s
s
Sections
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?
iPhone

The ambience of candles can create an attractive setting, which was what we first saw upon entering our hotel in Washington, D.C., at 5:30 p.m. when the lobby wine service began.

But after pouring two glasses of chardonnay, we both noted that the wine smelled like artificial peaches. The wine was terrible, partially because the candles were peach-scented.

Such situations occur often enough to aggravate dedicated wine lovers.

Some are merely accidents of location. One of the worst, and unfortunately the most common, is when ambient scents play havoc with even the best noses.

It can come as someone’s aftershave or perfume in a café, the smell of new carpeting or fresh paint, burnt food smells coming out of the kitchen, or many other odoriferous intrusions.

Decades ago, I wrote an article about the horrors of many of Paris’ wine bars, where diesel fumes from the roadway, among other smells, interfered with the dubious enjoyment of the excessively overpriced wines.

Four decades of writing about wine has kept me alert to problems that could destroy an otherwise great experience.

One that comes to mind occurred about 1980, when a friend brought a bottle of 1966 Chateau Haut-Brion Blanc to a great La Jolla restaurant that had switched its table illumination from wax candles to small oil lamps.

Unfortunately, the oil being used had such a strong petroleum aroma that the smell in the room was like that of a refinery. The Haut-Brion smelled terrible.

Fortunately the owner of the restaurant was a wine lover, and when we pointed out the problem, he showed us into a small private room in which there were no oil lamps. The wine improved dramatically.

Tableside entrée preparations can also be the cause of problems for wine lovers. Steak Diane with shallots and flaming brandy can create a great aisle show in any café, but the aroma of such a dish plays havoc with any wine except things like sherry and Port. A delicate Sancerre within nose-shot of such a dish hasn’t got a prayer of being enjoyed fully.

A week ago, we found that a bottle of pinot noir we were having at a Guerneville café smelled simply awful. It was metallic and musty.

I knew the wine well and suspected it wasn’t the problem. By coincidence, we had some crystal wine glasses in our car. I retrieved two of them and poured more of the wine into them.

The wine was fine. We told the waitress that either the glasses being used in the restaurant had been washed or dried improperly, or had been stored in a musty cabinet. In any case, I said, I couldn’t imagine drinking any wine in such a vessel.

Extraneous scents at wine competitions can prompt some organizers to make certain the venue is free of any smells that can alter the way a wine is perceived. A Washington state competition organizer routinely has unscented soaps for the judges and servers.

Still, not all situations can be anticipated. At a Michigan wine competition some years ago, a local newspaper dispatched a photographer to get shots of the judges. As she entered the room her perfume created anguish on the face of the coordinator, who ordered her to leave immediately.

At another wine competition, proceedings were delayed an hour when the plastic tablecloths covering the tables gave the room the smell of a rubber manufacturing plant. The room had to be aired out before the judging could continue.

Wine of the Week: 2014 Clayhouse Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles Red Cedar Vineyard ($14): There is decent varietal definition, plump blackberry fruit, and a juicy aftertaste in this attractive and nicely balanced dark red wine.

Sonoma County resident Dan Berger publishes “Vintage Experiences,” a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at winenut@gmail.com. He also co-hosts California Wine Country with Steve Jaxon, Wednesdays 5-6 p.m. on KSRO Radio, 1350 AM.

Show Comment