D: Something Is Not Right

Cork leakage can be an initial signal of oxidized wine, but does not alway mean a wine has gone bad! This is just one clue. Please note, no wines lost their lives finding these corks – they were happily consumed!

As sad as it may be, not every wine that gets poured into a glass ends up reflecting the style and flavor the winemaker intended. Unfortunately, some wines get ruined before they can be enjoyed.  Even the best of the best can experience problems which typically happen during the storage and maturation phases in a wine’s life cycle.  The three major problems, or “Faults” impacting wine are described as follows:

  • Cork Taint:  Formally called Trichloroanisol or TCA, cork taint is a chemical compound which can appear in wine making it taste and smell like wet cardboard.  Oak barrels, wine corks, or even a winery itself can be infected with TCA and any wines exposed to it are ruined.
  • Excess Oxidation:  Some oxidation, or exposure to air, which happens when wines are stored in oak barrels, can be greatly beneficial to a wine.  It can soften tannins in bold red wines, or create richness in white wines.  Unfortunately, excessive exposure does not result in a positive outcome!  Over exposure can dull a wine’s flavor and smell and even make a wine taste bitter, even like vinegar and is referred to as “volatile acidity”.  Typically, wines experience oxidation when they have either been stored well past their prime drinkability, or when they are improperly stored.  We will talk more about wine storage in Module 4.
  • Excess Sulfites:  Small amounts of sulfur compound can be found in grapes through exposure to fungicides containing them or during the wine making process where small amounts may be added to maintain freshness and prevent oxidation. Most often, it is not evident at all in the resulting wine.  Too much of the sulfur based compounds, however, can result in a rotten egg smell or fault. 

There are other wine faults you may experience over your wine journey, but these two are the most common and always result in pouring wine down the drain.  Small amounts of the compounds or organic material which cause many faults can actually be beneficial in the winemaking process.  But as with many things in life, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing.