ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

What the heck is Tim Fish talking about when he says Merlot tastes (or smells) like tomato leaf? What does a tomato leaf taste (or smell) like?

—Robert L., San Diego

Dear Robert,

I feel so sorry for you that you don’t know what a tomato leaf smells like, since it’s absolutely one of the best smells ever. I grow tomatoes, so when I’m picking them, watering them or staking them, I love getting the intoxicating smell on my hands. It smells like a fresh tomato, mixed with a pungent, fresh, green scent and an earthy undertone. The next time you see a tomato plant, I command you to get your hands in there and learn this scent. I think it’s mostly a positive note in wine, unless it’s overpowering.

For many years it was thought that tomato leaves were toxic, so I doubt anyone is recommending you taste a tomato leaf. I’ve read recently that the levels of the toxic alkaloid found in the leaves are at such low levels that it’s becoming more common to see them as a component of some dishes, including adding leaves to a tomato sauce.

Other leaves are used as descriptors among wine lovers—tobacco leaf, tea leaf and bay leaf are pretty common, and I’m also seeing more shiso leaf descriptors these days. Shiso leaves are those green things you sometimes find on sushi plates that I love to munch on—they’re a touch bitter, with a slight minty taste. I sometimes see celery leaf as a descriptor, especially for Sauvignon Blancs. And sometimes a wine is just “leafy” or smells like “wet leaves,” which is similar to “herbal” and often a positive descriptor.

—Dr. Vinny


Do you have a question for Dr. Vinny? Ask it here...

Wine Basics

We break down the basics—how to taste, serve, store and more. Plus:
» Maps of major wine regions
» Grape variety characteristics

How-to Videos

Learn to taste wine like a pro, pull a cork with flair, get great wine service in a restaurant and more

Wine Spectator School: All courses are FREE for WineSpectator.com Members

Learn from the experts and get the most out of each sip. Take one of our online courses or take them all—from the ABCs of Tasting to in-depth seminars on Food Pairing, California Cabernet, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Sensory Evaluation and more.

Browse our course catalog
Check out the professional wine sales and service courses
Learn Wine Forum: Got questions? Get answers

MEMBER LOGIN

= members only

Keep me logged in      Forgot Password?

Free Email Newsletters

Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions

» View samples
» Or sign up now!
» Manage my newsletter preferences

Classifieds

The marketplace for all your wine needs, including:

Wine Storage | Wine Clubs
Dining & Travel | Wine Auctions
Wine Shops | Wine Accessories