Smoke on the wine


A "meh" picture for a "meh" wine.

Americana Vineyards Cabernet Franc (N/V)
Varietal:Cabernet Franc, Baco Noir??
ABV: not labeled, (“table wine”) is it that hard to get your alcohol measured?!
Price Point: $18
Looks: reddish-violet, pretty intense
Nose: Smoky*, vanilla oak on the nose. Toasty, chocolatey, I am smelling a lot of oak and not much wine. Kind of smells like a roasted marshmallow. Other than that, not much to offer.
Palate: I get smoky, oaky flavors on the palate, followed by straight up, somewhat harsh acidity and a short, bitter finish. You know, I wouldn’t be surprised (just guessing here) if this were blended with a bit of Baco Noir, a red {hybrid} which to me has an unmistakable smoky aroma, to add some color. Baco is found in a lot of other Americana wines as well…

Rating: 1.5 corks corkhalfcork for a thin, acidic, smoky wine.

Americana Vineyards has its benefits. It’s one of the closest wineries on the Cayuga Wine Trail to Ithaca. Their tasting room is a big barn with a nice bar and ambience and live music on Sunday nights. Also, it’s usually open until 6 so when you get kicked out of your last winery at 5 or 5:30, you can always stop there on the way home. Also, one of their wines, Sweet Rosie, a dessert wine, comes with a piece of fudge. Um, and they have big wine dogs. I think that’s about it for me.

Cabernet franc is one of those varietals that is supposed to do well in the Finger Lakes, so I like to pick one up whenever I visit a winery. Now, 2006 wasn’t the best vintage (I bought this bottle in January or so, so the bottle made with 2007 grapes is probably not out yet) in the Finger Lakes. I’m also not sure that they used all 2006 grapes, since it’s non-vintage, there’s no way to know. This wine, though, is really going out of its way to hide it. Baco for color, oak for “flavor”. Not that I mind oak, but there’s just not too much cabernet franc expression here, or really any expression. And at $18, no way would I get this again.


Guaiacol and its derivatives are usually smoky, like bacon, but sometimes not in a good way.

Guaiacol and its derivatives are usually smoky, like bacon, but sometimes not in a good way.

Smoky aromas could have several sources (e.g., the grape varietal), but the most likely culprit is toasted oak. The insides of oak barrels are charred, or “toasted”, before being sold as wine barrels. Winemakers can usually choose light, medium, or heavy toast. Toasting extracts some flavor compounds from the wood, specifically lignin degradation products. Lignin, simply, is a molecule that holds the cellulose fibers in wood together. (For this reason, it’s a real pain in the biofuel industry, but we digress…). Compounds that result from the breakdown of lignin include eugenol (clove aroma), vanillin (vanilla), and guaiacol (smoke). (Ref: Galletti et al., “Chemical composition of wood casks for wine ageing as determined by pyrolysis/gc/ms”, Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, 1995). In this case the smokiness could derive from the oak (guaiacol) or the smoky component in Baco noir which has yet to be elucidated (it could very well be similar to guaiacol.) Guaiacol taint (“smoke taint”) is sometimes found in wines made from berries that are near wildfires (e.g., recently in Australia) and therefore exposed to smoke. The guaiacol in the smoke will accumulate in the waxy outer coating of the berry and make its way into the wine.

Published in: on 2 April 2009 at 3:01 am  Comments (4)  
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  1. Smoke Taint & How Some Winemakers Win The Battle

    First, the press will have the public think the worst has happened to all the wineries…NOT TRUE…look…
    A number of sources are reporting that the smoke from this summer’s wildfires in California may have tainted the 2008 winegrape crop. Megafires from Santa Barbara to the Oregon border poured smoke into the prime Cal winegrape growing regions for three solid months, with probable deleterious effect to this year’s wine vintage.
    see link Click On Me

    I am always on the lookout for some great thinking…with this past year 2008 and over 2,000 wild fires smoke is an issue, especially post- verasion grapes when the grapes become like magnets to all the outside influences, they suck them all in…yep they do …what are they sucking in…?… AWRI (Australian Wine Research Institute) says that “the taint is an aroma or flavor that a sommelier might describe as gamey or spicy”…

    QUOTE( Wines & Vines Jan 09 by Thomas Ulrich)
    Vines absorbed these severed compounds, storing them until the plants transported the carbohydrates and volatile compounds to the ripening fruit, or the grapes absorbed the compounds directly.

    So how many time did people say the grapes breath in the terroir that being everything the grapes and vines come into contact with, even the hand of the vineyard manager and winemaker…thus true ‘sense of place’ changes each year just a bit from the basic foundation…don’t think that just because you had smoke taint one year the next year you won’t have a problem, you will as attested by experts in the article…this is that ‘sense of place’ like it or not for those years…

    Australian scientists know due to experience how long the problem lasts…
    scientists attribute the smoky aroma in part to guaiacol (Gu) and 4- methylguaiacol (4Mgu) ,compounds also identified in wine that are aged in toasted oak barrels. Both compounds take shape when heat decomposes lignin, an organic polymer present in vascular plants.

    Rick Davis and Todd Quigley figured out how to treat the Chard must when the compounds are not as bound as they are when the juice is fermented into wine…they used PVPP (polyvinylpolypyrrolidone) and isinglass, pressed the juice into a settle tank, clarified it with the fining agents, then they added yeast hulls to replace suspended solids that polymers and proteins had separated from solution.

    For the reds PN , etc.they did the above but also used oak neutral chips in the red wine to bind with the smoke taint compounds… also fermented at a lower temp…

    The other way I won’t get into too much is to use a RO machine and run the wine through intense charcoal filters until you strip the wine of the taint…IMHO I believe you strip the guts and glory of the vintage out leaving you with a hollow vintage…

    So we see you can’t paint a dismal view on the vintage with smoke taint…I say know your producer and winemaker, as they are the key to a successful vintage …the lesson is don’t paint a broad picture of an area and draw conclusions that the whole vintage is tainted because it’s not…

    What this actually does is back up my definition of that sense of place that I posted several times …I have been notified that my definition is being used to teach in Europe …I was also notified that an Oenologist in Italy had come to the same conclusion as I did as to the definition of ‘that sense of place’…

  2. Hmm…

    I wasn’t making any broad statements about vintages that were around wildfires, and surely winemakers with affected grapes have some up with some clever, if not entirely successful, ways of getting rid of smoke taint. Charcoal is like an atomic bomb to the wine, and you can lose the baby with the bathwater.

    This statement about terroir, that grapes suck in compounds in their environment and express them, is still the subject of much controversy in the scientific literature.

    Guaiacol, once burned out of wood, will condense on floating smoke particulate matter, which can then set on the waxy bloom of the grapes, delivering a sort of concentrated guaiacol package directly to the skins. If we consider this mechanism, then “smoke taint” may be a unique case of absorption of outside phenomena.

    One example pointed to is “eucalyptus taint”, the claim that vineyards located near eucalyptus trees produce wines with eucalyptus aromas. While it’s possible that the mechanism of this phenomenon is similar to the “smoke taint” scenario (i.e., berries suck up aromas around them), it’s notable that that wines from grapes located in Greece, far away from eucalyptus, also have that aroma. It has also been demonstrated that grapes can be capable of synthesizing 1-8 cineole on their own. (Fariña et al.,”Terpene Compounds as Possible Precursors of 1,8-Cineole in Red Grapes and Wines”, Journal of Ag. and Food Chemistry, 2005).

    A similar case is winemakers who plant lavender in their vineyards, then say that the wine expresses the lavender. Is it true? It’s possible that some linalool or something gets in the bloom or skins, but the ambient levels are so low that it’s unlikely.


  3. Anything in the vineyard biological or mineral will alter the taste of the grapes…some FYI…

    Antimicrobial activity of oil of Eucalyptus

    We all have tasted this before in wine mostly in red…The Australian Wine Research Institute is conducting a study …this study will try to definitively explain the compound in wine and why it’s seen more in reds…IMHO it’s seen more in red because the Eucalyptus drifts from the trees and gets bonded to the skins…thus white no contact with skins, usually and red most contact…this is the theory…now it will be tested…

    Received 24 September 2004; revised 20 January 2005;
    accepted 20 January 2005.
    Available online 11 May 2005.

    I want you to look at the timeline 04′ …although they are now definitively studying this compound…beware of people who tell you this is a NEW STUDY…

    Eucalyptol (1, 8-cineole) is the active ingredient of the eucalyptus oil, you get this in wine … Moreover, Nadkarni has reported its antibacterial action

    Maybe it’s not such a bad thing for the development of wine over time…

    Click On Me

    Pharmacopoeial grade dried eucalyptus leaf must contain at least 2.0% (v/m) volatile oil, composed mainly of 1, 8-cineole.[3] The Indian Pharmacopoeia requires not less than 60% w/w of cineole.[5]

    Oil of eucalyptus has been traditionally used in Ayurveda as an antiseptic and for respiratory tract infections.

    there are two other interesting biologic aspects to eucalyptol. About 30 percent of the population has a specific anosmia to it—they cannot smell it. The second is that eucalyptol (1,8–cineol), once absorbed into the circulation (like by drinking a wine containing it), will bind to and activate opiate receptors in the brain. There are also high amounts of 1,8–cineol in bay leaf and thyme. Haven’t run across any bay leaf or thyme addicts, though…but I was definitely hooked on Joe Heitz’s ’74 MV…
    More research that Eucalyptus is formed via a chemical reaction…and you don’t need the trees to produce the notes…

    ClickOn Me

    the contribution of 1,8-cineole to the aroma of wine has been reported, it is a matter of controversy that the vineyards producing such wines are surrounded by Eucalyptus trees, which may contribute their essence to the grapes. However, experimental information presented in this paper suggests that 1,8-cineole can be produced by chemical transformation of limonene and α-terpineol, and this process may be responsible for the occurrence of Eucalyptus-like aroma in Tannat wines from vines not grown in the vicinity of Eucalyptus trees. A mechanism for the chemical transformation of these aroma compounds is proposed.

    so now I have uncovered that you don’t need the trees to have this note.

  4. That last link is the study that I referenced (Fariña et al.); I was just too lazy to link it up. Thanks!

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