Nose to the Wheel

Big wheel keep on turnin'When cold and flu season hits wine country, the perceptual powers of aficionados–especially those that require a nose–are rendered useless; indeed, those like myself rely on a sort of gustatory synesthesia to free-associate an impression of a wine based on its bouquet, taste, mouth-feel and color. Without olfactory capabilities, and further addled by Theraflu, the wine hack’s mind lacks the stimulus necessary to make an observation beyond “it is wet and likely red.” Fortunately, Ann C. Noble, a professor emeritus from the viticulture and enology school at UC Davis, has been hawking her lauded Wine Aroma Wheel over the Internet. Think of this $6 marvel as a sort of circular cheat sheet to aid in identifying the flavor components of wine.

“The requirements for words to be included in the wheel are that the terms are specific and analytical and not hedonic or the result of an integrated or judgmental response,” reads the printed matter accompanying the Wine Aroma Wheel. Mine arrived just in time for the 2006 Sonoma County New Release Tasting hosted by Sonoma’s Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery, and though I feel contrary about notions like “hedonic” and “judgmental,” I thought I’d bring the wheel to serve as a sort of wine decoder ring if I found my senses too clogged to function.

They were.

The fact is, I spent much of the day unable to taste anything–at least not correctly. The Rodney Strong Vineyards Sonoma County 2004 “Knotty Vines” Zinfandel, without a full complement of nostrils, momentarily tasted like a spritz of WD-40, which is clearly not the case. Vainly, I searched for the wheel for the name of the lubricant, until, radiating from the header “chemical,” I found the word “petroleum” and under that, the descriptors “diesel, kerosene, plastic and tar.” WD-40, of course, smells like all the above.

I began to jot this observation in my notebook when I realized how patently unfair my process had become. After a trumpeting through a wad of tissue paper, I tried the wine again, and finally its flavor profile emerged like the autumnal sun–muted currants, cinnamon and dark chocolate. I referenced the wheel to see if there were any words worth borrowing, and under the header “berry” found “cassis,” which is not only accurate, it also looks nice on the page (thank you wine wheel).

For more information about the Wine Aroma Wheel, point your browser to Purchase online at the UC Davis bookstore,

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