Wine, to a fault

– A Wine Bluffer guide

If you like wine, then you are bound to notice when a wine is off. The general term for this is ‘corking’ or that the wine is ‘corked’. This is when a bottle of wine has been contaminated by a faulty cork. When this happens, the wine takes on a really unpleasant, musty odour which completely knocks out the fruitiness of the flavour and renders the bottle undrinkable. It is estimated that 3-5% of all wines bottled using natural corks is indeed corked. So, it’s a more common problem than you might think. You really need to experience a properly corked bottle of wine, so that you can send it back with impunity. There’s nothing more humbling than calling the sommelier over to ask his opinion when the smell of wet labrador is part of the esteemed characteristic of the wine that you have chosen!

It can’t happen with a synthetic cork or with a screw top but the traditions of ‘Old World’ wine making means that cork is still often used as the stopper, especially in the case of fine wines.

Reduction is another wine fault which can cause the wine to smell like boiled cabbage, not great in other words. This can be caused by UV damage, especially if wines have been exposed to too much light in a supermarket and can sometimes be improved by decanting.

An oxidised wine is brown in colour and can smell flat. In a white wine this can mean a cider like odour, in a red wine the phenols (tannins) reacting with oxygen can make for a dry or bitter flavour.

And finally there’s the stuff that you sometimes find clinging to the bottom of the cork, which while it is strictly a fault is not really a problem for the drinker. This is a crystalline deposit made from tartaric acid and looks rusty in colour. Most tartrates are removed during production by lowering the temperature. You may inadvertently cause this effect by storing red wine a very cold fridge. Try the wine, it should be drinkable.


So, there you go, a few things to look out for. And hopefully not experience. Happy drinking!

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