How to Tell When Wine Goes Wrong.
It really is remarkable, most of the time when you open a bottle of wine it’s good to go when the cork is popped or the cap removed. The aromas are intact, the flavors are fresh and the wine is happy and ready to pour. However, on occasion when you open a bottle, the wine is just “off.” Maybe you can’t pinpoint the problem other than it smells fairly funky and it becomes quite apparent that this particular bottle is not something you are interested in ingesting.
So what went wrong?
Wine Aromas Are Built on the Grape and More
The wine’s innate flavors and unique aromas are what bring the better part of the wine’s overall enjoyment to the glass. However, there are a number of mistakes or issues that arise during the winemaking process or during storage that may render a wine unpleasant at best and undrinkable at worst.
A wine’s aromatic profile is built upon the grape itself, with significant input from the winemaker during the fermentation process, how the wine is aged (with or without oak and under what conditions), and whether the wine was oxidized (intentionally or not). All of these factors influence how the wine’s final aromatics play out in the glass. If an issue arises at any point and is not quickly corrected the result can be a fault in the wine. Most wine faults are detected by the initial aromas of the wine. As a wine lover, it becomes mission critical to be able to detect and recognize when a wine presents poorly and understand the underlying why.
- When a wine smells like a musty old basement, a wet, dirty dog or wet cardboard boxes? Then it’s likely a corked wine. Perhaps the most prevalent fault that affects roughly 5% of the wine on the market is cork taint, also referred to as a “corked wine” or simply as “corked.” These are wines that deliver smells reminiscent of old, moldy musty basements, wet cardboard or wet dog. Cork taint is the result of contamination with a mold, which readily grows on the bark of the cork tree itself or within the winery or cellar systems. This mold reacts with other compounds to create a chemical compound known as 2, 4, 6-trichloroanisole or TCA for short. TCA can leach from the cork into the wine and create some unsavory aromatics. The damage may range from muted flavors to downright musty smells.
- Wine stinks like rotten eggs, garlic, onions or burnt matches? Then there’s probably some sort of sulfur issue in the bottle. Sulfur is another wine compound that can wreak havoc on wine. While commonly utilized as an additive to preserve the wine, there are times that too much sulfur in the form of SO2 will produce odors similar to burnt matches. However when sulfur and ethanol form an unsavory alliance in the bottle, the off odors lean into the “garlic and onions” aromatics. Rotten eggs? The smell likely stems from a bottle carrying higher concentrations of sulfur that has been stored too long without access to any oxygen.
- Do the wine’s aromas forsake fruit and dive full force into the astringent smells of finger nail polish remover or super glue? Then ethyl acetate, an ester formed via acetic acid and ethanol, has most likely made a match.
- Does the wine smell like Band-Aids, bacon, or medicinal? What about sweaty saddles, stuffy barns or rancid cheese? Ouch, you’ve probably just met Brett, short forBrettanomyces, a delinquent member of the yeast family that has an affinity for attacking wines and wineries.
- Have a nutty, caramelized character on the nose of a wine, but it’s completely void of fruit and also carrying a brownish color in the glass? Hello oxidation! Sometimes oxidation is intentional, like in the case of Sherry, more often it’s not. When a wine has been oxidized unintentionally, it is typically the browner color themes that give it away, followed by a quick sniff of toasted nuts and caramelized aromatics that verify the unfortunate. Oxidation can happen for a number of reasons, but most often it’s a faulty seal that has permitted an abnormal amount of oxygen to penetrate the bottle.
- Green leaves, bitter notes or stemmy smells in the wine glass? Sorry to say, this wine was probably made with grapes that were not fully ripened. When wine is made with immature grapes, the flavors are somewhat analogous to eating a green, unripened banana. The banana skin still peels off (though with a bit more effort), the banana fruit itself still looks like a tasty banana, but the flavors and smells are very “green” – lacking the fragrant aromas, plush flavors, smooth almost squishy textures and tasting more tart and bitter than a fully-ripened yellow banana would show.
By Stacy Slinkard, Wine Expert, Wine-About