Is it possible that a wine could be tainted by smoke from wildfires near the vineyard?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

We had a Petite Sirah blind tasting at our wine club this weekend, and the biggest controversy of the night surrounded a 2008 wine from Mendocino. This wine had heavy scents of smoke, and I rated it undrinkable. Is this a common problem for the ’08 crop?

—Joe D., Vason Island, Wash.

Dear Joe,

Wildfires were a problem all over California in 2008; in parts of Mendocino, the smoke was dense for weeks, and some fires lasted about a month before they were fully contained.

I’m not sure how common it is for the ’08s, but smoke can absolutely taint grapes. I’ve had a few ’08s from that area with similar smoky notes. In some cases it was pleasant and intriguing—after all, I’m a big fan of both bacon and campfires—but it some cases it was unpleasant.

—Dr. Vinny

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