Skip the Pretense, save $10

Skip the Pretense, save $10


Who: KitFox Vineyards
What: 2009 Pretense Paso Robles Zinfandel
Where: Hopland, CA
Why: Not recommended
How much: $10

With my continued obsession to try new and different wines, there is always a risk. Especially when there is no positive recommendation, and I grab a bottle simply on a whim. This happens quite often, although I never spend much money on an unfamiliar terroir. If a bottle of wine is more than $13, a nod of approval is expected from someone before purchasing. Picking up something I've never heard of before, I will sometimes question the liquor store employees and ask if they've tried it or have any information. There are also friends only a phone call away who can give me a quick word of advice, or I have phone apps to investigate. Last week I didn't follow my own advice, and I grabbed an unknown bottle without asking anyone about it. It had an intriguing label and was on sale — two things that always catch my eye. So now, if it's a recommendation you're looking for, here it is: I wasted $10, well actually $20 because I purchased two bottles. Leave this one on the shelf.

This 2009 Pretense caught me off guard with its strong aroma of gasoline. This smell is sometimes acceptable if one is drinking a dry Riesling and it's not strong enough to make you feel as though you just siphoned the gas tank of a car. I wanted to make sure the wine hadn't simply gone bad, so I researched wine aromas and the following is what I found.

Point one: We can only recognize a smell we have experienced before. If someone tells you a particular wine smells like Cuban cigars, you will only know this if your nose has previously smelled Cuban cigars. If you think you have limited nasal abilities, try exposing yourself to new and different scents. This is the best way to open up your world of smell. Point two: Many tasting notes will leave out certain aromas or tastes if they can be interpreted as negative, such as cat pee or baby diaper. Yes, these are real items listed in tasting notes, right alongside cotton candy, pencil lead, new plastic and sweaty socks. (Whoa — doesn't that make you want to pop the cork on a bottle?) Point three: There are unusual wine aromas that are very pleasant, too. Those would be mint, musk, green bean, geranium, eucalyptus and cola. Again we keep in mind that everyone's sense of smell is different, and we may not all agree on what smells good and what doesn't. So, all of this aroma talk is open to personal interpretation.

Well, almost all. There is one term not open to interpretation and that is whether or not a wine has gone bad or is "corked". Corked wine is one that has been contaminated with cork taint, giving the wine a very distinct smell and taste. With cork being a natural substance, it is prone to airborne fungi known as TCA, a compound that immediately ruins any wine the second the wine in the bottle comes in contact with it. TCA can be present while cork is still part of a tree or after it's been turned into wine cork. Either way, it's bad news. If you open a bottle and there is a smell of a dank moldy basement or a wet dog, be suspicious. When you take a drink, a corked wine will have very little flavor and be flat with no fruit taste. Make note: A bottle having a screw cap or a synthetic cork sealer can never be corked, since there is no TCA present.

In looking at this bottle of 2009 Pretense, it had a screw cap, telling me the wine was not corked. I had to face the fact I'd just chosen a generally bad-tasting wine. There is always hope with decanting, but that didn't even help. Disappointment set in as I poured the bottle down the drain. I rarely do this, but had no choice because this wine was undrinkable.

I'm still encouraging everyone to try new wines, but use your resources. Ask friends, liquor store employees or other shoppers in a liquor store. Use the Vivino app to share wine info and when a good wine is discovered, spread the word and give your recommendation. Or, if it's bad, let others know that, too. This never means we won't go ahead and buy it anyway, but at least we were warned. So here's your warning: Save $10 and leave the 2009 Pretense on the shelf.