What's that stink? Dirty feet? A wet dog? An old Band-Aid? Some wet hay? Boarding school toilet after meat loaf night? All these kinds of aromas could mean that the wine is suffering from a fault. Sure it can be a massive turn off, but understanding a fault means that the wine can have another chance, a fair crack, rather than being vilified as ‘bad wine’ straight out.
Faults come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Harmless precipitates and odours that ‘blow off’ also skew people's perspectives before the wine is given a proper go. Likewise, many people will claim wines are faulty when they simply just don't like them! But it is clear that wine can be a real turn off when these following issues affect it:
Got one of those old corks that's soggy all the way to the top? Perhaps a white wine that looks more like pee after too much Berocca? Maybe the wine smells like grandma's sherry on a hot summer's day? Then it's likely the wine has been oxidized, or, in simple terms, affected by too much air. Exposure to oxygen over a prolonged period of time is detrimental to wine – air enters a wine around corks, permeates through poor corks, or may have entered the wine during oak fermentation or the bottling process. The wine's flavour becomes flat, stale and is bitter on the finish. The colour, or phenolics, will often bronze in colour if white and go dull or brown if red. Aromas head towards damp hay, soggy cardboard or bad sherry. Oxidation rarely occurs with screwcaps, but if the seal is broken it is a possibility.
Heard of the expression ‘this wine is corked’? Your mate sounds like an idiot right? Yes, there may be a cork in the bottle but that's not what the person saying it means… A corked wines is one affected by a chemical compound called TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) affects corks and then taints the wine. Cork taint affects somewhere between 2 and 8% of wines. This has in recent years been addressed by the upswing in screw caps, which create a perfect seal without the risk of TCA affecting the wine. Problem is, in small amounts TCA is almost undetectable, instead it just flattens and broadens the wine. Not good if you're expecting something crispy and fresh. But when its big time corked the wine smells dank and musty. Somewhere between your laundry basket after a wet camping trip and when a dog rubs itself in something suspicious. Problem is when the wine is only subtly affected by TCA, many people will blame the style rather than the fault, so a little sniff, swirl and taste thinking about these characters before you try a wine is ideal to remove the possibility of missing the taint. Screwcaps again help combat the likelihood of corked wines.
Pepe le Pew the Skunk from Warner Brothers classic cartoons, the one with the green vapour trails pouring out of his coat, well brettanomyces doesn’t go that far, but it sure can stink out a wine. Brett, as its commonly known, is a spoilage yeast – and in small amounts can actually add some complexity to a wine with its savoury, kind of aged flavour profile. But too much makes a wine taste a little metallic, or hessiany and aromas are likened to mouse cages and old Band-Aids, so it can be pretty nasty stuff. Brett usually occurs in the winery or vineyard and can affect entire batches of wines, which makes it more an issue of style than a cork vs screwcap issue.
No, someone hasn't farted into your wine. Excuse the crassness but that eggy pong is more than likely to be an overuse of the preservative sulphur than it is to be some prankster messing with your wine bottle. When used judiciously, sulphur forms an important part of the preserving process of wine, but with the advent of screw caps, many producers have over done the sulphur treatment leading to what's called a ‘reduction’ or ‘reductive character’ in the wine – eggy smell and a flat character in the wine. While cork lets sulphur escape, screw caps keep it in. But never fear, in most cases the sulphur will blow off from an open bottle, with a little time, or a good decant can flush out some or all of the stink.
The look like pretty little diamonds, but the crystallized bits that float in the bottom of your glass are actually harmless deposits of potassium bitartrate. The crunchy residue can be an inconvenience, but by no means is anything wrong with the wine, aside for visual and textural comparison.
Looks like a skid mark in the bottle. No other way to describe it. But never fear, someone hasn't lost it in your wine, it's just a harmless residue left by a wine that is either ageing or unfiltered. Decanting gets rid of the silt-like particles that sit in the bottle. Easy.
Whose been polishing their nails with my wine? That's the catch cry of volatile acidity or VA. Aromas are like vinegar or nail varnish, which in small amounts is acceptable in some wines when it meets the other elements of the bouquet. In large quantity, VA makes a wine acrid and unpleasant. It’s all caused by a strange yeast fault.
Its not quite like licking a car battery but it can get pretty close to it. When wines have too much added acid or grapes have been pressed to the point of extreme extraction, bitterness can occur. Some degree is ok in most wines, but over done it makes a wine unbalanced and unpleasant.