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Two Wine Tasting Wheels to Describe Red and White Wine Mouthfeel Sensations

One of the fun parts of wine tasting is to share our experiences with others. A wine tasting wheel, such as the Wine Aroma Wheel, is a great tool to get started. But what about mouthfeel? 

In a previous article, I shared why it is more challenging to describe wine mouthfeel than to describe aroma . These sensations are diffuse and difficult to decompose as singular sensations. It is also difficult to reproduce them with references that can mimic what you perceive in your mouth.

Is there a tool that could help you recognize the nuances of the different feelings when wine tasting?

The first wine mouthfeel wheel was developed in Australia and focused on red wine mouthfeel that is quite complex. You may have noticed that wine critics tend to be more prolific on words to describe red wine mouthfeel: full-bodied, rich, structured, astringent, grainy, etc.

The second wine tasting wheel came out of Canadian research several years later and focused on white wine mouthfeel.

Let's explore their findings and how you could use their wine tasting wheels to gain more confidence in describing wine mouthfeel.

The Wine Tasting Wheel for Red Wine Mouthfeel

Richard Gawel and colleagues published the red wine mouthfeel wheel in 2000.

The team asked a panel of 14 sensory panelists to taste 140+ wines over six weeks. The wines were from Australia, France, and Italy, and included Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot noir, and Grenache.

They developed a list of 53 terms divided into 13 categories, covering astringency and its nuances, and other tactile or non-tactile sensations.

The authors defined more specifically the 13 categories of mouthfeel sensations in their paper published in 2000. 

  1. Particulate: Feelings of particulates when you move the wine around in your mouth, e.g., chalky, grainy.

  2. Surface Smoothness: The feeling is smooth when the wine is in contact with your inner mouth skin, e.g., silk, suede.

  3. Complex: Sensations linked to how pleasing are the astringency and flavors.

  4. Drying: The inner mouth feels dry, not lubricated by lack of saliva in your mouth, e.g., parching.

  5. Dynamic: The feelings in your mouth changes by contact with the wine, e.g., chewy, pucker.

  6. Harsh: Sensations linked to the pleasantness or discomfort elicited by the red wine mouthfeel, e.g. aggressive.

  7. Unripe:Describing the perceived maturity of tannins (e.g. green, resinous)

  8. Flavour: Aromatic perceptions and not mouth feelings.

  9. Acidity: Taste and aromatic perceptions and not mouth feelings.

  10. Weight: A sensation of weight from the liquid, i.e., the wine, e.g., thin.

  11. Texture: A sensation related to the thickness of the liquid, e.g., syrupy.

  12. Heat: A feeling of temperature increase in your mouth, e.g., hot.

  13. Irritation: The inner mouth skin feels irritated, e.g., tingle.

The originality of this work was the development of tactile references or "touch references" to mimic sensations similar to what one could perceive in the mouth.

Indeed they found out it was not easy to reproduce tactile feelings in mouth, and the selected "feel references" had side effects such as lingering in your mouth and making it challenging to taste anything else after them.

Therefore, panelists used their fingers to touch the various tactile references and learned to associate these sensations with feelings in their mouth. 

A team in Canada used the wine tasting wheel to describe the mouthfeel of red wines from British Columbia, focusing only on astringency and its nuances.

They found it was difficult for trained tasters to be relatable in the use of mouthfeel descriptors. Even for trained wine tasters, the nuances of mouthfeel can be confusing.

The researchers concluded that all the descriptive terms off astringency were related and defined probably different levels of intensity rather than different sensations.

Is it easier to describe white wine mouthfeel? Let's see.

The Wine Tasting Wheel for White Wine Mouthfeel

Gary Pickering and Pam DeMiglio published a mouthfeel wheel for white wine in 2008. Inspired by the Australian mouthfeel wheel and recognizing that white wines could elicit mouthfeel sensations that red wines could not, they followed a similar process to generate their wheel.

A panel of 11 trained tasters participated in 21 sessions. To develop descriptive terms, the tasters tasted 77 wines, including table, sparkling, low alcohol, dessert, or fortified wines.

Through discussions, tasting, use of references, 54 terms were selected to describe 33 discrete sensations (e.g., tingle) and 21 integrated feelings, combining different sensations (e.g., felt referring to "an overall sensation of roughness and drying in the mouth.")  

The inclusion of sparkling wines led to a category of terms dedicated to the mousse — for example, its persistence in the mouth.

Note as well that the wheel introduces the timing of the sensation appearance as a way to better characterize the feeling, whether it was early or towards the end of the tasting.

Several terms describe the same sensation but at a different level of intensity; for example, roughness presents three intensity levels: fine emery, medium emery, and sharp. See the photo below.

The researchers make it more evident on the wheel to indicate the degree of intensity. 

They also took particular attention to define all the terms with either tactile references or detailed definitions. 

Wine tasting wheels are great tools for you to use

As you can appreciate through the two examples presented in this article, it takes a lot of time, a lot of wines, and in-depth and long discussions to get to the final versions of the wine tasting wheels. 

As any tool, use the mouthfeel wheels as guides to learn how to describe wines. However, they are not exhaustive or absolute. As mentioned earlier, even trained tasters can be confused by the diversity and nuances of the mouthfeel terms. The use of references is one way of overcoming the confusion. 

I am sure, however, that describing mouthfeel with your tasting partners could become a lively conversation.


Literature used for this article

Published: December 2019 Revised July 19, 2020

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