How To Detect Wine Faults And What Can We Do ?

They are the worst enemies of our guilty pleasure! They are called oxidation, reduction, corked , wine, Brettanomyces and others. How do we identify those faults when our glass of wine smells funny or has a strange color? And what can be done ?  Follow the guide 

Frédéric Arnould (lefred@toutsurlevin.ca)

bouchonMy wine is corked!

You are in a restaurant, you order a bottle of your favorite wine and dip your nose into your glass to fully smell the aromas. Oh oh ! Looks like it smells wet cardboard, wet basement or even wet dog. Alas, your wine is corked. This can happen in 2 percent of wine bottles sealed with cork. Where does the cork taint come from ? From a molecule called trichloroanisole (TCA for short). Often it comes from cork stoppers Once the cork is contaminated, there is no much left to do. If you still taste the wine, the wine will not have the freshness of the fruit and have an unpleasant taste in the mouth. The restaurant will replace the bottle easily. If you bought it at a store, return it to get your refund. Especially do not keep wine to make a sauce or to cook something with it, you will spoil your dish. A solution to the problem? A chemistry professor at the Californian University UC Davis has found a trick: he pours wine in a bowl covered with some « Saran Wrap »! The TCA will be attracted to the polyethylene and will « leave » the wine. I have not tried, but frankly, return the bottle, it is less complicated!

oxidizedMy wine is oxidized!

If the cork taint is the second most common cases of spoiled wine, oxidation is the most common problem. The source as the name suggests, is the oxygen which came into contact with the wine and somehow « removed » the wine breath. Visually, red wine fades and turns to the color « brick » or brown. On the palate the wine is bitter and very dry. For white wine, the color will be darker and the taste will be « lifeless » with aromas of baked apples or sherry. No solution here. The wine was oxidized because the bottle has been badly « sealed » at the winery or suffered poor conditions of cellaring, leaving the cork to degrade and let the oxygen “kill” the wine. Oxidized wine is sometimes the way it should be as is with Sherry (Xeres).

soufreMy wine smells like rotten eggs!

We call that the « reduction » phenomenon. Ironically, it is caused by sulfur that the winemaker uses (sometimes too much) during vinification to protect the wine against certain defects.  Solution ?  You can decant the wine to aerate it, but if the taste is too strong, don’t waste your time. Ultimate trick : put a copper coin in the glass and swirl the wine. Copper reacts with the mercaptan (the compound that gives the wine the offensive odor) and could dispel the aroma of rotten eggs. Try this at home !

My wine is bubbly !

If this is not a sparkling wine or a slightly « frizzante » as vinho verde, your wine has undergone a second fermentation in the bottle. This happens when the residual sugars in the wine « feed » some bacteria that have entered the bottle due to a careless winemaker. It is rare, but if that’s the case, return the bottle …

brettMy wine smells like cow dung !

Aromas of stables or fresh cow dung cooking in the burning sun are not necessarily flavors that we like to experience in a wine. Make no mistake, sometimes a good earthy whiff can be found in great wines of Burgundy or Bordeaux. In a pleasant and measured way  it is a sign of savory complexity. By cons, when it’s too much, it is the fault of Brettanomyces, a kind of unwanted yeast which gives the wine that stable taste, leather and sweat. At the risk of starting a controversy with some fanatics, the « natural » wines « feature » those sometimes excessively.

chaleurMy wine suffered from heat !

Fruit jam flavors like having added processed sugar ? A wine that smells like wine sauce ? Unfortunately, this wine has undergone too much heat for too long. In addition, because of this heat, the sealing cap has probably been compromised, thereby oxidizing the wine. Nothing to do here. In the future, keep your bottles at a constant temperature of 12-14 degrees, away from light sources (UV) that contribute to age your wine faster.

acetobacterMy wine tastes like vinegar !

A vinegary wine is often the result of a wine that has been badly handled at the winery or because the bottle which has been open for too long. A bacterium (acetobacter) took over the wine and, because of the oxygen entering the bottle, it turned into vinegar. Dressing for your lettuce, maybe ?

cristauxCrystals in my wine?

Do not worry, these are tartaric crystals that may have escaped the vigilance of the winemaker. This is the result of the tartaric stabilization during or after wine fermentation or before bottling. Note that sometimes it actually has a beneficial effect on highly acidic wines. These crystals have neither taste nor smell. No impact on the wine. Cheers !