“Life is too short to drink bad wine.” Never has a truer statement been spoken, but the fact of the matter is that not all wines are made equal. Sometimes a bad bottle of wine happens, and it isn’t really anybody’s fault. However, as an avid wine-drinker you should be able to determine when your wine is worth drinking and when you need to return it to the store instead. Below are some explanations for why your wine might taste off.
Oxygen is great for wine when you first open it (after all, that’s what decanters are for) because it can really bring out all of its wonderful flavors. However, after the wine is exposed to air after the initial hours in which it was opened, it begins to take a turn for the worse. Oxidized wine doesn’t have the flavors and fruitiness expected of wine. In fact, it can taste downright dull, so be sure to drink your wine in a timely manner after it’s opened. Wine Folly has a great infographic detailing long wines last after they’re opened here.
Of course, if a wine isn’t stored properly or the seal isn’t airtight, oxidation can occur even before you open the bottle. So make sure you check the bottle to make sure the color is correct (oxidized wine tends have a brownish tint), and if you take a sip that reminds you more of vinegar than a French vineyard, take it back to the store!
Cork Taint is not the same as finding pieces of cork in your wine. It’s also often mistaken for tartrate (the harmless little white crystals occasionally found on your cork). Cork taint is what happens when airborne fungi come in contact with the natural cork and produce a substance called TCA, a chemical compound that will ruin your wine the second it comes in contact with the cork.
Now, if your wines aren’t sealed with natural cork, then you don’t need to worry about cork taint. However, it can occur in about 5% of wines sealed with natural corks. Corked wine is pretty easy to identify thanks to its smell, which is akin to a moldy basement or a wet dog. It will taste flat and dull, perhaps even astringent, which will cover up any fruit flavor. If your wine has what you suspect is cork taint, walk it right back to where it came from and get yourself a new bottle.
*Fun fact: you can’t tell if a wine is corked by smelling the cork!*
This one is a common problem for us folks who live warmer areas! If you don’t have a dark and cool place to store your wine, cooking can become a real issue (especially if you don’t keep your home’s temperature below 75 degrees). If left in warm temperatures, wine will begin to cook. Cooked wine will be easy to identify because it tastes like stewed fruit (think: prunes and raisins).
You may also be able to tell if your wine is cooked by looking at the cork before you open the bottle. If the wine has been cooking, the pressure in the bottled causes the cork to push out slightly from the neck of the bottle. If your wine is cooking, consider switching storage spaces (or maybe crank the A/C).
Volatile Acidity naturally occurs in all wines in small quantities, but sometimes when bacteria like acetobacter (which turns wine to vinegar) are present in the winery, an infection of sorts can occur between the bacteria, alcohol and oxygen. When this happens, volatile acidity can destroy the wine’s flavors, and instead leave a sour vinegary taste in your mouth. Not good! If your wine smells like nail polish, that’s a good indication of Volatile Acidity.
For additional information on the strange things that happen to wine, check out the Serious Eats article of the same topic here. The bottom line is, don’t settle for a flawed bottle of wine. If you sense that any of the above imperfections are present in your wine, return it!