Wine with "notes of asphalt"?

As someone who enjoys wine but is no means a connoisseur, I find the descriptions on bottles and placards interesting. Recently, I found a bottle whose label claimed it had “notes of asphalt.” What kind of note IS asphalt? Smoky? Tarry? And why would it be desirable in a wine?

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General Questions Moderator

Try here.

The author does a good job of addressing some of the more “earthy” wine terms and why they happen and which are desirable.

It paves the way to romance.

I was at a bar last week and some friends were comparing some wines. I described my iced tea with lemon as “thin bodied, with tart notes and a citrus finish”. They glared.


It makes it the perfect wine when having one for the road.

“Cat piss” aromas in a Sancerre (French Sauvignon Blanc) is actually a desirable trait.

Yeah, that’s a common smell associated with sauvignon blancs. Grass and cat piss. I haven’t quite been able to grasp it, though. I love sauv blancs, but I never quite got that “cat piss” description. Then again, I don’t own any cats (though I have cat sat before, so I have some experience with their urine.)

I’d think it means it has a bit of a sulfurous odor.

It’s kinda hard to describe accurately, and obviously not everyone is the same perception-wise. It’s not, to me, “cat piss” exactly, as cat urine has a very distinct ammonia smell and the best Sancerres I’ve tried don’t have an ammonia element so much as what pulykamell references…a grassy, new mown hay, herbal quality that when represented strongly enough references that “cat piss” qualifier.

It also strongly depends on where the Sauvignon Blanc is from, too. Warmer growing climates like California yield vastly different “tropical” styles where cooler climes like Sancerre and New Zealand definitely showcase what we’re talking about.

It never ceases to amaze me at the variance in wines of the same grape dependent upon weather, sun exposure, soil mineral content, etc. That’s what terroir is all about. IMO, the very best winemakers allow that element to shine through in the finished product rather than trying to manipulate it’s essence during the vinification process.

Notes of asphalt means it was spilled in the driveway and soaked back up and rung out back into the glass/bottle.

Greek Retsina has always been described by my friend and me as having notes of squeezed telephone poles.

That is, to us, a desirable quality in Retsina.

Like the OP, I just enjoy wine and don’t consider myself a connoisseur by any stretch, but I know that after experiencing a lot of different wines over many years one eventually develops a sense for what to expect from a wine with certain classic descriptors. It’s interesting that the article linked in #3 talks about “minerality” a fair bit, as it just happens that one of my current favorites (sadly, now sold out) is a Malbec-Cabernet blend described as having “intense mineral and berry aromas and touches of mint, wood, plum and raspberry”. Frankly I can’t really detect the wood and raspberry, but it definitely has a unique mineral-water like undercurrent that balances beautifully with the more fruity attributes.

In general these weird descriptors just mean a hint of that sort of aroma but usually in a very pleasant way. Even descriptors with negative connotations like “barnyard” or “skunky” can be positive when they’re very mild and/or transient. A promising red wine that seems a bit “skunky” when first opened is often one that quickly develops mellow complexity as it breathes.

Haven’t read the specific wine yet, but a hint of hot asphalt/tar smell is common in a lot of Italian Nebbiolo-based wines, like Barolo and Barbaresco. I haven’t picked it up in US Nebbiolos, but I haven’t tried many. I’ve mainly smelled it in Barolo. I imagine it’s some odd sulfur containing compound, but I don’t know. I’ll bet Davis does though.

Anyway in Barolo/Barbaresco, it often comes with a lot of rose aromas too. And brambles and violets, and sour cherries, but mainly the tar and rose thing.

Strangely, it works. Like Red Burgundy’s, “It smells like poop, but in a good way, like smelling your own.”

If you want a wine with hints of smoke, Pouilly Fume isn’t a bad place to start. Should have a hint of struck flint to it, with other typical Sauv Blanc flavors. I don’t generally find cat pee in it, more gooseberry going to melon, but I wouldn’t be shocked to find it there.

my comment was assuming by “notes of asphalt” it was referring to the smell of actual asphalt being laid down or blacktop being poured. which- due to asphalt’s sulfur content- has a bit of that rotten egg smell. and I’ve had wines with a similar nose; I’d assumed it was not thoroughly degassed.

You might want to re-read that label and make sure it didn’t say “asphodel”…

Thanks much for the helpful, informative, and in some cases, humorous–“Pave the way for romance,” indeed–replies. Cat piss, poop, squeezed telephone poles…I see now that my issue is an unquestioning and unobservant palate.

I can see, too, that some tastes are difficult to describe. How much of a role does the nose play in some of the more ineffable flavors in wine? Can someone with a very sophisticated sense of smell detect asphalt in the scent of the wine? Or is it more the case that the wine tastes the way asphalt smells?

And for the record, yes, it said, “asphalt” on the label. I read it three times, as the first time, I thought it was a little vintner humor. I’ve often thought it’d be fun to put little phrases like " spent fireworks" or “your nana’s brussels sprouts” in descriptions.

Or Dave Barry’s “essences of plum and toast.”

I assume it was a Burgundy, like an Echezeaux. They are Pinot Noirs. A really subtle one has a coal-tar taste to it. It’s all about French terroir - emphasizing the earthiness of a wine vs the fruit forward. After a glass, you grow accustomed to and taste a lot of stuff going on.