The Subtle Bouquet of Cat’s Pee and Other Wine Aromas

Travel Blog  •  David Farley  •  05.12.09 | 2:29 PM ET

Photo by hlkljgk via Flickr (Creative Commons)

In the 1980s, the University of California, Davis gave a gift to wine snobs everywhere by creating the “Aroma Wheel, ” a lexicon that allowed your average wino to stick his nose deep into your long-stemmed Riedel and then emerge using words like grapefruit, blackberry, banana, black pepper and oaky.

Some of the Wheel’s vocabulary bordered on the undrinkable-sounding: sweaty, barnyard and wet dog, for example. Which allowed for descriptions like this: This deep red blend offers an intense bouquet of wet dog balanced by hints of banana and sweaty barnyard with a body robust enough to be, as the Italians would say, perfectly corposo.

But now a team of scientists have spent $9 million analyzing wine from New Zealand. And in doing so they’ve made a discovery: a new wine aroma. In the sauvignon blanc, they detected a slight aroma of—wait for it—cat piss. Yes, that’s right, cat piss. And the Australian press, always ready to take a jab at their rival neighbors, the Kiwis, seem to be reporting the find with a hard-to-contain glee.

So the next time you’re undecided about what wine to buy, and the person at the shop asks if you’re looking for anything in particular? You can be on the cutting edge of wine-drinking pretension by asking if they have anything with a subtle bouquet of sweaty cat piss.

David Farley

David Farley is the author of An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church's Strangest Relic in Italy's Oddest Town and co-editor of Travelers' Tales Prague and the Czech Republic: True Stories. Hes a contributing writer at AFAR magazine and his writing appears in the New York Times, The Washington Post, National Geographic Traveler, and, among other publications. He teaches writing at New York University.

3 Comments for The Subtle Bouquet of Cat’s Pee and Other Wine Aromas

Diane Letulle 05.13.09 | 7:59 AM ET

Or, as they say in French, pipi du chat.  Wine folks have talked about that ammonia smell in New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs for quite some time, along with grassy, citrus and grapefruit smells. Doesn’t stop them from being quite tasty and extremely popular. Cheers!

Terry Ward 05.13.09 | 12:08 PM ET

Im with Diane! New Zealand sauvignon blancs are really nice. And I can definitely confirm theres a cat pee bouquet to them, too. I remember seeing a bottle of sauv blanc at a New Zealand bottleshop that even had an illustration of a cat doing its business on the label!

Darrin DuFord 05.18.09 | 1:33 PM ET

Maybe the Kiwis are trying to compete with the manure boquet of some rustic reds from Italy and the Rhone region of France.

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