How to Use a Wine Tasting Wheel

Karen Frazier
woman tasting wine

If you're attending your first wine tasting or are just beginning your wine education, a wine tasting wheel can be a very helpful tool. Even some expert tasters use these wine flavor wheels to help them find words for the tastes and aromas they experience in a wine.

What Is a Wine Tasting Wheel?

A tasting wheel is a diagram of the many flavors and aromas you may notice when you taste a glass of wine. Although there are different designs, some have a section for wine aromas and a section for its flavor. Others feature aromas only since flavor is so closely linked to scent. The wheel usually features different colors for each type of flavor or scent.

Wine Flavor and Aroma Wheel Terms

These are some of the words you can expect to see on a tasting wheel.

Fruity

Fruity flavors come through both on the nose and on the palate. These often include flavors such as:

  • Berries
  • Red fruits
  • Tree fruits
  • Black fruits
  • Dried fruits
  • Tropical fruits
  • Stewed fruits

Earthy

Earthy flavors appear both on the nose and on the palate. They include:

  • Slate
  • Stone
  • Minerals
  • Soil

Floral

Floral aromas tend to show up more on the nose, but they are often also present on the palate. These include aromas such as:

  • Violet
  • Roses
  • Chamomile
  • Honeysuckle

Nutty

Nutty flavors are often associated with oak aging, and they appear both on the palate and on the nose. They might include:

  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Hazelnuts

Yeasty

Yeasty flavors are often associated with sparkling wines, although they're present in other whites and reds as well. Yeasty flavors include:

  • Biscuit
  • Sourdough
  • Bread
  • Toast

Vegetal

Vegetal aromas are often present in white wines such as Sauvignon blanc, which has a grassy flavor. Look for aromas such as:

  • Grass
  • Bell peppers
  • Tea

Spice

Spice aromas include both herbal and spicy flavors.

  • Anise
  • Cinnamon
  • Clove
  • Nutmeg
  • Mint
  • Peppercorn
  • Fennel

Caramel

Caramel and toffee flavors are associated with aging. They may include:

  • Vanilla
  • Oak
  • Toffee
  • Caramel
  • Leather
  • Tobacco
  • Coffee

Chemical

Chemical flavors are often associated with wine faults. The may include aromas and flavors such as:

  • Sulfur
  • Must
  • Barnyard

How to Use a Wine Tasting Wheel

Using a tasting wheel is easy, and it will greatly enhance your wine tasting experience. It will also help you communicate about the wine with other tasters and wine enthusiasts. Here's how to use it:

  1. Start by holding your glass of wine up to your nose and inhaling. Think about the aroma of the wine. Now look at the tasting wheel.
  2. Find the words inside the first ring of the wheel that best describes the wine's aroma. Is it woody or spicy? Is it floral? It's likely that several of the words will apply.
  3. For each word, look at the next ring of the wheel to further refine your description. If it's woody, is it a musty type of woody?
  4. Finally, follow the descriptive word to the next level of the wheel. This will give you an even more specific description for the aroma of the wine. When you've settled on a good word, write it down.
  5. Do this for each word that applies to the wine's aroma.
  6. Next, take a sip of the wine, and hold it in your mouth for a few moments before swallowing. You'll probably sense several different flavors.
  7. Use the wine wheel in the same way you did for the aroma. Be sure to write down each word that describes the taste of the wine.
  8. When you're done, look at your list. This is how you can describe the wine to another person. For fun, compare your list with others to see if you had the same impressions.

Where to Find a Tasting Wheel

You may be able to buy a tasting wheel at your local wine shop or the nearest winery. You'll also see these diagrams in wine tasting books and kits. However, the easiest way to get a wine tasting wheel is to download one online. Consider one of the following resources:

Making Your Own Wheel

If you find that you love using a tasting wheel, but you can't always find the word you need, consider making your own. This can be a fun project for a wine tasting party or other wine-based event. If you'll be hosting the party, make up blank wheels ahead of time, and give guest supplies to write the appropriate words in the blanks. Be sure to have markers on hand so they can color code the wheel according to their own tastes.

Whether you make your own wheel or use one of the examples you find online, you'll love how these helpful diagrams take the guesswork out of wine tasting.

How to Use a Wine Tasting Wheel