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Can you imagine trying to describe the taste of an orange to someone who had never eaten one?

Finding words to describe wine flavors can be equally difficult. That’s why most tasters resort to making comparisons to familiar tastes and smells. When a wine description lists flavors and notes of fruits, flowers or even spices, these “tasting notes” are the best way of describing something that isn’t easily explained.

A perfume may be described as floral, but to be more specific the aroma is roses, violets and honeysuckle.

Though it’s a challenging pursuit at first, the tools needed for describing wines are simple: wine, a clean glass, a notepad, a sense of taste and lots of practice.

As far as building a wine vocabulary, here are few tips:

  1. Use words and descriptions familiar to you, not copied from wine writers and other wine enthusiasts. If you smell “fresh cut grass,” make note of it, even if the person next to you smells something different.
  2. Take notes. This will help you remember the wine later. Useful tasting notes are straightforward and clear, noting likes and dislikes. The notes can be as simple as a single word or lengthy descriptions of everything you taste and smell.

Many descriptions are benchmarks and unique to specific grape varieties. For example, the strawberry and pepper aromas of pinot noir would not be confused with the citrus and green apple of sauvignon blanc. The following suggestions include benchmark tasting notes for each wine.

Chardonnay: creamy, buttery, melons, tropical fruits


  • 2008 Hess Monterey Chardonnay, California (about $13 retail)


  • 2007 Sonoma-Cutrer Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, California (about $29 retail)

Sauvignon blanc: green apples and citrus


  • 2008 Rosemount Sauvignon Blanc, Australia (about $13 retail)


  • 2008 Matua Valley Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $14 retail)

Pinot noir: raspberries, strawberries and floral


  • 2007 Mark West Pinot Noir, California (about $12 retail)


  • 2007 Ponzi Pinot Noir, Oregon (about $40 retail)

Cabernet sauvignon: cedar wood, mint, dark berries


  • 2007 Concha y Toro, Casillero del Diablo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile (about $11 retail)


  • 2007 Bell Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $40 retail)