Wildfires raging in California and other parts of the west have the potential to give your wine the subtle flavor of campfire smoke.
According to National Public Radio, “smoke taint” happens when grapes are exposed to smoke. This is a very real possibility after acres of wine country were torched by wildfires this year.
Scientists and wine makers are searching for answers as to how smoke wafting through vineyards can damage future vintages.
According to the article, “The resulting wine has an unpleasant taste, often described as ashy, burnt, and ashtray. California’s growers might have lucked out this year, but significant wine regions, including in Australia, South Africa, Chile, and Portugal, have all had serious fires in recent years…”
Smoke taint is a relatively new area of study but there does seem to be evidence to suggest that it can cause changes in the flavor of exposed wine.
“Fires produce free volatile phenols — compounds that can attach to the grape’s sugars. They are difficult to smell, taste, and detect, and might later be released during fermentation, potentially showing up in wine. There are two — guaiacol and 4-methylguaiacol — that are thought to be mainly responsible for smoke taint, but scientists are still sorting that out.”
You can read more here.
Don’t worry too much. This is settled science and the grapes for 2017 are already safely harvested.
However, if you are concerned about California wines made in 2018 or later, there are great wines made all over the United States where wild fires aren’t as much of a concern.