wine’s appearance, aroma, and flavor, on to more complicated concepts that can affect a particular wine’s dynamics.
Begin by asking yourself: what do you like about wine? Envision your favorite experiences drinking wine, what foods you may have especially enjoyed with it, and overall why you prefer wine to other alcoholic drinks. At the same time, think about negative experiences you have had. These can be just as helpful in identifying what you do and don’t like in a wine.
- Read through Wine 101.
- Try your hand at our tasting notes service.
- Read some books on tasting wine.
- Visit wineries.
- Talk with the winemakers.
- Talk with your friends – use what resources you have to make this a learning process for you and others you interact with.
- Start small, build on these ideas, and soon you’ll be off in no time, writing world-class notes!
Wine colors can vary greatly, depending on the type of grapes used, how they
were pressed and fermented, how the resulting wine was aged, racked, fined, and
The following are terms used to describe the different colors of white, blush,
and red wines.
To accurately determine the wine’s color, you should pour a small amount into a glass, and then hold the glass away from you at a 45 degree angle. This will help spread the wine over the surface of the glass, so light can more easily pass through it. Look through the core (the middle) of the wine, and note the color you see.
You can also try holding the glass up to a light, but be careful not to use too bright a light source, as this could make the wine appear lighter than its actual color.
Wine clarity refers to the amount of undissolved matter floating in a wine.
A wine with greater clarity appears purer. Light passing through a wine with great clarity appears sharp and brilliant. This rule of thumb goes for all wines, including red wines with great depth of color.
A wine with less clarity may appear cloudy or hazy when viewed in a wine glass.
Clarity is commonly used as a measure of quality, as it directly relates to how much or how little a wine was fined (refined) during its production. A wine with greater clarity is thought to be purer and of higher quality.