Smoky flavors in wine are a possibility in the aftermath of the fires charring Napa, Sonoma and other parts of Northern California wine country. The effect, called smoke taint, occurs when compounds in wildfire smoke are absorbed by vines and berries, ultimately becoming unwelcome flavors in wine.
“These off-flavors, described as ‘smoky,’ ‘bacon,’ ‘campfire’ and ‘ashtray,’ are usually long lasting and linger on the palate even after the wine is swallowed or spit out,” according to a smoke taint primer from ETS Laboratories, which performs scientific analyses for the wine industry.
The wildfires ignited Sunday and Monday and, according to the latest reports, have caused at least 17 deaths and destroyed at least 2,000 homes and businesses. With this volatile situation, it’s impossible (and far too early) to say with certainty which wineries or how much of the 2017 crop might be affected by smoke taint.
Nevertheless, there’s concern for fruit still in the vineyard — much of the harvest already is in — or fruit undergoing fermentation in open-air containers. Even Napa Valley’s famed cabernet sauvignon grapes could be at risk.