I was taken aback when the guy at the wine store suggested a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc with the compliment "You won't get any cat pee from the bouquet on this one."
So, trying to be nice (but actually being naive) I said, "Oh, so they can develop a sort of amonnia smell?"
He looked up and to the left and replied, "No, more of a litter box type of smell."
Then as I began to surf through more information on the web, and check out books (and taste a rather low-end Sauvignon Blanc) I realized that he was not joking. I have seen several references to cat pee in the nose of a Sauvignon Blanc, and not always as a huge flaw. It is usually noted that this is due to the fruit not getting enough sun, because the leaf canopy of the vine is not trimmed away from the bunch. So while it is not necessarily a desirable smell, it is not a show stopper in all cases either (based on some reviews I have been reading).
What? How can a flutter of animal urine be an acceptable description of a glass of liquid that you are supposed to enjoy?
I think this was my first realization that in order to really dive into the culture around wine I have to be ready to be a little bit geeky. Not that I'm not a geek about other areas of interest, or in my wardrobe choices, or in my admiration for a good alien movie. But as in any burgeoning passion, people go a little bit out there in their pursuit of understanding wine. And that really seems to be part of the fun. A taste of wine has so many influences on it from vine to glass that make every single one unique. And it is those differences that make it fun, that make it a life long hobby, that make one glass unforgettable and the other completely disappointing. So even if it seems slightly ridiculous to experience with joy 'a touch of red brick dust in the upper registers' I embrace that ridiculousness. I can't wait to identify my first cat pee, and I'll let you know when I do.