Using a wine tasting wheel to guide you in your wine evaluation is a must-have.
One of the fun parts of wine tasting is sharing our experiences with others. A wine tasting wheel, such as the Wine Aroma Wheel, is a great tool to get started. But what about mouthfeel?
In a previous article, I shared why it is more challenging to describe wine mouthfeel than its aroma. These sensations are diffuse and difficult to decompose as singular sensations. It is also difficult to reproduce them with references that can mimic what you perceive in your mouth.
The first wine mouthfeel wheel was developed in Australia and focused on red wine mouthfeel, which is quite complex. You may have noticed that wine critics tend to be more prolific on words to describe red wine mouthfeel: full-bodied, rich, structured, astringent, grainy, etc.
A white wine mouthfeel wheel came out of Canadian research several years later.
Let's explore their findings and how you could use their wine tasting wheels to gain more confidence in describing wine mouthfeel.
Richard Gawel and colleagues published the red wine mouthfeel wheel in 2000.
According to several sources, the team asked a panel of 14 sensory panelists to taste 140+ wines over six weeks. The wines were from Australia, France, and Italy, including Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Grenache varietal wines.
They developed a list of 53 terms divided into 13 categories, covering astringency and its nuances and other tactile or non-tactile sensations.
The authors defined more specifically the 13 categories of mouthfeel sensations in their paper published in 2000.
The originality of this work was the development of tactile references or "touch references" to mimic sensations similar to what one could perceive in the mouth.
Indeed they found out it was not easy to reproduce tactile feelings in the mouth, and the selected "feel references" had side effects such as lingering in your mouth and making it challenging to taste anything else after them.
Therefore, panelists used their fingers to touch the various tactile references and learned to associate these sensations with feelings in their mouths.
A team in Canada used the wine tasting wheel to describe the mouthfeel of red wines from British Columbia, focusing only on astringency and its nuances.
They found it difficult for trained tasters to be relatable in the use of mouthfeel descriptors. Even for trained wine tasters, the nuances of mouthfeel can be confusing.
The researchers concluded that all the descriptive terms of astringency were related and defined probably different levels of intensity rather than different sensations.
Is it easier to describe white wine mouthfeel? Let's see.
Gary Pickering and Pam DeMiglio published a mouthfeel wheel for white wine in 2008. Inspired by the Australian wheel and recognizing that white wines could elicit mouthfeel sensations that red wines cannot, they followed a similar process to generate their wheel.
A panel of 11 trained tasters participated in 21 sessions. To develop descriptive terms, the tasters tasted 77 wines, including table, sparkling, low alcohol, dessert, or fortified wines.
Through discussions, tasting, and use of references, 54 terms were selected to describe 33 discrete sensations (e.g., tingle) and 21 integrated feelings, combining different sensations (e.g., felt referring to "an overall sensation of roughness and drying in the mouth.")
Note also that the wheel introduced the timing of the sensation appearance to better characterize the feeling, whether it was early or towards the end of the tasting.
Including sparkling wines led to a category of terms dedicated to the mousse — for example, its persistence in the mouth.
Several terms describe the same sensation but at a different level of intensity; for example, roughness presents three intensity levels: fine emery, medium emery, and sharp.
The researchers make it more evident on the wheel to indicate the degree of intensity.
They also paid particular attention to defining all the terms with either tactile references or detailed definitions.
As you can appreciate through the two examples presented in this article, it takes a lot of time, a lot of wines, and in-depth, thorough discussions to get to the final versions of the wine tasting wheels.
As with any tool, use the mouthfeel wheels as guides to learn how to describe wines.
As mentioned earlier, even trained tasters can be confused by the diversity and nuances of the mouthfeel terms. The use of references is one way of overcoming confusion.
I am sure, however, that describing mouthfeel with your tasting partners could become a lively conversation.
Published December 2019, Revised April 2023
Gawel, Oberholster, Francis (2000) Austr. J. Grape Wine Res.(6) 203-207
Oberholster A. WINE MOUTHFEEL AND THE MOUTHFEEL WHEEL. FEBRUARY 21, 2019 WF101: Factors That Impact Wine Flavor and Mouthfeel.
M. C. King , M. A. Cliff & J. Hall (2003) Effectiveness of the 'Mouthfeel Wheel' for the evaluation of astringent subqualities in British Columbia red wines, Journal of Wine Research, 14:2-3, 67-78,
G. J. Pickering and P. Demiglio (2008). The White Wine Mouthfeel Wheel: A Lexicon for Describing the Oral Sensations Elicited by White WineJournal of Wine Research, 2008, Vol. 19, No. 1, pp. 51–67
Pickering G. (2014). Describing Oral Sensations Elicited by White Wine. Practical Winery and Vineyards. January.