Which wines are most likely to have tobacco aromas?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Which wines are most likely to have tobacco aromas?

—Timothy, Milwaukee, Wisc.

Dear Timothy,

Great question. I love the smell of a cigar, both when I’m about to light one, and when I get that note in a glass of wine. I looked in our database, and it seems almost exclusive to red wines, with a few rosés as an exception, which makes sense since they are made from red wine grapes.

Tobacco notes are thought to both be a characteristic of certain grapes and the wines made from them, but can also be from the influence of oak barrels, which can add that spicy, tobacco complexity. I think it’s a positive attribute, except in cases where it can dominate a wine’s personality.

I find a lot of “tobacco” descriptors for red Bordeauxs, as well as Italian reds like Nebbiolos, Barolos and Brunellos, but it’s not unusual to see it used to describe Syrah and Pinot Noir–based wines, or Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignons from other parts of the world. Tobacco leaf aromas can also appear in wines that have been aging for a decade or more. But if you're looking for specific wines with tobacco notes, do what I did and try using the "advanced search options" in Wine Spectator's online database of more than 370,000 wine reviews.

—Dr. Vinny

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