Ever try a glass of wine and think that something’s just not right? Maybe the aroma or the taste isn’t quite what you were expecting? Or, worse yet, it smells like your dog after it gets into something really nasty? (Our dog, pictured above, denies that he would ever engage is such behavior. Don’t be fooled by the innocent look). Well, as with most things in life, wine can have faults that render it anywhere from uninteresting to unpalatable.
- Many things can go wrong between the time grapes are harvested and when the wine reaches your glass. Each of the numerous types of wine faults have a distinctive negative impact on the wine. Fortunately, given the focus on wine quality over the past several decades, serious wine faults are relatively rare.
- Today we’ll tackle two common faults.
The most common wine fault is oxidation. Just like it sounds, it means that the wine has been exposed to excessive oxygen somewhere along the way. While there are times during the wine-making process where some oxygen is necessary, generally oxygen speeds wine along the path to becoming vinegar.
- We often encounter oxidized wine when ordering wine by the glass in a restaurant. Far too often the restaurant doesn’t store its open bottles properly or keeps them too long and they become oxidized. Unless it’s really bad, many people drink the wine and swear they’ll never order that brand again. Which is unfortunate, since wine by the glass is a good way to try out something new.
- The first hint of oxidation is a change in color. White wines become slightly darker, and eventually bronze and even brown. Red wines change from bright red or purple to brick red and brown.
- An oxidized wine will also lack the fruit aromas you expect. Early on, the wine will be unsatisfying but drinkable. As it becomes more oxidized, you’ll smell apple cider or an odd aroma of spoiled fruit and perhaps wood, cardboard or wet paper. Unless you’re really desperate, it will be undrinkable.
- Want to learn how to recognize oxidation? Just leave an unfinished bottle of wine out at room temperature for a couple of days and then see how it smells and tastes. When your restaurant wine by the glass smells and tastes like that . . . send it back and ask the waiter to open a new bottle.
Another common fault, Brettanomyces or “brett”, illustrates that faults aren’t always faults. Brett is a microbial problem caused by a “rogue” yeast that occurs primarily in red wines. At higher levels, brett imparts medicinal and “barnyard” smells – yep, that means just what you think it does – and causes wine to lose its fruity character. You may not be able to identify the problem, but you won’t want to drink the wine. The funny thing about brett is that at low levels some people find it distasteful while others think that it adds spicy and smoky notes that can make make some wines more complex and interesting.
- Low levels of brett can enhance some hearty Mediterranean reds, such as Chateauneuf du Pape, but would wreck lighter reds such as a Pinot Noir.
- Oddly, brett is an important yeast used in making Belgian style beers. Without it, they would lose their distinctive character.
Bottom line, wines can be faulted and if something really tastes wrong to you, no matter how prestigious the label, trust your judgement and reject the wine.