Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wine Faults: What's Wrong with Your Wine?

Along with a couple of our friends, we attended a course put on by the local community college's adult education division. It's a small class by design, because it's held in the back of a local wine shop and taught by their wine buyer. Our instructor walked us through the characteristics of wine faults and how to know if the wine you buy has gone bad.

Now, since the internet doesn't have a scratch and sniff feature, we'll try to describe what we smelled for you.

Corked wine - "Corked" wine does not mean that it has a cork in the bottle. Screw-top wines can be corked as well. A corked bottle has a fungus that has either infected the cork, barrel, or winery equipment. It smells like wet, musty cardboard. Think grandma's basement. The flavor of the wine will be flat and lack the fruitiness that we all love so much about wine. No harm will come to you if you drink a corked wine, however, it won't taste how it is supposed to. We learned that about 5% of the wine in the world is corked. 

Cooked wine - "Cooked" wine occurs when the wine hasn't been properly stored or shipped and has been subject to high temperatures. Basically, the heat stews the flavors in the wine and they taste very muddled and not fruity. Apparently a lot of wineries will not ship wine in the summer months to make sure that this doesn't happen. This one you can sometimes tell by looking at it. Check out the cork before you buy it. If it feels raised, then move on to another bottle. Even that doesn't always work, however. If you get your wine home, pop the cork and notice that some of the wine has traveled up the side of the cork, chances are, it's cooked. 

Oxidation - Oxidation occurs when a bottle has been exposed to too much oxygen. Oxidized wine will have the scent of burnt caramel or cookies. Not bad smells at all, but not how your bright, fruity wine should smell. Take this one back to the store.

Volatile Acidity - All wines are acidic - it's the nature of grapes. "Volatile" acidity smells like nail polish remover or vinegar. You'll know somethings wrong the minute you take a whiff. This happens because of the presence of acetic bacteria and oxygen during the winemaking process before the bottle is even in the picture. 

Excessive Sulfur Dioxide - Sulfur is a natural preservative used in wine. Excessive sulfur, however, is a bad thing. It makes the wine smell like burnt matches or burnt rubber. Not exactly the most appetizing scents. Apparently there is one exception to this rule, however. Syrah's from the Northern Rhone region have a rubbery element that is characteristic of the grape. So, keep that in mind if you're drinking French Syrah.

Corked, cooked, oxidation, volatile acidity and excessive sulfur dioxide are all the "really bad" wine faults. If you discover any of these in your wine and you bought it from a winery or wine shop, you should be able to take it back to the store you bought it from and get a refund or exchange. 

We have more to share, but we think this is probably enough information for one blog. We'll check back in another time with the less egregious wine faults.

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1 comment:

  1. Very informative. I look forward to the next installment.

    I now know, we've had two bottles of "corked" wine in the past year. Knew something wasn't right, and opened a second bottle of the same wine and in both cases that bottle was fine.