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

June 13, 2011

Weight *

    Strength of alcohol, and sometimes tannin, that gives an impression of weight and volume in the mouth

When I'm teaching a group of newcomers about wine, one of the most troublesome concepts to get across is weight. Wine is complicated, and sorting out its many sensory factors takes a bit of work. One way I handle the weight issue is to present a range of wines -- from the very light to quite heavy -- so that the differences in weight are more obvious. An analogy that people often find helpful is to look at the weight of different types of milk. Whole milk is rather heavy because of its cream content, whereas 2% is noticeably lighter, 1% milk is lighter still, and skim milk is the lightest of all.

The same idea can be applied to wines, between different wines as well as beetween wines of similar style. Chardonnay is typically heavier than Sauvignon Blanc; Cabernet is heavier than Dolcetto. Then within a given style of wine, or even an individual class of wine, there are also weight differences. Cabernet is noticeable heavier than Merlot (both are what I call ‘Bold & Aristocratic’ reds), just as Chardonnay is usually heavier than Auxerrois -- a grape that was long mistaken for Chardonnay. Then within the same type of wines there are weight differences. Burgundy gives us a good comparison with its various interpretations of Chardonnay. Chablis is the lightest Chardonnay that Burgundy has to offer. Next step up the weight scale would be Burgundy proper, or Beaujolais Blanc. At the top of the ladder are the great and legendary Chardonnays: Pouilly-Fuissé, Montrachet and the like. Of course if you really want to lay it on, you have to turn to New World Chardonnay, with its extra helping of oak and butter.

Weight is actually a more important concept than you might realize. If you think of wine as a food as much as a beverage, then getting a grip on weight is required. We often think in terms of matching food and wine by flavour and/or aroma, but it's far more important to match weight. Light foods and heavy wines do not mix; nor do light wines and heavy foods. So when pairing wine and food, always look for a wine that is at least as heavy as the food, if not somewhat fuller. That way your wine will never be overpowered at the table.