Sometimes bad wine happens. Not just you don’t like it, but truly bad wine. And you know what? You should not feel compelled to pay for it. But how do you know when it isn’t you, it’s the wine?
The technical term for bad wine is “faulted wine.” No one wants you to have a faulted wine; not the winemaker, distributor, retail shop, or waiter. If you purchase a glass or bottle that is faulted, ask for a refund or replacement. If you are met with snark, that is on the shop or restaurant, not on you. Most reputable establishments choose to honor their product and see you leave happy. Knowing about specific wine faults can help you articulate the problem so you never have to be stuck with a bad wine and empty wallet.
Cork taint, also known as “corked wine,” is caused by a chemical called TCA – Tricloroanisole. In small amounts it sucks the joy from the wine – dulling the fruit and clipping the finish. In larger amounts it smells like soggy cardboard, wet dog, mold, rot. You probably aren’t brave enough to discover what it tastes like. If the winery is infected, cork taint can occur in screw cap bottles. Cork taint can occur bottle to bottle and not infect an entire case.
Sulfer is used in winemaking Sometimes a young wine, newly opened, will have a bit of a sulfur smell that blows off with swirling. But your wine should not smell like burnt matches, rotten eggs, bad perm, burnt rubber, or garlic and onions (known as mercaptan). Collectively these aromas are called reductive aromas. Reduction occurs when there is not enough oxygen contact.
Brett or Brettanomyces is a yeast that affects wine and can contaminate the whole winery. Some brett aromas, like clove and barnyard, are associated with complex, interesting “Old World” wines. You will know the difference between what some call “sexy brett” and feeling like you are in the middle of a cow pasture or stable.
Other common terms:
Oxidized: The opposite of reduction – too much oxygen exposure causing a nutty, caramelized aroma like Fino Sherry. Not like a banana nutbread scented oaky chardonnay but a dominate, inappropriate sherry note.
Maderized: A cooked or baked odor like Madeira. This one could be your fault if you store you wine in warm, bright places.
Wet cardboard: In the absence of other off aromas this is probably associated with filtration materials, not TCA.
Vinegar, spoiled dairy, goat or sauerkraut, fingernail polish remover, geranium: Associated with various bacteria.