This article originally appeared in Camana Bay Times. Words by Heather Branch.
You take that first sip of your bright white or juicy red wine and you realise something isn’t right. Maybe the wine tastes a little flat, smells a bit musty or has a chemical smell. You might be experiencing a wine fault.
A lot of unsound wine is consumed without the drinker's knowing it. The threshold or sensitivity to faults is as subjective as individual tastes. A wine you find perfectly acceptable might be undrinkable to someone else.
However, drinking wine is supposed to be pleasurable and if a wine fault is distracting, the wine is not worth drinking. If you find — or suspect — a fault in the wine you're drinking, feel confident with your own palate to ask for a replacement or a refund, depending on the situation. Most restaurants or retailers can confirm your suspicion.
Some common wine faults include:
A wine with cork taint is often referred to as "corked." The fault is caused by a chemical called trichloroanisole that is introduced through a defective cork or at the winery. When cork taint is pronounced, it smells like mouldy, wet cardboard or pet fur. At lower levels, the wine feels muted with dulled fruit and might not be detectable on the nose.
A wine that is madeirised wine is sometimes referred to as "cooked." With this fault, the wine has been subjected to heat after bottling. The wine will taste flat and stripped of its bright characteristics, tasting of stewed fruit. Being stored or shipped without adequate refrigeration is the most common culprit.
Oxidation is a fault occurs when a wine has been subjected to too much oxygen (think of a browning apple once it is cut). The wine loses its brightness in both colour and flavour. In most cases the bottle has been open or stored too long, but sometimes the fault is caused in the winery or by a defective closure. This fault should not be confused with an oxidative style wine, where the effect is intentional, or in aged wines, which all oxidise to some degree as they get older.
Flaws vs. faults
Whereas a wine fault is unacceptable, a wine flaw, in the right amount, adds a uniqueness that becomes integral to the taste experience and should be savoured. Beauty can often be found in imperfection and flaws can be a natural part of beauty, but a fault is a fault.
Volatile acidity is one such flaw. It's hard to find a great Italian Amarone that doesn't have it; however if there's too much volatile acidity, a wine will smell like vinegar or nail polish remover.
Brettanomyces, often simply called "brett," is another flaw that can offer benefits. Brett is a type of wild yeast that can create aromas in wine that range from old leather to a barnyard. Some of the best older Bordeaux and Rhone wines from France have some brett. Too much brett, however, can be unpleasant to many wine drinkers.
Heather Branch is the sommelier at Blue by Eric Ripert at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman