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How to recognize the common wine faults?

Defects in wine exist and can be caused by different factors. Vinatis helps you to spot them and explains how to make up for some of them.

défaut du vin

WHAT ARE THE WINE FAULTS?


Wine is a product that can be described as 'living', as it evolves over a period of time. Unfortunately, it can fall victim to certain defects. These defects are more or less perceptible to the taster. Some are more frequent than others, and it is important to know how to identify the main ones, so as not to associate this unpleasant characteristic with the grape variety or the appellation. These wine faults are mainly due to a fault in the wine-making process, from the harvest to the storage of the bottle.

VISUAL FAULTS IN WINE

The very first step in tasting a wine is its visual analysis. At first glance, you can already identify certain defects that will later be reflected on the nose or palate.

  • Dull colour: indicates that the wine is unbalanced or lacks acidity.
  • Whitish particles in white wine, or bluish particles in red wine: indicates an excess of iron and copper in the wine, due to poorly cleaned or maintained equipment.
  • Brownish particles in red wines: the grapes were harvested after their optimal maturity or were already rotten.
  • Slight effervescence: wine is said to be fizzy. This is due to a second fermentation in the bottle, which is not desired for still wines, or some carbon dioxide was trapped inside when the wine was bottled.
  • White wine with a very dark yellow colour or red wine with a brown colour: it is very likely that the wine is oxidised.

ON THE NOSE AND PALATE: ORGANOLEPTIC FAULTS OF THE WINE

If certain faults are not perceptible during the visual analysis, from the very first smell of the wine, certain aromas do not lie. It is a safe bet that these faults that can be perceived on the nose are unfortunately reflected on the palate. It is the organoleptic defects of the wine that affect both the olfactory and the gustatory analysis. Some of the wine's faults, however, are very disturbing to the nose, while they are hardly noticeable on the palate. A nose that is not clean will not necessarily taste.

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WHAT CAUSES WINE FAULTS?


There are many causes of wine faults. Negligence can occur at any stage of the wine-making process, from harvest to bottling. Grapes harvested too early can bring aromas of geranium to Sauvignon Blanc and green pepper to Cabernet Franc. On the palate, these aromas are manifested by an unpleasantly pronounced acidity. Harvested too late, the wine will not only look unattractive, but will also seem outdated and rotten on the palate. Some of the wine's defects are attributable to poor management of the oxygen supply.

FAULTS DUE TO LACK OF OXYGEN


The management of oxygen supply throughout the wine making process is not straightforward. The wine must have just the right amount of contact with oxygen. If it does not have enough oxygen, defects can form. If the oxygen supply is too intense, other types of unpleasant aromas will appear. Among the defects linked to a lack of oxygen, the most well-known is the following:

  • Reduction: is manifested by a smell of struck match, boiled cabbage or rotten eggs. The wine has lacked oxygen during the vinification process. The colour of the wine also loses its brightness.

FAULTS DUE TO EXCESS OXYGEN


Of course, controlled oxygen intake helps to promote the complexity of the wine's aromas. However, too much oxygen can lead to the formation of defects in the wine. Among the main defects linked to excess oxygen, here are the most frequent ones:

  • Rotten apple smell: it occurs when the ethanol in the wine is transformed into ethanal.
  • Vinegar smell: it is due to prolonged oxidation, which has transformed the wine. The aromas can also be reminiscent of nail polish or nail polish remover and are referred to as volatile acidity, a problem that has arisen during the winemaking process.

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THE MAIN WINE FAULTS


There can be many faults in wine. In addition to those mentioned above, two of them are probably the most common.

THE FAMOUS CORKED WINE

Cork taint is undoubtedly the most feared fault by professionals. It manifests itself on the nose as a pronounced smell of damp wood or cardboard, dust or mouldy cork. On the palate, the wine is devoid of any pleasant aroma, since the cork taste has taken over everything else. Without doubt, this is the most recognisable defect!

FAULTY CORK, NOT FAULTY WINE!

This fault is not caused by the wine, but by the cork. During the chemical treatment when making corks, a molecule called trichloroanisole, more commonly known as TCA, comes to life from the mould formed directly on the cork. This molecule then contaminates the entire bottle. It is therefore impossible to know in advance whether a bottle is affected by TCA or not. This disease affects the simplest wines as much as the Grands Crus. If, by misfortune, you open a corked bottle, do not hesitate to let the restaurant owner know or by contacting the supplier directly. They will not hesitate to open another bottle.

Fortunately, thanks to the progress made in the study of corks, this disease occurs less and less. In addition, different cork alternatives exist today. Indeed, since TCA only develops in cork, it is less likely for a bottle with a screw cap or plastic stopper to contain this molecule. A word of advice: before declaring a wine as potentially corked, remember to check the type of cork used. If the cap is screw-on or plastic, as is the case in most New World wines and increasingly in Europe, you risk looking ignorant by declaring the wine corked!

WHAT IS ROTTEN WINE?

In the world of wine, rot is not always negative. Indeed, noble rot, caused by the botrytis cinerea fungus, produces sweet wines of outstanding quality. However, under certain weather conditions, it can happen that noble rot does not develop and that grey rot takes over the grapes instead. The grapes are then lost. If the grapes are harvested and vinified anyway, they will produce wines without any fresh aroma, rotten wines. Unfortunately, this defect cannot be corrected.

OTHER RECOGNISABLE WINE DEFECTS

Wine is a fragile and living product. Other defects can therefore occur for different reasons. Here are some of the recognisable defects you may encounter:

  • Brettanomyces: This defect manifests itself by a strong smell of stable, barnyard, bandage, wet dog or burnt plastic. This is due to a yeast naturally present in the vineyards and in the cellars called brettanomyces. In small quantities it can be desired as it adds complexity to the wine.
  • Maderized wine: The maderization of wine is due to poor storage of bottles. The bottles may have been stored upright, exposed to light, heat, or they may have been subjected to significant temperature changes. These elements are all fatal for the wine, whose structure is fragile. Smells of jammy or stewed fruit, rancid butter or caramel develop. In addition, the colour of white wine turns yellow, while that of red wine turns brown.
  • Sulphur smell: Sulphur dioxide, or SO2, is added to wine at various stages of its production. In order to stabilise the wine and ensure its preservation, sulphur dioxide is added at the bottling stage. Although this substance is beneficial to the wine, it should not be overused, otherwise the wine develops struck match or cooked cabbage aroma.

vinaigre de vin

WHY DOES WINE TURN TO VINEGAR?


The smell of vinegar in wine is also an easily identifiable defect. Although the acetic acid responsible for this aroma is present in small quantities in all wines, too much of it becomes a defect. This is due to prolonged oxidation during the winemaking process. Volatile acidity in wine, more precisely, can lead to aromas reminiscent of nail polish or nail polish remover. Volatile acidity, composed of acetic acid, can occur at different stages of the winemaking process, right up to the ageing in oak barrels.

In fact, it is the fate of all wines to turn into vinegar. Wine vinegar is also produced when a bottle is left open too long. This chemical phenomenon is also linked to too long an exposure to oxygen. This odour, which is also transmitted to the palate by an exacerbated acidity, marked by sourness, can appear quite quickly.

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PEUT-ON VRAIMENT TRAITER LES DÉFAUTS DU VIN ?


Can wine defects be treated? The answer is yes, but not all. Some of them can indeed be saved with a good aeration. So don't rush to throw away a bottle with an unattractive nose! The best way to ensure optimal aeration is to decant the wine for several hours. The unpleasant odours will then disappear and you will be able to enjoy your wine with complete peace of mind. Sometimes, for certain defects, a simple aeration in the glass allows these unpleasant smells to disappear.

Here are the faults in the wine that aeration for several hours can save:

  • Reduction: with aeration of the wine, the smell of rotten eggs, dust and old mop should disappear.
  • Brettanomyces: after several hours in a decanter, the horse and stable smells should disappear or at least fade. The best way to avoid this phenomenon is to maintain impeccable hygiene from the vineyard to the cellar.
  • Sulphur dioxide: this strong smell reminiscent of rotten eggs normally disappears with aeration.

UNRECOVERABLE WINE FAULTS

Unfortunately, not all wines can be saved by aeration in a decanter. Some faults cannot be recovered and the best that can happen to your bottle is that it ends its life in vinegar... Here are the wine defects that cannot be recovered:

  • Oxidized wine
  • Cork taint
  • Maderized wine (cooked wine)
  • Vinegar taint

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JUGGLING BETWEEN WINE FLAWS AND AN ASSERTIVE STYLE


It is important to remember that identifying faults in wine is primarily a matter of perception and taste. We do not all have the same tastes and if certain characteristics can be perceived by some as defects, others perceive them as qualities. Even further, some winemakers, and even some well-known appellations, seek to develop these specific aromas that are considered to be faults of the wine.

FIZZY WINE

Tasting a still wine with a slight effervescence? As we saw earlier, this is due to a second fermentation in the bottle. While many people identify these fine bubbles as a defect in the wine, some appellations make them a key characteristic! This slight effervescence found in young, lively and fresh wines brings typicity to the product and becomes very pleasant with certain foods. This is the case with Portuguese Vinho Verde, certain Italian Bonarda wines and Austrian Grüner Veltliner.

OXIDIZED WINE

Some wines are deliberately oxidised and have an international reputation for their specific aromas of dried fruit, caramel and nuts. For some appellations, the oxidative character of the wine is desired. While this may be perceived as a defect, it does allow for the appearance of specific aromas that have made the reputation of certain appellations. Here is a list of wines that are voluntarily oxidised, but whose oxygen intake is nevertheless well controlled and mastered: Sherry, Vin Jaune, Rivesaltes, Banyuls and some orange wines

NATURAL WINE

Natural wines are wines that have undergone as little intervention as possible, both in the vineyard and in the cellar. Many of them have no added sulphur, which weakens their structure. Specific aromas develop, such as those of chard apples, a rancid taste or vinegar. Such a sourness on the palate would be considered by many as a defect. However, these aromas are well appreciated by those who like natural wines.

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