Do I Need to Worry About Smoke in My California Wines?

Hi again, and welcome to my latest blog on what I think is the most interesting subject in the world: wine! If you like drinking wines from California (and who doesn’t??), I can assume you might be worried about all the wildfires that have been raging in this part of the country. Not only do people worry that their favorite vineyards will burn down, but they also worry about how the smoke that lingers in the air affects the taste and quality of the wines they love. I’ve heard this question a lot, so I thought it would be a good topic. So let’s get into how smoke affects wine and if it’s a concern for the 2017-2019 California vintages.

What is smoke taint?

Does smoke affect wine? In a word, yes. In fact, there’s even a phrase used to describe it: smoke taint. Smoke taint is the burnt, ashy, medicinal aroma you get in a wine as a result of the vineyards and grapes being exposed to excessive smoke in the air. Think about how burnt wood smells and you have an idea of smoke taint. Although it’s not a bad smell (everyone loves some good smoke taint when roasting marshmallows, right?), most people probably don’t want it in their wines.

How did smoke taint affect the 2017-2019 vintages?

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about how smoke taint affected these wines and you pretty much get a different story no matter where you look. However, speaking from the consumer’s point of view, the answer to “Did smoke taint affect my favorite vintage?” is no. You won’t have to worry about smoke taint if you’re drinking good quality wines. Why? Because the grapes that were affected by the smoke were, for the most part, rejected by the big brands because the taint is really difficult to get rid of once it’s in the wines. Now, if you’re buying bulk wines at low costs, you may taste some of the smoke, but for the most part, you’re safe. Do I feel horrible for the farmers and winemakers affected by this? Of course. But I’m doing this video for you, the consumer, and I’m telling you that you don’t have much to worry about.

How do they get ride of smoke taint once it’s in the grape or the wine?

Now I know some of you are still curious about how to get ride of smoke taint even if it’s not in the wines you drink. I love curiosity! So I’ll tell you. It’s very hard to get rid of, but there are some ways to minimize the smoke taint aromas. They are:

  • Use fining agents. A winery can use carbon as a fining agent, which is very effective, especially in large concentrations. However, it’s not picky or selective as to what it binds to and will strip out other aromas and flavors of the wine while it eradicates the smoke.
  • Minimize fermentation time on the skins. Since the smoky chemicals are mostly found on the skin of the grapes, a short fermentation time can reduce the smoke notes in the wine. But again, a lot of great complex colors and flavors also come from the skin, so this method takes away many of the positive characteristics also present in the wine.
  • Add oak chips and tannins. If you can’t take the smoke taint out…mask it! Oak chips can reduce the intensity of smoke characteristics by contrasting it with increased wine complexity and tannins can do the same thing.
  • Use reverse osmosis. So if you can’t take it out and you’re having a hard time masking it, what’s next? How about taking it apart and putting it back together? When all else fails, reverse osmosis will often do the trick. It can be effective at removing smoke taint compounds, but that taint may return in the wine over time.


So there you have it! While there are some ways to remove smoke taint from wine, your best bet is to spend the money on a good quality wine when it’s from California (or anywhere, really!) so you can avoid this problem altogether.

Thank you so much for joining me and I hope you learned something! If you did, hit that like button and share this with your friends who want to learn more about wine. Until next time, drink responsibly and enjoyably. Cheers!


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