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To Drink, or Not to Drink?

Wine isn’t always perfect. I know, I can’t believe I just said that. But it’s true! Unfortunately, the process of winemaking is so intricate & involved that it leaves a lot of room for mistakes. However, there are also a lot of things that just can’t be helped sometimes. Because of this, wine faults present themselves in a variety of ways. The big question is, how can you determine if something is a fault or a flaw? Yes, sometimes your wine can be saved. Let me break it down: I’m going to present 6 common faults & 2 that you may think fall into that category, but actually don’t need any interference at all. Let’s get into it!

Fault #1: Oxidized Wine

When wines are exposed to too much oxygen during aging, it’s called oxidation. Sometimes, it’s actually a strategy used by winemakers to develop their wine. However, if not watched closely enough, it can easily turn into faulted wine. It can occur during fermentation, or happen through a defected cork after being bottled. This often causes red wines to turn an orange or rusty color, & white wines to look different hues of brown. The flavors & aromas also tend to be stripped of their intended characteristics. Instead, it causes notes of bruised fruit, vinegar, or different nut varieties. It’s true, some wines have similarly deliberate notes or colors, but when they have a combination of the two, you can pretty safely assume it’s faulted. Unfortunately, once a wine is oxidized you cannot save it. However, it’s not harmful to drink, just unpleasant. Making sure your wine is stored in a cool, dark place & not standing upright for too long can prevent faulty corks from quickly drying up to let oxygen seep in. If you buy a fresh bottle of wine & notice it to be faulted as soon as you get home, take it back!

Fault #2: Corked Wine

This is caused by 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA), which is a natural compound that forms when airborne fungi and chlorophenols (organic compounds with at least one chlorine atom) interact. Scientifically speaking, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but I’m a Marketer, not a Chemist! Basically, it means that if the wood in the cork or even the wood in the aging barrel come in contact with preservatives or pesticide residue & bacteria happens to get in there, you’re corked! To ease your anxieties, let me just make it clear that it’s VERY uncommon for this to happen & it’s pretty easy to spot, too. If you smell wet dog, moist cardboard, or mold, you’re corked out of luck. Okay, I’ll stop. Anyways, the overpowering scents I mentioned often extinguish the aromas intended for the wine. It isn’t harmful, but it makes your wine very undesirable, probably better to just throw it out.

Fault #3: Reduction

Think opposite of oxidation. When wine doesn’t get enough oxygen during the aging process, reduction happens. Similar to oxidation, this is another technique that can be used by winemakers to create smoky notes, but if it goes too far, it can result in aromas of burnt rubber, skunk, or rotten eggs. Sulfur is often added into wines to stabilize it, so this is not an uncommon occurrence compared to the other faults. Luckily, this one can be dealt with (most of the time). Remember when we talked about decanting last week? Problem solved. Chances are, the wine just needs to be exposed to a little air in order to bring it back to a palatable consistency, so decant it! In very rare cases, the wine will be too far gone for even that to work. Don’t worry though, if that time ever comes, you’ll know it when you smell it!

Fault #4: Cooked Wine

Yep, it’s exactly how it sounds. This occurs after the wine has been bottled & is exposed to excessive heat, usually during storage or transport. The heat damage causes aromas similar to jam, roasted sugar, or nutty flavors. Only, add a bit of a vinegar smell as well, since oxidation is not uncommon to also occur in this instance. Sometimes, you can tell if a wine’s been cooked before you even open it because of this very process. If the cork has expanded at all or is protruding over the top, you can assume it’s cooked. Unfortunately, this fault can’t be saved, but it can be easily prevented. You don’t always have control over the transportation process, but when you do, take control of it! For example, we have hundreds of Club Members living in Arizona. Every summer, we get the same calls to hold shipments. Why pay for something you know will be damaged when it arrives? Similarly, be aware of year-round temperatures in your home. Wherever you store your wine, make sure its in a controlled environment—Consistent temperatures are important.

Fault #5: Brettanomyces

Bretta-whata-myces? Don’t worry, it’s just a name for wild yeast. You can call it “Brett” for short. This one is tricky. Some people are much more sensitive to this smell than others. Most of the time, it’s actually intentional. That’s right, another strategy used by winemakers to add complexity to their wine. This one tends to give notes of barnyard, hay bales, or band aid. Despite how unappealing I just made that sound, the truth is, some people like it. Because Brett is naturally present in almost every wine (starting with the grapes themselves), its nearly impossible to prevent it. However, Sulphur dioxide is often used to limit its expansion in the wine. Although lighter wines should almost never have this fault, bolder, red wines often do. It’s said to enhance other rich notes, being why it’s also the most occurring one on the list. Too much though often overpowers a wine & cannot be saved once it happens. If this happens to you, give it to a friend that is more resistant to the odor. Genetics play a big role in detecting this one, so it’s possible.

Fault #6: Volatile Acidity (VA)

Another tricky one, VA is present in most wines. It occurs when yeast or bacteria enters the wine during aging & creates acetic acid (the main component in vinegar, besides water). So, what do you think it smells like? You got it, vinegar (sometimes even going as far as acetone/ nail polish remover). Again, this fault is often an intentional choice made by the winemakers, sometimes not. At low levels, VA adds character to a wine, giving similar notes to that of balsamic vinegar (red fruit like cherry or strawberry). At higher levels, it completely diminishes the other notes present in the wine & overpowers with its acidic flavor. In this instance, the call is totally up to you—Another fault based on preference. Many experts say that there is nothing to do to save your wine after this, but some say you can chill it to make it more palatable. If even then you can’t stand it, save it. Make some vinegar!

Honorable Mentions

Sediment & Wine Diamonds:

You know how sometimes your bottle has little visitors of residue in the bottom of it? Well, it’s actually okay. Sediment often is intentionally kept in wine to preserve flavor & “wine diamonds” (crystal-like residue formed when when potassium and tartaric acid bind together) are just naturally occurring. No biggy. If either of these happen, just decant the wine before serving & you’re good to go!

Who knew wine was so touchy? It’s a complicated process, guys. The truth is, some of these faults are bad for everyone, & some of them aren’t. As you become more acquainted with wine, you may end up enjoying certain notes that you didn’t before. It’s important to keep your mind open, but also know when to take back your bottle. Hopefully, now you have a better idea. Above all, I hope you have more of an appreciation for winemakers, everywhere. I know I do!

Bailey Morris, Marketing/ Gift Shop