While drinking wine should be a pleasant experience, unfortunately there are a few problems that can arise that may make your favourite drink taste a little ‘off’. If you are planning to serve wine at a dinner party, the last thing you want is to discover it tastes disgusting after you have poured it into all of your guest’s glasses. Therefore, it is important to be able to tell when there is something wrong with your wine. We have put together a guide to help you identify some of the most common problems that can occur with wine.
One of the most common wine problems, oxidation, means that the wine has come into contact with oxygen. You can tell a wine has become oxidised primarily by its colour. If you leave out a slice of fruit, it is likely to turn brown when it is left in contact with the air, and the same thing happens with wine. Red wines turn to more of a brown-orange colour, and white wines will darken too. White wines are more at risk of oxidation than red wines, which have higher levels of tannins that can reduce the amount of direct contact. Oxidation also frequently occurs in older wines, as the cork may break down and allow in oxygen over the years.
Another common wine fault is for wine to be corked, which means it has been contaminated with cork taint. Cork taint occurs when corks are contaminated with TCA, a chemical compound which is formed when certain fungi in the cork react with a specific type of chloride used to clean the cork. While corked wine won’t always be so bad that it is undrinkable, as it is still safe to consume, more unpleasant bottles will have a noticeably bad smell, somewhere between damp cardboard and wet dog! If you do decide to take a sip, the flavour will be mostly flat and lifeless, with no fruity notes.
Also known more simply as ‘Brett’, this wine fault is caused by the yeast Brettanomyces, which can also cause your wine to smell a bit like a wet dog! This fault usually develops when wine is stored and aged in infected barrels at the winery. Many wines will contain a small amount of this yeast, in fact, it is estimated that around two-thirds of French wine has Brett in it. In small amounts, the yeast can actually add some nice savoury notes to a wine, but the trouble arises when these yeast levels get too high, as it will ruin the aroma and flavour of the wine, making it an unpleasant drinking experience.
While many wines have a slight acidic hint, if it smells like vinegar when you open it then there is probably something wrong. While some wines are purposefully made with extra acetic acid, most wines do not aim to taste vinegary. If it does smell and taste overly vinegary then this can be a sign that there is too much bacteria present in the wine.
While oxidation means there is too much oxygen in contact with the wine, reduction is exactly the opposite, as there is not enough oxygen in the bottle. One way to tell is that your wine may smell burnt, although notes of garlic, sulphur or rubber are also commonly reported as identifiers of this fault. Reduction is more common in wines that have screw caps, as opposed to corks, as less air is able to get into the bottle through a metal cap than a natural cork. When the bottle is open and exposed to the air, this fault can rectify itself a little.
Unless you’re drinking a glass of something sparkling, your wine should not have any bubbles in it. If it does have bubbles, especially if it is a red wine, then it is possible it has re-fermented. Secondary fermentation occurs when wine is inadvertently bottled up with a small amount of leftover sugar, which ferments again once it is in the bottle, causing bubbles to form. While it will affect the feel of the wine, the flavour shouldn’t be too badly impacted by the bubbles.
Lightstrike is the name given to wines that have been damaged by excessive UV radiation. If a bottle of wine has been stored in a place where it comes into contact with sunlight, then it can make some wines taste awful. As they are more delicate, lighter white wines, like Sauvignon Blanc, are most at risk of this fault. Keeping bottles of wine in a cabinet with UV filter glass, in tinted bottles, or in the darkest spot of your house are all great ways of making sure that your wine collection is not damaged by light.
A relatively new descriptor for a wine fault is mousiness. The word originates from the French term ‘goût de souris’, meaning ‘mouse taste’, and anyone who has sampled a mousey glass of wine will understand why. Mousey wines often smell perfectly fine, and even taste great to start with, but as the wine is swallowed you will detect a strong ‘mousey’ flavour. By mousey, it is meant that it tastes how a rodent, or the cage it lives in, smells. The fault occurs when the wine is infected by lactobacillus and is most common in wines that are made with lower amounts of sulphur.
Heat Damage/ Cooked wine
If your wine smells like a jar of jam, then it is quite likely it has been damaged by heat. Otherwise known as cooked wine, wines that have been damaged by heat will smell overly sweet, with hints of nutty and roasted flavours. As heat can cause damage to the seal and cork of the bottle, with the expansion within the bottle pushing out the cork a little, this fault can also cause oxidation of wine. Ensuring your wines are kept in the optimum temperature for them is essential for avoiding damage to your bottles at home.
As with all food and drink products, if too much bacteria gets into it, it isn’t good news! While wine will naturally contain some bacteria, if this amount grows too high, the flavour of the wine can be negatively impacted. Different bacteria types will have different flavours, but common complaints are that the wine tastes like medicine, like vinegar, or like an animal. Either way, not nice!
While some wine faults are down to the winemakers’ and distributors’ mistakes and wrong techniques, other wine faults can be prevented by ensuring your wine is kept in the very best condition. Check out the range of wine storage solutions that we offer at Tanglewood Wines, including custom built wine cellars, to help keep your collection safe.