FROM THE SPRING 2014 ROSATI FAMILY WINERY NEWSLETTER
Learning a New Language
Tobacco, straw, bell pepper, butterscotch, mushroom, and vanilla. Did you ever wonder how these colorful descriptors cropped up to describe the aromas of wine? The partial, but main, answer is a woman, Ann Noble, Ph.D., Professor Emerita of the University of California at Davis.
“My passion has always been how best to communicate with the naïve wine consumer as well as facilitating clear communication between wine industry professionals,” says Dr. Noble. “When I joined the faculty of the UC Davis department of viticulture and enology in 1974, wine experts (writers, winemakers, and sommeliers for instance) would describe wines with words such as ‘harmonious, elegant, round, and balanced.’” Such nonspecific terms drive scientists (especially those trained in sensory science), such as Dr. Noble, bonkers. “I felt these nonspecific terms created an unnecessary mystique around wine. Consumers would feel intimidated. They had no idea how to identify a good wine or a wine they liked or if a wine they liked was in fact good.”
"People needed specific terms in order to communicate with others the smells and aromas that they perceived. If you say “apple,” any English speaker will have a general idea what is meant. You can further refine the type of apple by suggesting, for instance, a tart apple. A standard, specific language for wine was needed." After years of daunting, thorough research, Dr. Noble, students and a team of winemakers developed a tool, the Wine Aroma Wheel (www.winearomawheel.com). The wheel identifies the most common wine aromas in table wines and gives them names—for instance, butter, berry, and coffee. The terms on the wheel are not the only aromas found in red and white wines (Wine is so complex, it contains hundreds of flavor compounds.) but are those that are the most commonly encountered aromas in wine. Many other notes such as, leather, are not on the wheel, but are frequently found in older reds.
Wine with The Wine Aroma Wheel
Aromas and flavors are olfactory characteristics we perceive in wine whether we sip it or sniff it. In addition, when you sip a wine, you taste sweet, bitter, and sour/tartness, and feel temperature and texture (smoothness, roughness, and bubbles) all of which are the attributes of mouthfeel,” said Dr. Noble. By using the Wine Aroma Wheel, wine drinkers can learn to name the aromas and flavors they perceive. In the center of the Wheel are the most general aroma terms, for instance, “fruity.” Next, the taster tries to distinguish what type of fruit the wine’s flavor displays: citrus, berry, tropical fruit, or cooked/fresh fruit. Sometimes, when an aroma is very intense or clear, tasters can distinguish what type of berry fruit they perceive, for example, strawberry, blackberry, or black currant.
In this way, wine tasters can learn about wine by describing as specifically as possible what they perceive. (It is easier to remember specific flavors—‘that wine tasted so fruity and berry-like!’—than a nonspecific term such as “balanced.”) Tasters can remember those flavors they liked and look at a new wine and compare its characteristics with the remembered wine.
Dr. Noble believes that anyone who pays close attention to what they smell and taste will more easily learn to expand their wine knowledge. The key is sniff, sip and listen to your nose.
In tasting and assessing Rosati Cabernet, as an example, Dr. Noble shared the following commentary with us. “These integrated wines defy ready description because of their complexity. Unlike many very bold California Cabernets, these Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignons are subtle, velvet-gloved wines. The strong, but well-knit tannins and intense flavors are reminiscent of the best of Bordeaux and promise that the wines will age well.
The 2006 and 2007 vintages are medium-bodied because they are supple and balanced with good acidity. The mouthfeel is rich and the alcohol is well-integrated with no aftertaste of sweetness.
The 2006, besides demonstrating a berry fruitiness, includes leather notes and finishes with a bit of tartness; the tannins are slightly softer than the 2007.
The 2007, which takes longer to open up, hints at the same flavors with more coffee and charred oak presently showing.”
So, try this yourself with Rosati Cabernet and your other favorite wines. Pull those corks and practice, practice, practice. It is truly fun!
Copyright A C Noble 2002 www.winearomawheel.com