WILDFIRE SMOKE TAINT grapes may add some bold tastes

WILDFIRE SMOKE TAINT grapes may add some bold tastes



The Wine Spectator article has us thinking how Wildfire Smoke taint grapes can make smoke taint in wine! Think what a smoke taint wine with a smoky taste can do for your Barbecue sauces! These vineyard grapes caught in the California wildfires by the traveling smoke can add some smoky boldness to our cooking!

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I came across a fascinating article in Wine Spectator (June 15, 2018) that made me salivate. The article focused on the wildfires of California, specifically Northern California, in October 2017 that had vineyards struggling with grapes that had not yet been harvested for wine production and were exposed to the fire’s smoke.

Smoke taint. That is the smoky flavors grapes will pick up from traveling smoke gases and particles that become airborne with the wind. Even if a vineyard did not experience the fire directly, it can be affected by the traveling smoke. That is the key though: a vineyard may or may not contain smoke taint in the grapes.

Lab Research

There were many California wineries that sent grape and juice samples to labs for analysis to determine if compounds indicative of smoke exposure existed (probability is said to be 70% with testing). Specifically, they test for the primary volatile phenols present in smoke. This research and technique have its base in extensive research done in Australia who experience bushfires more commonly than Californians experience wildfires.

If these volatile phenols are found in the sample, this means the waxy cuticle of the grape skin absorbed the compounds forming glycosides. At this stage, the phenols are not detectable by smell or taste. Once the fermentation begins, the acids break down the bond making the phenols volatile again. Additionally, our own mouths can breakdown remaining glycosides releasing the smoky flavors when the wines are consumed.

What to Do

Though there is a risk to white wines, these tend to be less susceptible to smoke taint since most are not fermented on their skins. Wines fermenting in tanks and barrels during the fires also appear protected by the layer of carbon dioxide that forms.

For those wines found to have the smoke taint, the vineyard is faced with options:

  • minimize the skin contact by adjusting the grape press
  • use lighter toasted oak barrels for the fermentation
  • bottle the tainted wine under a different label
  • sell the wine on the bulk market to be blended into an inexpensive wine
  • sell the wine to distilleries

BBQ Umami

I have another idea! Along the lines of selling the wine to another user, why not market this to Chefs, cooks, and barbecue enthusiasts who understand and desire those charry undertones. Think about the sauces, marinades, glazes, and assorted other uses these tainted wines could be used in.

Think about how many people use handheld food smokers to get a smoky undertone to liquids, whether a cocktail, syrup, juice, even water. With a bottle of this tainted wine, blooming with an ashy component, you have ready-made umami for those of us searching for the perfect ingredient to bring a balanced smoky undertone to a recipe.

Here’s my suggestion: think about contacting one of these vineyards to see if they would be willing to sell you some unmarked bottles. They wouldn’t have to label them with their pristine brand, just sell it as is to those of us who love that undertone.

Some of the vineyards with tainted wine: The Hess Collection, Jackson Family Wines, Jarvis Wines.

I don’t know about you, but I’m sure going to try to get my hands on at least a couple of bottles of the smoke-tainted wine as my recipes are just waiting for this special ingredient!


Purchase Products:

Wood Chips- Grande Sapore®

Wood Chunks- Double & Single Filet

More Related reading on "What Wood for Smoking" and other great smoking and grilling tips and techniques

More Related reading on “What Wood for Smoking” and other great smoking and grilling tips and techniques

Additional reading:


-Is It Fresh? Here’s Why You Need to Know




Dr. Smoke- Interesting discuss WILDFIRE SMOKE TAINT could provide some bold flavors to the BBQ chef

Dr. Smoke- Interesting discuss WILDFIRE SMOKE TAINT could provide some bold flavors to the BBQ chef