Flaws in Wine

In a previous post, I mentioned the concept of wine flaws (also known as faults or defects). A flawed wine is one exhibiting chemical problems, generally related to poor storage, incomplete fermentation, or unwelcome bacteria/yeasts. (Please note that, just because a wine tastes sour or unpleasant to you, does not necessarily mean that it is flawed! It may simply not be the right wine for you!) Some common terms describing flaws include:

Corked. “Corked” wines are the most common flawed wines. When you order wine in a restaurant, you may be presented with the cork to examine, so that you can identify cork taint before accepting the wine. A corked wine may smell or taste cardboardy or moldy. The cork itself may have a rotten odor or appearance. This is a legitimate flaw, and you would be justified in sending back a corked wine. Although some traditionalists are a little snobby about artificial or plastic corks, new cork technologies definitely improve the viability of wines, because they shortcut the possibility of corking.

Cooked. “Cooked” or heat damaged wines have been improperly stored or transported. Wines stored above 55 degrees Fahrenheit will experience accelerated aging. If the temperature gets really high, the wine can expand and push the cork partially out of the bottle. You can sometimes recognize cooked wines by a streak of wine color up the length of the cork, a partially protuding cork, or leakage. Red wines may turn brown.

Misplaced fermentation. Residual sugar related to misplaced fermentation (or re-fermentation) makes non-sparkling wines fizzy. You may not see bubbles in the glass but rather feel the “fizziness” on your palate. A wine with residual sugar may also taste inappropriately sweet. Essentially, wines suffering from this flaw did not complete the fermentation process as desired and scheduled. They can be rather nasty.

Lightstruck. White wines, in particular sparkling wines, can become flawed if exposed to excess light (specifically UV rays). Lightstruck wines may resemble corked wines in terms of a cardboard-like taste and smell.

Volatile acidity. Characterized by vinegary or nail polish remover-type aromas, high volatile acidity results from bacteria or failed yeast reactions. “Fixed acidity,” on the other hand, is a wine characteristic typically tasted rather than smelled, and is an appropriate component of the wine.

Brett. “Brett” refers to Brettanomyces bacteria. Wine contaminated with this bacteria may taste or smell like mouse pee, bandaids, sweat, cigarette smoke, or wet dog, in addition to other unpleasant items. Because it can exhibit so many different aromas, Brett can be hard to identify; the situation is further complicated by the fact that some Brett characters, like cloves and spice, can be enjoyable and even desirable!

Published in: on April 11, 2007 at 1:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Basics of Wine Tasting Methodology

Several terms are used to characterize tasting methodologies.

A wine flight or tasting flight is simply a series of samples assembled for comparative purposes. Wineries and wine boutiques generally offer flights consisting of three, five, or seven wines. The wines are often served in special small glasses.

When conducting a tasting, it is good practice to start with the effervescent and lighter wines first and work through to the heavier, more full-bodied wines. This prevents the stronger-tasting wines from clouding one’s palate. Drinking or swishing with water between wines can also help; eating bland crackers (such as water crackers) can also help to cleanse the palate. Ideally, a tasting is conducted in a well-lit room, with a piece of white paper serving as a kind of “placemat” for the tasting glasses. This allows the tasters to note variations in color, and also to analyze the wines’ legs.

Most informal tastings are simply wine flights, sampled in sequence, while making notes about the characteristics of each sample. Vertical tastings compare wines of different vintages, but representing the same variety and winery. Horizontal tastings, on the other hand, compare the same vintage across several wineries, generally constraining to one variety (and often to a single region). This means that a vertical tasting is useful in analyzing the changes in a wine from year to year; a horizontal tasting characterizes the differences in winemaking approach between various wineries.

Blind tastings are conducted for most competitions. In the case of a blind tasting, the participants do not see the wine’s label and are not told anything about it (such as winery, region, vintage, etc.) before sampling it. A blind tasting can be excellent for evaluating the quality of a wine, but is not particularly useful as an educational experience for the participants.

Perhaps the simplest and most enjoyable type of tasting is the “cellar door” experience: the opportunity to try a flight of a few wines from a particular winemaker on-site at the winery. The wines may each be very different from each other, and each is evaluated on its own merits. The opportunity to speak with individuals involved in the making and marketing of the wines can be a lot of fun. Learning about the development of a particular blend, the history of a vineyard, and the events marking a particular vintage can add a lot of pleasure to the wine drinking experience.

Of course, not all of us have the opportunity to savor wines on their own doorstep. An alternative is an informal tasting with friends, conducted by a knowledgeable guide. These “pleasure tastings” can be conducted at private parties or prior to a nice dinner.

Published in: on April 10, 2007 at 2:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

Vinography Aroma Card

Alder at the Vinography wine blog has created a wallet-sized “aroma card” to help tasters “learn to describe wine in ways that are meaningful and memorable [to them].” I think that my husband will be pleased that Vinography has validated “Jolly Rancher” as a “meaningful” aroma.

Published in: on April 10, 2007 at 2:00 am  Leave a Comment