What are aroma wheels used for?
Aroma wheels have been proliferating for years now. In the 1980s, Professor A.C. Noble from the University of California UC Davis created the first aroma wheel to describe the aromatic qualities of wine. Today there are several versions developed by sommeliers around the world and are used to describe the qualities of different types of food and drink: wine, olive oil, beer, coffee, chocolate, tea, etc..
What is the reason for this success and proliferation of the aroma wheel which is at times quite difficult to read, such as when printed on the page of a book or magazine and thus lacking the freedom to be rotated in any direction?
It is a beautiful and handy tool to facilitate the discovery of what the different aromas of a product can be. A simple list of aromas grouped by category would not have the same “appeal”. For this reason, it is used, modified and reproduced in many tasting courses and also as a marketing tool around the world.
The reasons that led to the creation of the first aroma wheel are important for those approaching tasting. The first reason was to "formalize" a common vocabulary of the aromas of the product being tasted. In fact, without a common vocabulary it is impossible to remember and communicate to others the sensations we experience during a tasting. This is particularly important when it comes to aromas and the sense of smell because we are not used to describing what we "smell" in everyday life and therefore our resulting description is subjective and at times difficult for others to understand.
The second reason is that the wheel, as it is created, pushes new tasters to smell and taste in the "right" way. It is organized into segments that delineate the olfactory categories and is divided into 3 concentric rings ranging from macro-categories in the center ring of the wheel (eg., Fruity), to categories in the middle ring (eg., Tropical fruit), to specific aromas in the outermost ring of the wheel (eg., Pineapple). This subdivision leads us to focus on one macro-category at a time (e.g. Fruity), and then work our way into the detail of the single aroma as we move towards the outermost ring of the circle. The macro-categories are few (10-12), while the aromas are many. Therefore, when we approach the bouquet of a wine searching by macro-category, it is easier and quicker to work our way to a specific aroma than it would be to search it for one of very many specific aroma possibilities. It is often difficult to distinguish particular aromas without the aid of focused direction.
Even the way the wheel is written, with the characters that rotate as you move from one scent to another, forces us to focus on one category at a time. In fact, if we are focusing on fruity scents, we will rotate the graphics so that we can read the names of the fruity scents "straight" and it will be difficult for us to read those of the other categories, thus helping us avoid distractions and deviations.