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My Wife is a Freak....

Turns out that I quoted my lovely wife the other day in an interview with a journalist.  For years, Kris has said that Chambourcin tastes like millipedes.  In general.  Not all Chambourcins, just the ones that are over-cropped (and by that I mean, more than one cluster per shoot.)

Now, I'm not sure what she means by "millipedes" since it would seem to imply that she has tasted one.  But just like I have never licked wet concrete, I still can relate to that character in wine.  I suppose she is doing the same thing.  But millipedes?  Suffice it to say that this was a memorable read for some people.  On top of that, I know what flavor it is in Chambourcin that she is referring to.  Whenever she says a Chambourcin tastes like millipedes, I usually say, yes, it does taste like Chambourcin.  (It's part of the flavor profile of Chambourcin that I struggle to minimize in my winemaking.

Anyway, it turns out, she can smell millipedes in a room.  Always has.  I know, I thought she was crazy, too.  So, we started investigating what millipedes might smell like.  Here's a passage from my favorite cloud-sourced knowledge base (Wikipedia):

"Many species also emit poisonous liquid secretions or hydrogen cyanide gas through microscopic pores called odoriferous glands along the sides of their bodies as a secondary defense.[8][9][10] Some of these substances are caustic and can burn the exoskeleton of ants and other insect predators, and the skin and eyes of larger predators. Animals such as Capuchin monkeys have been observed intentionally irritating millipedes in order to rub the chemicals on themselves to repel mosquitoes."

Hydrogen cyanide might be one of the secretions that she is smelling.  Now, that seems like a toxic chemical, and in no way am I implying that Chambourcin has anything toxic in it.  (Although some French authorities and New York's own vinifera pioneer Konstantin Frank used to claim that hybrids caused cancer--a claim that is pretty ridiculous.)  We decided to delve into what this "hydrogen cyanide" substance from the millipedes might be.  Again, it seems that it only causes minor irritations to humans, and is in no way harmful to humans in any significant way.  But then we stumbled upon this (also from Wikipedia):

"HCN has a faint, bitter, burnt almond-like odor that only some people are able to detect owing to a genetic trait."  Ah ha!  So, my wife isn't crazy, she's just a freak of nature.  (Turns out her brother can also smell these creatures.)  Me, on the other hand, can't smell the damn things at all.

But it makes me wonder, first of all, if this is actually the compound that she is smelling, and if so is it actually in the wines themselves.  And, secondly, is it the part of the wine that people object to (including myself.)  Lastly, why is it in low-yield Chambourcins, rose-styles, and port-styles that this flavor profile is less prevalent?  I don't know, and I think I may have just added to the mystery of it all.  But it does make for an interesting story.

Full-disclosure: I do make Chambourcin as a winemaker, and I make it primarily because it sells.  I think it's true calling lie in either a Port or rose-style wine, or perhaps a southern French tank-styled red.  I think it's an important part of the grapegrowing landscape in this part of the world, just like it is in Beaujolais where it makes up a lot of the vins de table and vin de pays wines in France.

But when it comes to making a name for ourselves on the world's stage, I think I'll stick with my Cabs and Merlots....


  1. Enjoyed this post, Carl. Did you by any chance see this?

    Seems like there are some related ideas in there...

    I saw an update of yours on facebook and suddenly wondered if you were still writing. Checked your page, and voila, I see your blog. Happy to see that you are, in fact, still writing!


    p.s. I recently started a blog too, which you can check out if you want:

  2. Thanks, Michelle, great to hear from you. Yeah, I commit some ramblings to the cloud from time to time. More just to clear m mind of them so I can move on with my life. There are things that just need to be said. I'll check out your blog soon!

  3. I love this post! We used to have a millipede in our high school ag classroom. You're right - only certain people can smell the secretion. (I think those people sat on the opposite side of the classroom... away from the millipede.)

    This is one of those things that emphasizes how reliable our noses and smell-memory are. Aromas take us back to objects and moments, which I think is incredible. The movie "Ratatouille" emphasizes this point at the end of the movie when the food critic is taken back to his childhood with a bite of food.

    Regardless of whether or not that compound is actually found in Chambourcin, it's obvious that something is in there providing a reminiscent odor of "millipedes." This is, essentially, the magic of wine and its aroma - may not be there, but sure does smell like that!

    What a great post! Very thought-provoking.

  4. Thanks, Denise. I'm glad you're seeing my comments for what they are. There is a possibility of something similar to that hydrogen cyanide secretion in the grape ripened to certain levels. Some people I know (customers) really like it....I happen not to like it. Degustubus non disputandem est.....(things of taste are not to be disputed) ..... so long as you agree with me....

  5. This is amazing. I live in Italy, and I was just eating dinner with some friends, and we opened up a a red bubbly wine. The only other distinguishing characteristic I know is that its a "vino tipico" of Colli Piacenti. As folks were commenting on it, I said, "Does anyone notice the millipede aftertaste?" Everyone thought I was crazy - so I began googling and found your post. Thanks!

  6. Thanks for sharing, Mary. I guess my wife isn't the only freak out there! It's wild to think that an Italian wine has the characteristic, but I'm betting there's some hybrid variety involved in your bubbly. Maybe you can rent out your palate to a lab doing research on grape flavors?


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