Isabelle, how would you
describe this wine?
How come I have forgotten all the wine tasting terms I learned at the wine school?
Have you been in a similar situation and been short on words? Well you are not alone.
Let me tell you why it is so difficult for wine tasters to describe their sensory perceptions and how easy it is to train ourselves to improve our wine vocabulary.
We use most of our five senses to evaluate our sensory perceptions when tasting wine. While we have a rich wine vocabulary to describe color and its appearance, it is more difficult to find wine tasting terms for the perceptions through the other four senses.
The sensory experience when tasting a wine is quite unique to this product.
You smell the glass, and the first sniff reveals the lightest aromas. You swirl the glass, and the heaver aromas finally reach your olfactory receptors. As the wine gets warmer and swirled, more and more aromas can be perceived making the sensory experience rich and complex at the same time.
Of course you want to share this wonderful experience with others by articulating what you perceived. That’s when you get stuck with only non descriptive terms such as “It’s fruity, crisp, and fresh.”
Yes, you try hard to be more precise and find the right words, but they are glued at the tip of your tongue.
This is very frustrating, isn’t it? However, it is very normal, especially for olfactory perceptions, i.e. odors perceived directly through the nose or indirectly via the retronasal passage once the wine is in mouth.
Drs. Harry Lawless and Trygg Engen, two US researchers, used the expression “the tip of the nose” to describe the fact that although people are familiar with an odor, they are not able to name it.
As kids, we are taught to recognize different animals, flowers, shapes, colors, but rarely do we learn a specific vocabulary to describe aromas, tastes, and other sensations when we eat or drink. These sensations can’t be seen; we learn to name aromas or tastes by the objects from which they originate: it smells like a rose, like a wood barrel, like chocolate cake etc...
If you have participated in wine tastings, you may have felt overwhelmed by the wine tasting terms used by the other participants and maybe you were intimidated by the fact that you didn’t perceive what they were talking about.
So your first reaction is to think you are wrong! No, you are not!
In my sensory world, there are no right or wrong answers for describing your perceptions.
There are several reasons why you didn’t perceive the same wine attributes or that you used different wine tasting terms:
[ I myself am very sensitive to the “cork taint” in wine due to a molecule called TCA
(2,4,6-trichloroanisol), but cannot smell very well the "violet aroma" due to a compound called
How can you become more specific so that others can relate to your description? Indeed, you hope that from your wine tasting terms, people can imagine what your sensory experience was when you tasted this wine.
Currently, your wine tasting terms are quite generic: “It’s fruity, crisp, and fresh”
Well, there are many fruit flavors.
My immediate feedback as a sensory scientist is to ask you:
Let your forgotten senses of smell and taste become your primary senses.
Start by opening your pantry and smell all the products you find there: smell, take notes and memorize. Taste, take notes, and memorize.
Ask one of your friends or family members to take all the spice bottles you have in your kitchen, to wrap them in aluminum foil so you can’t see the label. Now open each of them and try to name the aroma for each spice bottle. Hmm...you know them because you cook with them, and their names are on the tip of your nose. If you can’t find the right word, unwrap the foil, and memorize the name of the spice and the aroma/taste you experienced.
At the grocery store, select your produce by smelling, whenever possible. You will look weird…but that’s okay!
Just be curious!
Other tools can be helpful in developing your wine vocabulary.
Wine Awakenings has created beautiful wine aroma kits including aroma vials describing complex aromas found in wine.
Read my review of their Red Wine Aroma Kit and get a great discount!
Wine tastings usually have the objective to characterize wines so the taster can relate its sensory perception with the wine making practices, the know how of the winemaker, the region of origin, or simply the grape varietal.
The Wine Aroma Dictionary provides additional information on how some aromas relate to grape varietal or winemaking practices.
For most wine enthusiasts, being able to articulate wine tasting terms is part of the wine tasting experience and the means to remember it.
Smell, take notes and memorize;
Taste, take notes, and memorize;
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