Let's make a beautiful picture together: this amazing bottle, which you have been planning to open for so long, calculating the right time and occasion, either with our best friends or even on a first date, has arrived. You remove the cork, serve it with a top sommelier's in a five-star Michellin restaurant attitude, but! Something is wrong! For those who love math, the statistical probability of achieving a flawed wine is somewhere close to 3% to 4%. For the rest, just keep it in mind as a rare thing but sure to happen to you at some point.
Let's start with the most common wine faults and what we do if such an incident happens.
Natural cork, with its former but currently "dull" glory, has been used for hundreds of years to close bottles. Being a living organism of natural origin, it offers to the valuable contents of the bottle helping it breathe and have minimal contact with oxygen - but it also has some disadvantages. One of them, the most popular for the common faults, is trichloroanisol (TCA for short), commonly known with the term corked wine.
But what does TCA do to a wine? Anything, from having a clove, mushroom or an -unmistakably- wet newspaper smell, to smelling nothing! The writer has to cite an indicative real fact, a few years ago at a wine conference in Switzerland. There, the organizers served three white wines for a blind tasting and asked for their description. One was wonderfully aromatic and extroverted, with quite good complexity. The second was visibly flawed, smelling of newspaper forgotten on a table ouside on a rainy night. We put serious effort to the third wine but it gave little to no things in the nose and palate. Nice! Now, can we have a reveal? So, all three glasses contained the exact same wine but, in two of them a quantity of TCA was added before bottling. One of the two had enough to make it noticeable and the other so little that it was undetectable. The latter is also very interesting: if you have tried a wine several times but this one seems completely indifferent and flat, you have probably fallen into a TCA bar.
Tip: Do not throw away the corked wine. When boiled, the odors disappear, so make a beef bourguignon and chase your bad luck away!
Another feature that we often encounter. An odor that refers to burnt caramel and, sometimes, to an overripe, almost rotten apple. Responsible for this result is the contact of wine with oxygen, which is its sworn enemy. While in very few wines in the world this is part of the style and legitimate (indicatively in Sherry, Tawny Port but also in our Cretan Marouvas and Santorinian Vinsanto), in the remaining 99% that one will eventually lead us to toss the wine.
One of the first signs, before you even smell it, is the color. The next time someone posts a white aged wine with a deep orange color on social media, smile and hold a small basket.
And yet! We all have smelled reducing aromas sometimes, especially when we open an aged wine. The unfortunate contents of the bottle have been locked in there for years and naturally smell frowsty, which usually subsides with a little ventilation and shaking in the glass. But if these aromas persist and develop into a nice blend of boiled broccoli, spoiled egg or onion and the wonderful, very characteristic aroma of our sink, is there something one can do?
Probably nothing, as this is due to defective vinification and the hygiene issues of the winery. Some say that wine is saved if you throw a coin into the glass, as the copper alloy "picks up" the smells. On the verge of urban myth; but you can always try!
There are many other flaws, such as the volatile acidity (smell of balsamic vinegar), the Brett fungus (a sense of vitality and...saddle) and the bacteria that make the wine smell like the geraniums we have in our gardens, but they are quite rare and go beyond the purpose of this text.
So what do we do when we discover a flawed wine?
In general, the progress that has been made in Greek wineries over the last ten to fifteen years is enormous. In other words, the chances of getting a bad branded bottled wine are extremely slim. If we are in a retrograde Mercury and it happens to us, you may have the courage of your opinion and: If you are in a restaurant or have bought wine from a cellar, you let them know and, if they respect themselves (as usually happens), they will replace it with new bottle.
Stavros Moustakas - Oktapodas DipWSET
About the Editor
Having a successful sales career, he entered into the wine world initially as a wine lover, continuously tasting and travelling in the wine regions of Europe, while actively communicating Greek wine through his blog. Certified as WSET Diploma, excelling with two scholarships (best overall performance, and best blind tasting skills in academic years 2016 and 2017). He has been wine consultant at a leading importing company, along with his responsibilities of strategy and communication of Greek wineries.
Stavros Moustakas - Oktapodas DipWSET