When I started running wine classes over 30 years ago, I used the Wine Aroma Wheel designed by Dr Ann C Noble to help kick-start student’s wine vocabulary. I subsequently designed my own varietal aroma wheels to expand and simplify wine words.
Wine vocabulary is a personal thing. My “blackcurrant” might be your “blackberry” but the important thing is that we both know exactly what we mean when we use those terms. The use of wine descriptors assists the information-gathering process and ultimately speeds up our understanding of wine.
The late Auberon Waugh, wine columnist for The Spectator, once wrote that tasting notes needn’t make any sense but they should always be a good read. He liked to “camp it up a bit” which is why he famously described a wine as having an aroma that suggested “French railway stations and ladies underwear.”
Waugh was unsuccessfully prosecuted after a complaint by the Inner London Race Relations Council for describing a wine his brother-in-law gave him as smelling like “dead chrysanthemums on the grave of a stillborn Jamaican baby’s grave.”
A student attending my wine course described a wine we tasted as having an aroma that perfectly matched that of a scrabble chip swallowed and subsequently regurgitated by her dog. That didn’t make any sense to anyone else in the class, but it is a very powerful and unique descriptor to the dog owner.
When I was a lad I mowed my grandmother’s lawns once a fortnight. An organisation called Motherhood of Man would throw a rolled-up hessian sack onto the front lawn of houses in our neighbourhood in the hope that people would fill them with old clothes and leave the sack out for collection. My granny didn’t donate her cast-offs, so the sack became mouldy. To avoid getting it tangled in the mower I was forced to move it, mow the grass where it had been, and return the sack to the same spot. I hated the strong mouldy hessian smell.
Years later I discovered the identical smell in certain red wines – always Italian. One sniff is like stepping into a time machine. I become a 12-year-old grimly clutching the handle of a Masport mower. Aroma has the power to transport us through time and space.