Some time ago I was at a dinner with an oenophile who ordered an expensive bottle of red wine. After a few sips, he noted that it was very "oaky." I thought it was excellent, but I didn't smell any significant wood flavors. After some puzzling and nosing each others' glasses it became clear that his glass had an oak smell to it.

It wasn't long before the sommelier confirmed this and began tripping over herself to apologize and make up for what was obviously a contaminated glass. Thinking back on it I'm wondering: is it plausible that the restaurant was intentionally "salting" wine glasses with some sort of wood flavoring? Is this a known practice in the industry?

(Unless it was being stored in a working woodshop I'm having a hard time imagining how a fine wine glass in a restaurant would naturally acquire a notable oak flavor in the course of cleaning and storing.)

  • 1
    Was the oenophile trained at all? Could there have been confusion about "oak" (I'm thinking cleaning product residue or even cigarette smoke residue)?
    – David
    Mar 7 '17 at 13:23
  • @David - He's experienced, and I'm a super-taster with a notoriously keen nose. I don't know if the claim was explicitly "oak." I wouldn't claim to know the wood specie, but it was definitely an "aging barrel wood" nose. Keep in mind I had a glass with the same wine in it, so we were able to pick out the difference imparted by the glass. If both glasses had been similarly tainted, I would have just assumed it was part of the wine's profile. He might have known enough to alert on the fact that the particular wine he chose should not have a strong wood component.
    – Lysander
    Mar 7 '17 at 13:57
  • 2
    Then my bet would be that it was a previously used glass that wasn't washed properly and had some kind of residue (possibly whisky). I propose an experiment (and I'll try it myself in the coming days): put a half-measure of whisky in a wine glass, swirl, empty (drink). Leave to dry overnight, pour in a reasonably big & powerful red... smell. In any case I would be shocked if this was intentional. To pick a small nit, "supertasters" aren't necessarily "better" tasters -- that's almost entirely down to olfaction and training. We just are capable of detecting a couple chemicals others can't.
    – David
    Mar 7 '17 at 14:14
  • @David: You're right of course about the supertasting. I don't know how to qualify my olfactory acuity (except perhaps as "notoriously keen" ;) I like the experiment idea, and I suspect it will produce the effect we observed (especially with a quarter-cask Laphroaig I have on hand). But keep in mind this was a red wine glass at a fine restaurant: Is it conceivable they would be serving whiskey neat in such a glass?
    – Lysander
    Mar 7 '17 at 16:27
  • If it was strongly oaky, a better bet might be a Bourbon (virgin cask aging). There are many ways it could end up in a "wrong" glass: by customer request, or it could be used as a temporary vessel, or a staff member's surreptitious quaff with whatever was on hand. Who knows.
    – David
    Mar 7 '17 at 16:37

Smoked drinks are all the rage right now. I bet something like this happened. Scroll down a bit. Smoked whisky drink

enter image description here

  • Wow: That would certainly do it! Although this was several years ago, and it was a red wine glass.
    – Lysander
    Mar 7 '17 at 16:23
  • Who knows what drink they could've been making. I first saw this about 5 years ago but it just keeps getting more popular. Mar 7 '17 at 16:47

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