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Generally Accepted Descriptors for Wine

I’m confused when I read some critics’ tasting notes. I wonder how they manage to find so many different flavors, especially in wines costing less than $20 that are not usually very complex.

Sometimes you read a tasting note that has a string of descriptors that includes opposites, like honey and green apple, which is bizarre. There always seems to be hints of this and flecks of that. It’s all a bit dubious… but I suppose the writers would argue that it’s somewhat subjective.

That said, you can train your palate to identify a range of flavors and aromas. The way to do it is to buy fruits, spices, flowers and vegetables in the supermarket and then do some blind tasting and smelling exercises. Ask a friend to choose a fruit, like a strawberry, and hold it under your nose, and then pop it in your mouth. Of course the size and texture of many fruits can be a clue as to what they are when you taste them, so focus on trying to identify them by smell. It can be a fun game, hopefully with a happy ending.

There are generally accepted descriptors for wine. The so-called Aroma wheel is a good reference ( and you can see the typical categories that you can focus on learning. But don’t forget that in a tasting note it is equally important to tell people about the structure of the wine. For example, is it dry, off-dry or sweeter? Is it high or low in acidity, or somewhere in the middle? This is much less subjective, and even more helpful to the wine lover than a long string of flavors/aromas in a tasting note.