Embrace The Taint

Coping with smoke taint and adverse profiles.

Red wine in a cellarDeath, taxes, and wildfires are some of the earth’s events that are difficult to control and generally inevitable. With recent fires along the West Coast, down through South America and Australia, and even throughout Spain and Portugal, many of the globes most prized wine regions have been affected.

Exposing grapes to smoke can result in wines that develop unfavorable sensory profiles. Compounds in the smoke bind with the grapes and usually lead to characteristics that are described as burnt, smokey, bacon-like, medicinal, and ashy. But if this does occur, all may not be lost!

Researchers suggest several options to minimize the effect of smoke taint, including the addition of barrels, wood adjuncts, and tannins. Science has shown that increasing wines’ complexity can reduce and even refine the unexpected profiles brought on by smoke. Brewers and distillers have long been capitalizing on the unrivaled flavors pulled from fresh used barrels sourced from all corners of the globe. Not only do fresh used barrels offer unparalleled profiles with enchanting backstories, many producers have also found these trends to been wildly successful!

Volatile phenols are the culprit behind smoke taint. However, like many other ingredients, when they are introduced at different times they produce different results;

Pre-fermentation: Smoke taint.
Post-fermentation: Wood aging.

So how is exposing the wine to charred/toasted wood (barrels, chips, cubes, etc) different from exposing grapes to smoke? We address that here:

Toasted Barrels vs. Charred Forests

Understanding the effects of charred & toasted wood vs. smoke taint from wildfires

Charred wine barrelWhen wines are exposed to these phenols post fermentation, it’s traditionally done by way of barrels, chips, cubes, and other adjuncts. Traditionally, this builds profiles within the wine through the release of guaiacol, furfurals, lactones, and eugenol. However, when fresh used barrels are introduced, we get another level of flavors too. From rich bourbon barrel aged Cabernets to decadent tequila barrel Sauvignons. The spirits emerge from deep within the wood to add an unparalleled level of complexity and body. While rum barrels deliver a mouthwatering sweetness, a Rye barrel will bring its classic spice. And of course an age old single malt scotch cask will vastly enrich the smokiness within its staves.

At a fraction of the price, quality fresh used barrels can also deliver monumental ROI’s when compared to the cost of a virgin barrel, not to mention the authentic stories each and every barrel carries with them.

Just like a virgin barrel, there’s never any excuse for leaky, infected, or pour quality cooperage. Learn more about our 5 Point Barrel Inspection that ensures each and every barrel arrives with an industry-leading Barrel Quality Guarantee.

Aging options now sore miles beyond just a handful of wood species, while creating inarguable reputations amongst passionate liquid artisans around the world.

See all 11 techniques for dealing with smoke taint, as suggested by the AWRI, here.

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