A quick cautionary tale about jumping to a conclusion about a new wine.
Once in a while we will buy several low cost bottles from our local Trader Joe’s. Rosés, a french wine and maybe a Chilean red or something to round out the home inventory. This specific bottle is a 2014 California Pinot Noir from Monterey County.
We don’t know the producer as it is under TJ’s private label. The price was under $6 so not a great risk of grocery money. It didn’t get long for us to notice a strong smokiness in the wine that really got in the way in any fruit flavors that would been present. This was not a smoky barrel flavor but something else and not a good something else.
Being aware of any number of wildfires burning in wine country over the last few years, including 2018, I thought I would consult our friends at wikipedia about any 2014 wildfires in Monterey County.
Here’s what I found: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soberanes_Fire
What does this have to do with this Pinot Noir? Smoke particles can become of part of the grapes as they approach ripeness in the vineyards even if they are many miles from the fire source. It’s the timing that makes a difference. The October 2017 fires near Santa Rosa took place after most of the grapes had been picked and being fermented. If the fires are early enough, they won’t have an impact. The 2014 fires started in late July and weren’t controlled until early October – during the harvest time for Pinot Noir.
So, knowing this, we decided to try different foods to find something that would work with this wine. The savior in this case was regular potato chips but any flavored chips might work as would some really smoky BBQ.
So why are we bringing this up? The long term forecast calls for bigger fires burning any time of the year so this is only one example of a tainted harvest. So, as wine lovers, we need to be aware of the growing conditions here in California where “vintage” isn’t as variable as it has been in France where bad weather such as rains and hail are affecting grapes somewhere each year. So maybe a 2014 Monterey County may not be such a great wine except at $6 when Pinots normally sell for much much more.
But it’s also a chance to make lemonade out of lemons. What foods go with a flawed wine? More generally, who decides what’s a flawed wine? Smoke taints have their fans as do brett and cork taint wines. Staying informed and being aware of a vintage in a specific region may be unusual for Californians but this is normal for the Europeans.
So don’t avoid a mystery wine if the price is right. If it sings to you, great. If not, maybe it’s a teachable moment in our wine education that can lead us to a better understanding of what’s in our glass today. Tomorrow is a different day and a different wine.