Ask Wine Wizard

Coping With Grapes Affected By Smoke Taint


Brian Cox — Martinez, California asks,

Do you see any opportunities for new styles of wine made from smoke-tainted grapes? Have you tasted any commercial examples purposefully using smoke-tainted grapes?

I’ve heard rumor that a couple of smaller wineries that have experienced smoke taint in their grapes are indeed evolving that wine into new styles. Depending on the grape type and level of impact, it’s possible their base wines may have a wide array of “smoke effect” descriptors like: Bacon-y, deli meat, barbecue, toasty, etc., which all can be positives in the right place. As long as a wine isn’t completely objectionable (think old ashtray or cigarette butt), it’s perfectly sensible to me to try to work with what you’ve got. In some cases, winemakers are layering on a lot of oak, or doing one of these Bourbon-barrel style wines, which lean heavy on the toasty oak and seek to make a feature of the smokiness, rather than perceive it as a flaw. How well are these wines selling and how consumers are perceiving them I couldn’t tell you as I don’t have any insight there; but I do know some folks are getting creative when they are working with grapes and wines with a somewhat smoky character. In general,
Response by Alison Crowe.