Avoiding a Bad Wine Experience

Posted by on Nov 18, 2011 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Avoiding a Bad Wine Experience

The Holiday Season is almost upon us and that means we’ll all be sharing some magnificent wines. Maybe you are opening up bottle of French to use as a marinate? Maybe it’s just some Sauvignon from the wine rack to pass around with dinner? Maybe you’ll break out that ’47 Bordeaux in your armchair and bask your tongue in the fruits of excellence? Whatever the case (of bottles) you want to make sure your wine experience is the way it was intended to be by the winery—so what happens when you open, or get served a bottle of wine that simply doesn’t smell or look right?

Many people do not know that they are being served bad wine and they never say anything; likewise, some people are simply not knowledgeable enough in their assessment to say for sure. If you find yourself in either of those groups, do not fear. Here is what you need to know give you the confidence of veteran wine-enthusiast when sending that unruly bottle back.

Cork Taint

If you’ve wondered why the switch in recent years to plastic or metal caps, or artificial corks has been occurring, cork contamination is definitely one reason. Corked wines can become infected with a fungus that produces a chemical called TCA; this is the chemical responsible for changing the flavor, consistency, and smell of the wine. This accounts for about 5% of corked wines.

So how do you know if your wine has become infected with cork taint?
Appearance — does the wine look clean? Is there cloudiness in the glass? Does it have a good colour?
Smell — does it smell like ‘wet newspapers’ or mouldy?
Taste — does the wine taste like there is little or no fruit, or does it seem unbalanced?

Cooked Wines

Far more common than cork taint, a ‘cooked’ wine bottle is one that has become heated beyond the range of what is acceptable. Wineries take careful consideration to maintain a specified temperature in their storage areas, but after the wine leaves the winery those carefully controlled conditions often change for the warmer—for the worse. Whether it be on a truck whose air conditioning has failed, mini-glasses sitting too-long outside during a baseball game, or just that rogue bottle that has been sitting next to the oven for too long, a cooked bottle is spoiled, and will spoil your taste experience.

Here’s how to spot them:
Appearance — first, make sure the bottle is clean, with no spillage. Secondly, ensure the cork is still below the top of the bottle; if it is above the top of the bottle is it most likely cooked. Also, be sure to look at the level of the liquid. Is it below the neck? Most wines are filled up to the neck of the bottle.
Smell — if the wine doesn’t have a fresh flavour, or if the fruit in the wines seems non-existent, it has most likely been cooked off.
Taste — if it tastes like stewed fruit, well, that is what cooked wine is.


Oxygen is very important to the development of wine, but too much oxygen can be harmful. Oxygen entering the bottle after it was (intended to be) sealed is disasterous, and usually caused by poor wine production, corked wines, or faulty corks. Think of an apple turning brown after the interior is exposed to open air—this is oxidation—and just like the apple, the wine will eventually turn brown as well. You don’t want to be mistakenly drinking that wine, even if it is in the early, harder-to-detect stages of already-foul.

Oxidation in wine is easy to spot:
Appearance — in the glass you will see a premature browning or yellowing of the wine
Smell — of roasted nuts, dried out straw or walnuts.
Taste — typically fruitless wines with a flavour profile resembling old and worn out Sherry or vinegar. Oxidized wines also taste flat and possibly stale.


Sulphur dioxide is common in all wines as it is used as a preservative. At low levels it poses no threat to the taste, but when overused it does. What to look for:
Appearance — there is no real difference in the appearance.
Smell — of mothballs, burnt matches or burnt rubber, the latter of which indicates a heavy dose of sulphur dioxide.
Taste — might taste of Sulphur. (Spoiled eggs.)

Sediments and Crystals

Sediments — are not really defined as a fault in the wine, but you should still be aware of them. Sediments are usually from the normal production of the wine; in fact, the bottle should say ‘unfiltered’ or ‘filtered’ on it. Some winemakers preserve the sediment as it is more natural. If you have a wine which is unfiltered simply pour the bottle at a 45-degree angle and the sediment should stay at the bottom of the bottle. Or you can pour the wine through a filter into a decanter.

Crystals — like sediments, are not a fault either. The crystals that are found in white wine are called Tartrate Crystals are only usually found in natural wines. They form when the wine is stored or chilled to a cold temperature. Some wineries will cool the wine down in fermentation tanks in order to get the Tartrate Crystals to form, so they can filter them out of the wine before bottling. If you do find yourself with some crystals in your selection just stand the bottle upright in the fridge for a couple hours and then filter into a decanter.

Sediments and crystals do not indicate whether or not a wine is of high quality or not. Don’t judge a wine based on their presence; don’t drink them either.

Gut Feeling

Do not discount the opinion of your gut—where the wine is all going anyways. If something doesn’t feel, smell, or taste right, but you can’t quite put your palate on it, do not be afraid to ask questions or request a comparison glass/bottle. Winemakers want you to enjoy their product as you intended it, and usually have no qualms with such requests. If you notice any of the above signs of a faulted wine, do yourself a favor and send it back.

About Dave Keighron

Dave Keighron has written 63 posts in this blog.

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