Wine faults ~ Part 1
The lesser evils - minor flaws in wine
Contrary to popular belief, there is only one true wine fault and that is corked wine or cork taint. There are a number of other faults that fall into a grey area because what is one person's fault in a wine might be considered a "characteristic" of the wine to others. And some things considered "faults" are not actually faults at all. I look into the main flaws and faults in wine, how to detect them and how to remedy them if it's possible. Here I look at 'false' faults and I'll follow up with a future blog on cork taint and the grey area wine faults.
Bubbles in wine that is not meant to be sparkling
Bubbles are not usually meant to occur in still wine. However some young white wines, particularly off-dry wines, may be given a blast of carbon dioxide before bottling so that they taste more refreshing when consumed.
Remedy: If you don't like the fizz in your still wine just give your glass a good swirl and the bubbles will usually disappear.
Bubbles in an older wine however might be an indication of a second fermentation occurring in the bottle as yeasts react with residual sugar. Whilst the wine will not harm you, it may not be particularly pleasant and can indicate that bottling was not done in sterile conditions. But remember some wines like 'vinhos verdes' from Portugal undergo a deliberate second fermentation in order to inject a little spritz into the wine.
Remedy: Try the swirling trick and then taste the wine cautiously before deciding whether to drink it or pour it down the sink.
"Crystals" either in the bottle or on the cork
Colourless precipitates in white wine that look like undissolved grains of sugar or tiny shards of glass are tartrates, crystals formed when naturally-occurring tartaric acid and potassium in the wine react in very cold temperatures. This can be prevented by cold stabilisation techniques used in the wine-making process.
These crystals occur more frequently in unfiltered wines and some winemakers prefer not to filter as they believe this removes some of the aroma and flavour characteristics of the wine. Don't worry if you find tartrates in your wine - they are not harmful though possibly a little "gritty". Tartrates can also occur in red wines but are less easy to detect as they will have been coloured by the wine.
Remedy: Decant the affected wine after it has settled.
This is usually a sign of an unfiltered wine which may be intentional (see above) but can be an indication of a bigger problem such as unwanted bacteria. Generally cheaper wines are very well-filtered so a cheaper, cloudy wine is unlikely to be palatable.
Remedy: Before quaffing, nose and taste the wine carefully to detect any off smells or flavours which would suggest nasty bacteria is the problem.
Sediment left over from the wine-making and wine-ageing processes often collects in the bottom of the bottle of older red wines and is usually a sign of a fine wine. It is formed from dead yeast cells, tartrates, colour pigments, flavour compounds and tannins. It is not a fault - without it the wine would not have developed the characteristics that it has from ageing in bottle.
Remedy: Decant or ensure that you leave the last dregs in the bottle.
If you like jam then jammy-smelling wine may not be a big issue for you but if the jam aromas originate from heat-damage rather than from over-ripe fruit (generally in wine from hot climate regions) then the wine is likely to have lost its fresh fruit flavour characteristics and taste at best a little rustic and at worst flat or dull.
Wine which has been exposed to very high temperatures is referred to as 'cooked' or sometimes 'maderised' (after Madeira which is deliberately exposed to heat). Exposure to oxygen is increased as the wine expands in the bottle so look out for signs of wine leaking from the top of the bottle or creeping up the cork. Heat-damaged wine is a common problem but it can be lost amongst the plethora of over-ripe, fruity, often New World wines.
Remedy: Whether the jammy characteristics are a result of poor wine-making or from excessive temperatures, there is unfortunately nothing that can be done to revive the wine flavours. The best you can do is let the wine breathe for a while and try it again with fingers crossed.
Rotten eggs, struck matches or mothball aromas in wine
As covered in a previous blog, sulphur dioxide is naturally occurring in and may also be added to wine to prevent oxidation. Normally the sulphur is undetectable but if excessive amounts are used you may be able to detect the smell of struck matches, mothballs or rotten eggs and you may experience a prickling sensation in your nose.
Remedy: A good swirl of the wine in the glass or decanting is often enough to disperse the potent aromas.
Cork problems & 'corked' wine
Wine that has been served in a restaurant or bar with bits of cork in the glass is not corked; it is just representative of clumsy service and should be returned.
Mould around a cork is probably just an indication that a wine bottle has been stored in cool, damp conditions.
Corked wine is the only true wine fault and I'll cover that and other faults in a follow-up blog.
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