5 Common Wine Flaws

It happens to the best of us wine lovers every now and again. We sit down to a nice meal with a carefully selected bottle of vino, pour a glass and breathe in a whiff of…sweaty gym socks? That’s right, you’ve just been corked.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one but don’t be afraid to say something if the taste, smell or funny things floating at the bottom of your glass just don’t seem quite right.

In Shanghai, China, I was wandering through the artsy French Concession neighborhood and ran into an Italian restaurant. Discovering an Italian restaurant in China is like finding out a Whole Foods is being built in Shreveport. You just can’t believe it’s really happening, but you’re so glad it is.

The food and dining experience in China is entirely different than western nations but Shanghai’s French Concession is very trendy and many expatriates fill the city so I decided to give the Italian joint a try.

After all, it had been a relatively long time since I enjoyed a glass of wine with my meal. A bottle from a well-known wine making country was selected and as soon as I brought the glass to my nose it smelled of vinegar and nail polish.

I had come this far so I decided to take a sip. Again, something just wasn’t quite right, but I didn’t know what or how to explain –– was it the smell or the taste? Attempting to describe the funkiness of our wine to the server while using limited English-Chinese vocabulary was an experience in itself, especially because we did not fully understand WHAT was funky about the vino.

Wine flaws occur when there are chemical imbalances in the finished product. Knowing what to look for and the different imperfections will help you select more pleasing bottles.

Here are five common wine flaws to be aware of:

Cork Taint

Cork taint, technically known as 2, 4, 6 Trichloranisole (TCA), is not detected by the look or smell of the actual cork but the musty odor of the wine. Cork taint occurs during production when microbes get trapped in the tiny pores of the natural stopper. When the cork is bleached, a reaction occurs with the microbial mold and yields the compound TCA or cork taint. A likely indicator of this type of flaw is when your wine smells like wet cardboard, a stinky dog or a moldy basement.

Brett

When brettanomyces exist in your wine, you may think a Band-Aid factory set up shop in your wine glass. Brettanomyces (brett) is yeast that grows in oak barrels of wineries. It’s not the good yeast that transforms sugar to alcohol. Three distinctive chemical compounds make up the scent of a bretty wine, which can be described as horsey, like a barnyard and Band-Aids. At low levels, many wine drinkers enjoy brett because it adds complexity to the flavor of the beverage. Typically, if a cellar has a brett infected barrel, the entire winery is likely to have the yeasty compound hanging around.

Cooked

If you’ve ever left a bottle of forgotten wine rolling around the trunk of your car during the heat of Louisiana summers then you know what cooked wine is. When wine is exposed to too much heat or sunlight it becomes cooked. Even when temperatures reach just over 75 degrees, the wine is vulnerable to damage that can dull or flatten the flavor. Extremely cooked wines result in pruney or raisin-like tastes. A strong indicator of heat-damaged wine is when the cork is protruding from the lip of the bottle or the liquid is seeping around the cork. The heated air inside the vino forces the cork out of the bottle.

Oxidized

Wine becomes oxidized when it receives too much oxygen interaction. It’s the same concept as rusting metal or cutting a fresh apple and leaving it on the counter. The apple turns brown and becomes dry. The same thing happens to oxidized wine. When faulty cork closures or improperly bottled wines receive too much oxygen, the flavors become dull and dried up. This occurs frequently in home opened bottles unless you have a wine-preserving tool in place before you finish the bottle. At a slow, controlled rate of oxidation, wines age properly and this creates an intricacy in the taste.

Volatile Acidity (VA)

Volatile Acid or VA is present in all wines in small doses. When the naughty bacteria that turns wine into vinegar is in the winery, a reaction between the bacteria, oxygen and alcohol transpires. The fruity flavors of the wine are destroyed and what’s left is a vinegary, nail polish taste. The presence of VA in your beverage can be distinguished by the smell as well as the taste. VA explains my wine mishap in Shanghai.