Wine Flaws vs. Faults - What Should We Watch For........

Wine Flaws vs. Faults - What Should We Watch For........

Earlier in January we talked about the great cork vs. screw cap debate, and one of the contributing factors for the movement from natural cork to the screw cap was issue of TCA……. “Corked Wine”.

Which got me thinking….. When you order bottle of wine in a restaurant: the sommelier or server opens the bottle table side, and hands you the cork what are you supposed to do with, do you know what you are looking for.  Remember back to great cork vs. screw cap article discussion that anywhere from 5 – 10% of wine possibly could be corked.  So I thought that I would share some of the common flaws and faults you might come across in that bottle of wine……

The purpose of the sommelier or server in giving you that cork and pouring that short taste is for you to evaluate that particular bottle of wine as acceptable to your standards.  If you are wondering if I have ever sent a bottle of wine back, the answers is yes.  Once for it being the wrong bottle of wine, and twice for being a corked bottle of wine…….

Let’s start this lesson by defining the difference between a “Flaws” vs. “Fault”.  A “flaw” is the minor attribute or characteristic that you experience in the wine that you just weren’t expecting.  Does a flaw mean that it is a bad bottle and should be returned?  Not necessarily.

As individuals we all taste slightly different, and as tasters each of us has a different threshold, tolerance, sensitivity to certain characteristics.  Some are more sensitive to residual sugar, other to alcohol content.  For me it is sensitivity to Brettanomyces (Brett) which in small concentrations add this beautiful earthy barnyard complexity and depth to a wine that I truly enjoy.  However for others and in higher levels this would be considered a “fault”

So “faults” let’s simple say are the result of poor winemaking, or storage condition practices leading to wine spoilage…  The following winemaking practices contribute to “Faults”: poor hygiene in the winery itself, the excessive and insufficient exposure of wine to components like oxygen, sulphur, and overextended maceration of the wine either pre- or post-fermentation, faulty fining, filtering and stabilization of the wine, the use of dirty oak barrels, over-extended barrel aging and the use of poor quality corks.

Outside of the winery, other factors within the control of the retailer or end user of the wine can contribute to the perception of flaws in the wine. These include poor storage of the wine that exposes it to excessive heat and temperature fluctuations as well as the use of dirty stemware during wine tasting that can introduce materials or aromas to what was previously a clean and fault-free wine.

These are some of the more common faults affecting wine that we look for in determining that soundness of a particular bottle wine.

  • Acetaldehyde:  Smell of roasted nuts or dried out straw. Commonly associated with Sherries where these aromas are considered acceptable
  • Amyl-acetate:  Smell of "fake" candy banana flavoring
  • Brettanomyces:  Smell of barnyards, fecal and gamey horse aromas
  • Cork taint:  Smell of a damp basement, wet cardboard or newspapers and mushrooms
  • Diacetyl:  Smell of rancid butter
  • Ethyl acetate:  Smell of vinegar, paint thinner and nail polish remover
  • Hydrogen sulfide:  Smell of rotten eggs or garlic that has gone bad
  • Iodine:  Smell of moldy grapes
  • Lactic acid bacteria:  Smell of sauerkraut
  • Mercaptans:  Smell of burnt rubber and/or cooked cabbage
  • Oxidation:  Smell of cooked fruit and walnuts. Also detectable visually by premature browning or yellowing of the wine
  • Sorbic acid plus lactic acid bacteria:  Smell of crushed geranium leaves
  • Sulfur dioxide:  Smell of burnt matches. Can also come across as a pricking sensation in the nose.

So the next time the sommelier opens your bottle of wine tableside for you keep these faults and how to identify when you are smell the cork or the wine’s bouquet in the glass.

Cheers, Gregory Hayes, cs, cwp
Sommelier - Wine Buyer

Mecenat Bistro & Gather Place

821 West Burlington Ave. Western Spring, IL.

Phone: 708-246-8668. Email: Gregory@MecenatBistro.com


Join me at Mecenat Bistro & Gathering Place on Friday and Saturday's for complimentary Wine Tastings.

Fridays 2:00 -4:00 pm, Saturdays 1:00 - 4:00 pm

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