A lot of time and effort is spent discussing and pontificating about how good wines are from a flavour point of view, but I’m always surprised by how little people know about the faults that can occur in wine.
Here is my round up of the most common wine faults:
Ever left your wine open for a few days too many? Chances are when you next taste it, it no longer tastes like wine – in fact if you’ve left it there long enough and then it will be well on the way to turning to vinegar. That’s essentially what oxidised wine is: a wine that has deteriorated due to excessive exposure to oxygen.
If your wine smells or tastes really mouldy or musty like wet cardboard then it’s likely that it’s suffering from cork taint. This is ridiculously common in wine with around 10% of bottles sealed with a natural cork affected.
It’s caused by a bacteria (TCA) which often contaminates the cork and thus contaminates the wine. Unfortunately there is very little way to predict whether your wine will suffer from cork taint if it’s sealed under natural cork, hence why many wine producers are moving onto other closure methods such as the screw cap or vinolok.
Ever thought your wine smells a bit funky? Like boiled cabbage, rotten eggs, raw sewage? This usually occurs when the wines are bottled under screw cap, and that god-awful smell is a result of a high level of sulphur used to preserve the wine. The good news is you can easily get rid of it if you let the wine have some air – either by decanting it or swirling your glass around a bit until the smell dissipates.
Have you ever experienced what look like little shards of glass in your white wine? These are tartrate crystals. They occur when the wine gets below a certain temperature (a cold fridge is enough to do it)and the acid and potassium in the wine combine to form crystals. Most wines are stabilised to prevent this happening, but sometimes the process fails. If you find them in your wine though don’t fret, you can definitely still drink your wine. A famous Master of Wine once was quoted saying: “Tartrate crystals are as natural to wine as seeds are to a watermelon”.
There also are some controversial wine faults:
Yes it sounds scarily scientific but all VA means is that your wine will smell very ‘lifted’. Think white spirits or nail varnish remover and you’ll get the picture. Some people hate this, but in small doses there are some winemakers who think it adds an extra dimension to the wine. There are some very famous examples of wines that have high volatile acidity such as Chateau Musar from Lebanon.
Known as “Brett” for short. This is the name of naturally occurring yeast that gives wines a rather animalistic edge. A little bit of this ‘farmyard’ aroma is desirable to some winemakers, it was especially favoured in the southern Rhone for a long time as an added characteristic. Nowadays some still share this view, but there are others (Australian winemakers I’m looking at you) that consider it a disgusting fault which they associate with dirty winemaking techniques.