My manager handed me a soignée chit in passing. Apparently, my incomplete party was awaiting the General Manager of one of the trendiest 3-star restaurants in town. When he arrived, I noticed that he took over the wine selection. As I approached, I welcomed him and offered my assistance. He graciously declined and ordered a bottle of 1986 Riesling Herrenweg de Turckheim from Zind-Humbrecht. As I confirmed his order, I also mentioned that a Riesling of that age might have a touch of petrol on the nose. He half-smiled and nodded. Upon my return, I poured an ounce and awaited his approval. As he reached for his glass and stuck his nose in for a sniff, he jerked his head back and said…”Whoa! There IS a bit of petrol on the nose.”
I returned his half-smile and nodded.
Later that week, I had a lovely group of girls in for dinner. They had fabulous attire and they seemed to be in from out of town, (I believe they arrived by a bridge…or perhaps it was a tunnel). They were deciding on some wines by the glass and one of them ordered a 2006 “Rosso Fresco” from Channing Daughters. I told her it was a Merlot blend and that there might be a little graphite on the nose. As she sniffed her glass, she said “Ew, that DOES smell funny.” I smiled and told her that it wouldn’t reflect on the palate. “Why does it smell like that?” she asked. “Is it something that the winemaker adds?”
“Why yes,” I thought to myself “The wine maker was going for ‘Ew,’ and he thought it might be nice to throw some No. 2 pencils into the mix.”
All kidding aside, the wine maker is, in fact, a manipulator of sorts, but these scents are not of his doing. They are byproducts of the fermentation process. “How is it possible that a wine can smell like petrol?” you ask. The same way that milk can turn into an amazing cheese that smells like...well, you know what cheese can smell like…fine, feet. There, I said it.
There are so many factors that can affect these scents, from the level of sugar in the grapes to the soil the grapes are grown in. So the next time you’re sniffing a wine, don’t take such a big whiff the first time. You might end up with a little too much cat pee on the nose.