By Betty Kaufman

When somebody says, “Ooh, that’s an oaky wine” or “Wow, I get a lot of leather in that wine,” how do you respond? Do you enthusiastically jump into the conversation? Do you sheepishly agree with them, even though you don’t have a clue what they’re talking about? Do you ask them to explain what they just said?

The good news is that when it comes to identifying what we smell and taste in wine, most of us are works in progress. Yes, there are some people out there who were born with incredible noses and palates, but they are few and far between.

Most people spend a lifetime developing these skills. Here are four tips for improving your wine tasting and smelling skills:

1. Use an aroma wheel

One of our biggest challenges as wine tasters is coming up with descriptive words for what we’re smelling and tasting. Wouldn’t it be great if we could say, “that Chardonnay tastes and smells like a Chardonnay” and have everybody understand what we mean? Unfortunately, life isn’t that simple.

The best way for us to describe a Chardonnay is to use “foody” words such as “apple,” “pear,” “banana,” “nutmeg,” “vanilla,” and “oak.” But when we don’t have an apple right in front of us, it’s hard to recognize that we’re tasting and smelling apple in a particular wine.

That’s where an aroma wheel comes in. Aroma wheels give us a list of smells and tastes to look for.

A section of the Aroma Wheel invented by Ann C. Noble detailing the fruity aromas that are most commonly encountered in table wines.

Start at the center of the wheel where the major categories are (e.g., fruit, vegetable, floral), and then work your way out as you narrow in on the details, such as “citrus” vs. “tropical,” for example.

The original aroma wheel ( was created in the 1970’s at UC Davis, and it has been modified since then by a number of different organizations. Any aroma wheel that you find will be helpful, try searching for aroma wheel on the Internet.

2. Sniff out clues from wineries or reviewers

If a winery or reviewer describes a wine as having “hints of plum and blackberry on the nose”, use this as a clue to discovering these scents for yourself. Try and remember them, so you’ll easily recognize them the next time.


Betty Kaufman

Independent Consultant
WineShop At Home



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By Published On: September 23, 2014

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