It’s All Your Fault — Part I

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Most wine drinkers have had the disappointing experience of popping open an intensely anticipated bottle of wine to discover the contents had transformed into a putrid vinegary elixir. While that is an extreme example, even the most casual drinkers have likely endured the unpleasantness of a wine that just tastes ‘off’ or ‘not quite right’ even if it was still drinkable or slightly enjoyable.

Although production practices today are technologically advanced and methodical, winemakers’ attempts to tame mother nature and eliminate problematic occurrences in the wines have been met with limited success. Surveys regularly report the estimated rate of defective wine bottles hovers around a stubborn ten percent, regardless of the region or vintage.

Distasteful wines can be described in two ways – those with flaws and those with faults.

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Flawed wines are generally those with minor faults. They contain a flavor that is normally present in the wine in a certain quantity but is occurring in an excessive amount. This is similar to having too much salt in a soup. A small amount of salt is generally necessary for making a soup and adds welcome flavor in the right quantity; however, as the amount of salt increases, the quality of the soup decreases until it is no longer enjoyable. While the optimal amount of salt in the soup (or specific flavor in a wine) directly depends on the taste preferences of the person consuming it, a wine can be rightfully described as flawed if the majority of those drinking the wine agree that the overabundance of the offending aroma is detracting from the otherwise pleasing flavors of the wine.

In contrast, wines that are regarded as having faults are generally undrinkable. A fault may be a severe iteration of a flaw and/or it can arise from the presence of mold or bacteria, missteps in the production process or mishandling of the finished product.

One of the more infamous wine faults is ‘cork taint.’ A wine exhibiting the characteristic moldy, musty odors and muted, flat flavors is called ‘corked.’ This common affliction can be sourced to a chemical compound, TCA, which is created during the process of sanitizing the corks in a winery. Although it is associated with natural corks, once the TCA invades a winery, it lives on the wine-making equipment and even wines with screw-caps and synthetic corks are vulnerable to its destructive aromas of wet dog, soggy cardboard, and damp basement.

Check back with us in October’s issue for the second half of this article where we will delve into wine faults caused by bacteria, the wine production process itself and environmental factors as well. Until then, please remember, it’s not your fault!