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PR Advice,Wine,Wine tasting,Wine Writer,Winery

Here Come The 2008s ~ Have Your Alka-Seltzer Handy for the Yuck and Suck Factor

The belch heard round the world just happened in my office. A sample wine arrived, and fortunately I had already tasted a wine from the 2008 vintage with smoke taint, so knew what was wrong.

Unfortunately, whatever this wine brand is using to try to slip this California wine by us all, made my co-taster immediately feel sick to her stomach. For about 10 minutes she just couldn’t recover… Then, it happened… The belch of all belches.

Rather then losing their entire crop, this wine was doctored up and put out there…

What a shame: first of all, because this entire vintage has been ruined; and secondly, this vintner obviously can’t afford to just lose an entire vintage.

I feel sorry for this brand, and it will go onto my un-shopping list. Others, however, are going to taste this wretched wine, hate it, and never buy it again… When, in fact, it may never happen that this vineyard will again be in a direct airstream for another horrific fire, like the ones in 2008.

A wine writing friend just said to me, I’d like to taste a smoke-tainted wine. As I’ve thought about that statement more, I’ve come to realize that he may never get to taste it. He’s a preeminent writer. Which wine company is going to knowingly let him taste his or her wine that’s tainted? Even for educational purposes, I don’t think anyone is going to go there. He may, though, still have wine companies who are releasing their wines send him a sample… thinking they’re slipping it by him. This was a sample; someone thought that he/she could slip it by me.

Smoke taint is a shame, but also it’s a reality. It’s going to be spotty. Don’t think it’s all of California wines. It’s not. There are going to be many beautiful wines for that year. Just, when you get that first hint of flint, and a smoky taste that you don’t associate with French or American oak, you will have arrived at smoke taint. You’ll also never forget that flavor. My co-taster said, “I suppose if you have this with B-B-Q it would be okay.”

I say, “No, absolutely not.”

The chemicals involved in trying to stabilize this one don’t need to be in my body. I am what I eat. My body is my temple, and on and on it goes.

Message to those of you with smoke taint…

It might be cheaper – and oh so European – to just let a bad vintage go, for the sake of your reputation.

It’s kinda like Tiger Woods… If he had just fessed up and said, “Hey, I’m a human being, and I’ve made some dumb mistakes. My dad had me under his thumb for my entire life, and when he passed away, with the watchman being gone I just went nuts for a while. Sorry…” No problem, I can understand that… But to cover it up has been the downfall of his squeaky clean image of perfection, and it lingers as gossip.

This 2008 wines that shouldn’t ever be on the market are going to be experiencing the same Yuck and Suck factor. Once people begin to talk openly amongst themselves, these tainted wines are going to be outed. The chips will fall where they may.

So, do the good thing, vintners, even though it’s not going to be easy to do. Get your insurance to cover your loss, and move onto your 2009 vintage. Because, in the long run to say, “Hey, this vintage sucks, so we’re not going to release it, because we don’t want to give you something we wouldn’t want to drink ourselves,” will make you a hero for that vintage ~ forever more.

If you’ve got a 2008 that you’re not going to release, just comment on this blog. I’ll defend you to the end, every time this subject comes up for the next year, or two, or three. I blog, I twitter, I social media every which way. I’ll help you though this. We’re all in it together.

If you lie, you’re on my un-shopping list. Yes, it will never be public, but you’ll also not be part of this blog… if it matters to you, or not.

The negative gossipy scenario is going to happen. Better to lead the way in truth than to get caught in the cross fires of bad wine. (Oh, bad pun!)

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7 Responses to “Here Come The 2008s ~ Have Your Alka-Seltzer Handy for the Yuck and Suck Factor”

  1. Robert says:

    I just received a wine club shipment which included 2-$50 bottles of 2008 vineyard-designated pinot from Anderson Valley, and I’m very apprehensive about opening them. I find it extremely disingenuous that the tasting notes did not even mention the fires or any steps that may or may not have occurred to remove smoke taint. Instead they contain the usual mumbo-jumbo about challenging conditions resulting in ethereal wine. Of course they also recommend cellaring the wine for a couple of years. Is this so I won’t find out about this outrageous ripoff until it’s too late? As of today I’m no longer a member of this wine club.

  2. Vinogirl says:

    This is fascinating stuff.
    I’d certainly like to try this wine for educational purposes. Can’t you buy a bottle and let your preeminant wine writer friend try it? Just curious, but if you believe that this producer should pour the entire vintage down the drain why aren’t you naming names? I wouldn’t want to unwittingly purchase this wine and waste my money (except if it was for the aforementioned educational purpose.)

  3. Jo says:

    Vinogirl,

    I don’t like naming names, when a company’s livelihood is at stake. (I prefer to rave rather than rant…. Even though this one’s one of my rare rants.)

    We could get together at some point, though, and I’ll spring for the wine… in a private setting with you. I don’t mind educating people.

    How’s that for a compromise?

  4. Jo says:

    Robert,

    If I were in your shoes, I’d open one of the bottles immediately… Just for my own purposes.

    If you smell or taste ash as one of the wine’s flavors, you know that it’s got smoke taint. Ash doesn’t taste like toasted oak barrels. It’s got a flintiness to it.

    This wine company may not have been in the line of the fires, and therefore has nothing to write about. You won’t know until you taste the wine.

    This vintage is going to fill a lot of people’s minds with trepidation. Writing about the positive brands of 2008 – will help those without taint… I’d be stating that straight up with any CA release… “Happily, this one escaped the fires!”

    Because it’s a Pinot that was shipped to you, you’re going to know immediately. Pinot is such delicate fruit, nothing – like smoke taint – is going to get past this one.

    Let me know how it goes. I’d really like to know, as we all begin to explore the 2008s. You don’t have to name names, just let me know if you got great wine.

    At some point, a map of CA with fire zones would quickly let everyone know which areas to avoid.

    It’s a shame, but the French have had to bear this kind of burden for years – with wretched weather. For California to have an off vintage is just “welcome to the club.”

  5. Hi Jo–

    How about a longer description of smoke taint? I appreciate that negative reviews are not your thing, and you are not going to tell us which wine was so upsetting.

    So, maybe the way to satisfy the curiosity that this excellent and timely post has raised for Vinogirl and me is to give us a more complete discussion of the problem.

    How intense? How ashy? Why did flint and smoke turn out to be so bothersome? What happened to the texture of the wine? Are there noticeable changes in the way the wine finished?

    Thanks,
    Charlie

  6. Jo says:

    Charlie,

    During the fires, I remember doing a post discussing that smoke taint was going to be an issue. I called it, “This Wine is Smokin…” Dr. Paul Skinner (Napa climatologist) was my resource. http://wine-blog.org/index.php/2008/07/21/this-wine-is-smokin-okay-not-a-joke-according-to-paul-skinner/

    I can’t even come close to condensing in a comments section what PhD Skinner had written at that time: http://www.awri.com.au/information_services/current/Smoke_taint.asp ~ It’s regarding “Investigations conducted during 2003 and 2004 [sic Australia] into the nature and amelioration of taints in grapes and wine, caused by smoke resulting from bushfires”

    SNAPSHOT: “…that exposure of grapes to bushfire smoke as early as veraison may cause levels of taint in the resulting wine which substantially reduces its commercial value. It is apparent that the taint compounds are present within the grape skin, and thus their extraction is difficult to avoid during winemaking, especially red-winemaking where extended skin contact is necessary. For white wines, winemaking treatments that minimise contact between juice and skin may be beneficial in reducing the intensity of any taint.”

    “…guaiacol in grapes and wines resulting from the bushfire smoke, is a contaminant.”

    (I believe is was the contaminate factor that made my daughter ill so quickly. She treats her body well, and has recently come away from an eight or nine year fasting from meat and fish.)

    The flavor for me on the palate just took away any gorgeous flavors that the fruit might have had. It’s a foreign taste, one you’ve probably not tasted before. It’s not like a smoked meat or barbecue flavors. It’s definitely got an ashen flavor… like chewing on ashes in an ashtray… not that I ever did that. (I did smoke cigarettes, however, in my teens and early 20’s, and had to clean a lot of ash trays. Plus I heated with a wood stove in Maine for 11 years as our only heat in sub zero weather. I’ve shoveled a lot of ash.)

    With my cigarette history, maybe that’s why I reel from ash flavor so violently. I’m totally over tobacco and it’s by-products. It also lingered on my palate, completely ruining whatever finish the wine should have had… Again, perhaps because of my aversion to ash.

    Others may not have the same reaction, given their personal histories. Someone who’s never smoked, for instance, might just have a linger finish that he or she can’t identify, but it will definitely make that person wonder.

    I’m betting, Charlie, that before long, you’re going to be experiencing it in your tastings. Others will out vintners for trying to save their 2008 harvest, and – as I noted – I can’t blame them, if it means total ruination for a wine company. (Some money is better than no money, is going to be the thinking.)

    Can you image how much bulk wine there’s going to be with smoke taint for this vintage?

    I can’t help but wonder what are winemakers going to use for filtration and chemicals to try to remove, disguise the flavors?

    It’s going to be a vintage to watch (and taste).

  7. We were hit with pretty severe smoke taint in our 2008 Anderson Valley pinot and opted to let it go. The post fermented wine was literally undrinkable (think biting into a charcoal bruquette). After much soul searching, we put the wine through reverse-osmosis which did a fantastic job of stripping the guiacol and 4-methylguiacol compounds out. It also did a fantastic job of stripping out any fruit, structure, nuance, and just about anything else you’d associate with pinot noir. We tried blending back in a number of different things and just couldn’t get to a wine we were satisfied with. So, we chose not to bottle it. We did, however, blog about the 2-year journey through smoke taint. You can read about our final decision to let it go here:
    http://www.bruliamwines.com/2010/02/rip-2008-anderson-valley-pinot/

    Ultimately as a very small and brand new wine label, we just didn’t want to risk putting out a wine that we knew wasn’t representative of what we aspired to. I fully understand the decisions that others have made with respect to the 2008’s and wish them the best with their 2008’s. We were small enough and lucky enough to be able to survive the hit.

    Best,
    Brian

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