When Wine Goes Bad

If you drink wine somewhat regularly, you are bound to come across bottles that you just don’t like.  Sometimes, this could just be bad luck in the sense that you picked a bottle that wasn’t suited to your taste.  Other times though, your dislike for the wine could be caused by flaws and/or faults that just sometimes occur.  When tasting wine, it is important for you to differentiate between a  flawed wine, a faulted wine, and one that you just don’t like.

Flawed wines can often  still be drinkable, but you might detect an imbalance or a negative attribute in the wine such as excessive sulfur dioxide, volatile acidity, Brettanomyces or diacetyl.  If your wine smells and/or tastes of burnt match (excessive sulfur), vinegar (volatile acidity), barnyard (Brett) or rancid butter (diacetyl), you could have a technically flawed wine.  However, if none of these faults are in such an excess that they overwhelm other components of the wine, you might actually still enjoy it.  On the other hand, if any of these factors are disproportionate or extreme in the wine,  you’ve probably got a wine that is faulty.  If this is the case, you should return that wine to your retailer for a refund or exchange.

Wine faults can usually be detected in the aroma, but they can also be detected by the sight and taste of the wine.  The most common wine fault is cork taint or TCA, which is caused by a strain of mold that grows on natural wine corks.  If you open your bottle and it smells musty, moldy, or like wet cardboard or newspaper, you’ve unfortunately purchased a corked bottle of wine.  Cork taint is usually an isolated incident that may effect only one bottle in an entire case of wine.  It is not the wine’s, the producer’s or the retailer’s fault, but instead is simply something that just happens sometimes.  If you detect cork taint in your wine, you should definitely take the bad bottle back to your retailer and exchange it out for another.

When wine goes bad.

It this is your reaction to the wine you just bought, it might just be off.

Other wine faults include oxidation, refermentation and heat damage.  An oxidized wine will smell/taste vinegary and flat and is typically caused by a faulty cork that didn’t properly seal the wine.  A wine that is undergoing refermentation (aka secondary fermentation) will be mildly to severely bubbly or effervescent.  It is caused by yeasts refermenting the residual sugar present within bottled wine and most often occurs when a wine is made in a non-sterile environment.  Keep in mind that certain wines like Vinho Verde are intentionally allowed to undergo a secondary fermentation, and wines like this are supposed to be a bit bubbly.

Another common fault sometimes encountered is a heat damaged or cooked wine.  The ideal storage temperature for wine is 55 degrees Farenheit, and wines that are shipped or stored at temperatures well above that range can quickly become damaged.  If you go to open a bottle of wine and notice that the cork is protruding out of the bottle, even just a little bit, you’ve most likely purchased a heat damaged bottle of wine or you have stored your wine improperly.  On a hot summer day, it is crucial not to leave your wine in a hot car.  Likewise, do not store your wine in a room or cupboard if the temperature is 70 degrees or above.  This protrusion of the cork results in premature oxidation in the wine which will make the wine appear cloudy or brickish in color.  The flavor of a cooked wine is not pleasant, as it can taste like stewed, rotten fruit.  If you open a bottle of wine with any of these attributes, just put the cork back in the bottle and return it for an exchange or refund.  That is, unless you caused it to happen.

Cooked bottle of wine.

A good sign that your wine has been “cooked”.

At the end of the day, any reputable wine seller wants his or her customers to enjoy the wine(s) they purchase.  Unfortunately, many casual wine drinkers don’t know that wine can and does go bad.  Their first gut reaction is to proclaim the wine as bad and to never shop at the store again where they purchased it.  This is a bad scenario, as oftentimes, it is not the store’s fault for the flaw or fault in the wine.  Thus, this wine retailer can just advise you to trust your gut feeling about a wine.  If it smells off or tastes bad, there is a good chance that the wine is flawed or faulted in some way.  Bring it back to the store where you purchased it, and a good wine retailer will smell and taste the wine and let you know if there is something wrong with it.  If there is something wrong with it, they should issue you a refund or exchange the bad bottle out for another one.  Happy customer equals happy wine retailer and all is well in the world.  Happy drinking and happy eating on Planet Asheville.

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