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Off The Vine

Smokers get grilled by wine tasters

Something is happening in the wine world that could have a major effect on wine consumer relationships. Over the last few months, I have been hearing about a trend, mostly starting in California, wherein consumers on the retail and restaurant level are beginning to question the person trying to sell them wine.

The question asked is not about the wine they are thinking of purchasing, it is the person selling the wine that is getting the grilling. It is a single question that is being asked and it is way personal! Here it is: Do you smoke?

It appears that consumers have caught on to the fact that smoking (anything) far diminishes a person&

s ability to perceive on the palate and in the nose many flavor sensations that non smokers take for granted.

Besides the enormity of documentation that smoking is a very risky business to the human body and that the health-care industry is staggering over the costs associated with smoking, lighting paper and tobacco inches away from the sensitive palate and nose is blasting any sense of taste ability into another time zone.

Just the sulfur burn of the match is enough to send the senses of a fine wine person, well, senseless. Once the smoke travels from the mouth into the nose and back it takes days (not hours!) for these receptors to regain any kind of balance.

Over time, the continued use of tobacco pounds the tasting units into oblivion. The other problem is the residual off flavors from burning and what it does to the clothes of the person smoking.

There is no way a waiter or wine retailer can evaluate wine with the residue of smoking left on their hands, hair or clothing. Because for the most part, smoke rises, quite a bit of what is burned away remains in the hair of the smoker, and in the nose hairs as well, which line the main bouquet detectors.

All in all, this is bad stuff.

So it appears that a few (but gaining) number of consumers are asking this simple question of the person in charge of buying and selling wine in shops and dinner houses, particularly at the table. As wine prices continue to rise, people are beginning to get more savvy. Folks are demanding more from wine professionals and they are asking better educated and informed questions.

The truth of the matter is that over the many years that I have been professionally judging wine, I have never found a wine judge who smokes or associates (in the wine world) with people who do. The obvious reason for this is that there is simply no way that a smoker is on his or her game when it comes to evaluating wine on any level.

It may also be true that big and costly mistakes can be made because of a poor palate judgment in evaluation of wine. How does one go about asking this sensitive question?

Be honest. If you smell burned tobacco on your waiter or wine guy you can give yourself a couple of options. Choose the wine yourself or ask the person if they are a smoker. Or simply, if you smell tobacco or not, ask the question.

Be polite. Move on to whatever you are going to do without confrontation. It is this person&

s legal right to smoke if they wish and they may feel that by simply asking the question you are confronting them. Remember, it is your right to spend your hard earned cash as you wish as well, and if you feel that getting wine (food) advice from a tainted palate is wrong, stand up for yourself and your wallet. People tend to listen well when there is a missed sale.

This may seem all too extreme for some of us but I wonder, in the long run, if it is. If speaking up on this issue changes the face of the wine/food industry on the grass root level and in turn allows smokers to see that smoking is doing really no good to anyone and great harm to themselves and society, maybe this seemingly simple question is worth it.