It was several years ago now that I first noticed this not always repulsive, but a characteristic in some wines that really got my attention. Back then the world of wine was in its relative infancy to where it is today. American consumers were not as adventurous as they are today in trying new wines. Even I was at the beginning my career in the industry and stumbling on details of the industry as I went along.
The first time I noticed it I had to do a double take. I was like smelling a rubber hose or old tires in the nose of the wine in hand. I also remember it being a Pinotage, which in itself has unique characteristics, so I wrote the aroma off as being a characteristic of this particular wine. But then as I continued sampling through the new portfolio I was representing I ran across another wine, this time a red from
Argentina. “Okay… so it’s not a ‘Pinotage’ thing. What
is it?” I thought to myself, could it
be from something in the production of the wine? The use of rubber hoses?
While it’s not a terribly off putting smell (well it kind of is), it’s something that when tasting with a buyer, or sharing a bottle with friends, it’s one of those things you have to put your best fake smile on for.
So enter marcaptans, an organosulfure compound that blah, blah, blah. In short… the cause, sulphur. I ran across this aroma in a wine last week, and it brought me right back to the Pinotage I had over 10 years ago. So the culprit?
Even as farmers today are trying to be as eco-conscious as possible, there are still processes that can cause this little problem. One cause is the spraying of sulfur on the vineyard too close to harvest, or simply over spraying. Spraying reduces the chances of mildew or fungus. Another cause can be a treatment used on oak barrels used to age wines. Whew… those are a lot easier to understand. The others, gets a little more complicated.
While some winemakers use a grapes natural yeasts to ferment wines, others inoculate their wines with strains of yeasts that testing has shown cause higher levels of hydrogen sulfide. Rather than going into more technical information that I normally will paraphrase as “blah, blah, blah” let’s just say yeast doesn’t like to be stressed out any more than the rest of us. Insufficient nitrogen levels, too high of temperature during fermentation, too low, too fast all cause our little yeast friends to get frazzled. And when that happens… burnt rubber.
Like I said, it’s not really an overwhelming aroma, but it’s still not something I think of when I go to pair a wine with a prepared dinner. What goes with burnt rubber?