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The must-have guide for identifying defective wines

Oct 02 2018

‘Smells like wine’, a phrase we’re all guilty of muttering, but what are we really looking for when identifying faulty wines. In this blog, we will line up some ‘key culprits’ to be aware of and explain why they might be a bit pongy!

But first, let’s briefly run through how to correctly smell wine. Pour a glass so it is around a third of the way full (pouring amounts vary for red, white and sparkling but let’s not overcomplicate matters!). Swirl the wine in the glass so to release the aromas, tilt the glass and have a good sniff!

‘Repeat offenders’

Cardboard, wet dog and mould (think damp cellar):
These delightful aromas indicate that your wine is ‘corked’ (TCA Trichloroanisole for the scientists, aka not just cork swimming around your bottle!). This occurs when chlorine comes into contact with the cork and contaminates the wine, it is thought to affect 1-3% of bottles with a cork seal.

Rotten vegetables, eggs and sulphur:
These smells occur when the wine has reduced, which in English terms means the wine hasn’t had enough oxygen.

Sharp fruit and bruised apples: 
Just as wine can lack oxygen, it can also have too much (just to make things complicated), which can result in sharp fruitiness and can also be partially brown in colour.  

Vinegar and nail polish remover:
Sharp aromas such as these indicate the wine has volatile acidity, not as scary as it sounds, legally wines can contain up to 1.2 g/L of volatile acidity, anything exceeding this might be better doused on your chips!

Sweaty leather, plasters and cardamom:
Your wine has Brettanomyces! Brett is a wild yeast that can ferment alongside wine yeast, however, is not necessarily a criminal offender and is dependent on the consumer's palate.

So there we have it, a few ‘wronguns’ to be aware of. Remember of course that we all have different palates and varying sense of smells so don’t be shy in raising the alarm should you whiff something that doesn’t seem right. Much of the pleasure when enjoying a good wine is in the aroma, so if there’s no pleasure in the sniff, something’s amiss. The snout is an excellent detective, and remember, a good restaurant or wine merchant will always replace a corked wine.

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