Common Wine Faults and How to Recognize Them?

Most wine lovers often get confused and embarrassed when there are wine flaws and wine faults. This happens because not all who are passionate about wine are aware of the flaws and faults in wine. Even experienced wine collectors who very well know about the quality of wines often fail to realize and recognize the exact faults or flaws in wines. So, the key to recognizing or identifying the faults and flaws is to understand the quality of the wine. Below are some key elements to understand what exactly wine quality means, factors responsible for the quality, wine flaws, and faults, and some indicators to assess the quality of the wine.

What are Wine’s Faults and Flaws?

Wine faults and flaws are two different things that affect the wine including its flavor and color. Wine flaws are considered minor and normal and are often deliberately caused by winemakers. Wine flaws include excess volatile acidity, maximum sulfur dioxide, Brett aromas, buttery aromas, etc. This is done to generate specific tastes and flavors in wines to meet the growing demand of wine lovers. However, flaws like too much acidity and excess Brett aroma are considered faults. 

On the other hand, wine faults are considered defective, unusable, or undrinkable, and eventually spoilage of wine. Wine faults are caused by various factors including inappropriate winemaking and poor storage. In fact, the elements responsible for wine faults naturally exist in the wine but in minimum concentration which neither harms the wine nor the consumer. Moreover, these elements are usually considered good for wine. Nevertheless, when these elements are more or exceed the limit or generate harmful compounds they ultimately lead to faults. 

Common Wine Faults

Different Types of Wine Faults

Wine contains many chemicals like Esther, tannin, acids, amino acids, and other hundred and thousands of tiny molecules that contribute to the flavor and aroma of the wine. These components come together and combine and compromise to shape the wine with a specific taste and flavor. On the other hand, when something goes wrong and some compounds end up there comes the imbalance which is called a fault. However, the reasons for faults are many leading to different types of faults. Below are some different types of wine faults. 

  • Brettanomyces,
  • Amyl-acetate,
  • Acetaldehyde,
  • Butyric acid,
  • Cork taint,
  • Ethyl acetate,
  • Lactic acid bacteria,
  • Sorbic acid,
  • Iodine,
  • Hydrogen sulfide,
  • Mercaptans,
  • Oxidation,
  • Sulfur dioxide.

Out of the above different types of wine faults, below are the most common types of wine faults and the symptoms or how to recognize the wine faults.

1) Oxidation

Oxidation is one of the most common faults in wines which takes place quietly without notice. Winemaking processes and procedures have come a long way and in course of time many new techniques and skills have been incorporated into the process and procedures. The contemporary wine-making processes have introduced ready-to-drink wines without the need to age them for years. 

However, oxidation is one of the most common wine faults and it occurs when the wine is exposed to a high level of oxidation. This usually happens during the winemaking process, especially in a lazy and prolonged wine-making process or inappropriate storage of the wine, or poor and improper sealing.

Oxidized wines change their color to deep brown in red wines and dark in white wines. They also develop a musty smell which is often blamed on faulty cork but there can be many reasons for the issue. Sadly, there is no solution for this other than either returning it or replacing it with a fresh bottle. 

2) Cork Taint or TCA

TCA or Trichloroanisole or popularly known as cork taint is another common wine fault that is said to be the 2nd most common wine fault out of the entire wine fault. TCA is a type of wine contamination that usually takes place during the wine-making process caused by faulty cork. This can happen in the wine-making process or during storage, especially in oak barrels. This contamination can spread to the entire batch instead of contaminating one or two bottles.

TCA-contaminated wines smell dank exactly like moldy cardboard or a wet dog or a wet newspaper. The usual flavor of the wine in a TCA-contaminated bottle no more smells fruity and gets dominated by the damp smell. This smell can be removed by the old PVDC formula but this 1933 Saran Wrap formula of polyvinylidene chloride does not exist anymore. So, if you happen to find a TCA fault wine bottle, you have no other way but to return it from where you collected it.

3) Brettanomyces

Brettanomyces or commonly known as Brett is yeast usually found in red wines as well as in white wines. Brett can occur in the early stage of winemaking which should be prevented by the winemakers. Once it spreads in the wine the best thing to do is to throw the wine and prevent it from spreading. 

Brett is also identified or recognized by its smell. Brett smells like Elastoplast or band-aid. Most users say that it gives a type of hospital smell. However, some people who like the mild smell of yeast say it smells like farmyard or sewage. Brett can be cured and removed but the process of removing yeast is complex. It is usually removed by sanitizing and cleaning through dry stem vapor. Another way to remove the east from the wine is by sterile filtration.

4) Secondary Fermentation

Secondary fermentation or bubbles in wines that are non-sparkling is a fault caused by accidental residual sugar. Ultimately, the residual sugar starts the process of refermentation in the bottle resulting in bubbles, especially in red wines. This usually happens when the winemaker does not add sulfites in the low-intervention wine-making process.

Secondary fermentation fault is identified by observing the bubbles or listening to the Psss sound in the wine bottle. It can be also recognized by tasting and finding a zippy taste. However, not all wines that taste zippy can be categorized as faults because some winemakers do it deliberately to add a kick to the wine. Some traditional wines like Italian Bonarda or Vinho Verde might be misunderstood by secondary fermentation faults which are in fact naturally frizzante.

Treating this wine fault or removing the bubbles caused by secondary fermentation is tricky and almost impossible. However, some people try to remove the bubbles by putting the wine into a vessel and shaking it which can remove some bubbles.

5) Volatile Acidity – VA

Sulfur and other chemicals and acids are components of winemaking but too much of them leads to faults. One of the same is too much acetic acid resulting in a wine fault called volatile acidity or VA leading to vinegar taint and unpleasant to drink. This fault is caused by a bacteria which produces a lot of acetic acids and spoils the wine. However, some wine brands like a slight acid and use a permitted limit of VA.

The VA fault wine smells like nail polish remover and the fault can be prevented by best practices in winemaking like cleanliness and sanitization. Adding sulfur dioxide and eliminating air (to prevent oxygen into the wine as the bacteria causing the fault essentially need oxygen to grow) in the container can effectively prevent the wine fault.

Also check: The 5 Do’s and Don’ts of Wine Storage

What is Wine Quality Vis a Vis Wine Faults or Flaws?

Wine faults or flaws correlate with the quality of the wine. When someone talks about wine quality it refers to either high-quality or bad-quality wine. Eventually, the best quality wine does not come with faults or flaws. The symptoms of bad or high-quality wine are usually known by the taste or flavor or color of the wine. But beyond these symptoms, other factors help you to determine the quality of your favorite wine. So, when you understand and realize the factors that determine the quality of the wine you can choose the best quality wine for you. Below are factors that determine the quality of the wine vis a vis the faults or flaws of the wine.

Factors Responsible for Faults, Flaws, and Quality of Wine

Environmental Factors: Environment or the weather and climate of the places where the raw materials or the grapes are cultivated primarily contribute to the quality of the wine. The climate of the area determines the plant health of the grapes leading to the growth of grapes, their taste, flavor, and juice. Well-grown or healthy grapes lead to the production of high-quality wine. Grapes that are produced in cooler climates usually contribute higher acidity in wine compared to hot-weather grapes.

Similarly, these grapes produce reduced sugar and alcohol. On the other hand, hot weather grapes usually ripen faster leading to higher alcohol and sugar content. Other environmental factors include the intensity of sunlight and temperature. An average of 60 degrees F. is good for short-cycle varieties of grapes whereas this level of temperature is not beneficial for long-cycle varieties.

Process of Grape Cultivation as a Factor: Grape producers follow various processes to cultivate grapes which affect the quality of the grape. For example, regular and appropriate pruning, and removal of extra shoots and leaves promote plant health leading to healthy grape harvesting. On the other hand, too early harvest or too late harvesting can lead to a lack of balance in the grapes. Similarly, mechanical harvesting can harvest faster and protect the harvesting from weather-related problems. But manual harvesting ensures high-quality grapes for winemaking.

Process of Wine Making as a Factor: Wine making process and practices are other factors that lead to good and bad qualities of wine vis flaws and faults. Wine producers usually follow four processes namely maceration, and then fermentation followed with extraction and finally aging. Other procedures like the input of sulfur dioxide, as well as other enzymes, oxygen management, and oak barrel aging, etc., determine the quality of wine and flaws and faults as well.

Wine Quality Indicators

High-quality wines have the following indicators.

  • The first indicator to determine the quality of wine is complexity. High-quality wines are complex with numerous layers that ensure the flavor. On the other hand, lower-quality wines lack complexity.
  • The second indicator of high-quality wine is the good balance between tannin, acidity, sugar, fruit, and alcohol. 
  • The next indicator to test a wine is the visual and taste or how the wine looks and tastes. In other words, it should look and taste what it should be.
  • Last but not least is the finish or intensity of the wine. This means the flavor and taste of wine remain longer even after you swallow the wine whereas the flavor disappears in lower-quality wines after you swallow it.

Must read: How to Age Wine With a Wine Fridge?

Myths Associated with Common Wine Faults and Flaws

Many people say that they are allergic to red wines which causes severe headaches and so prefer white wine or other wines. Similarly, many also condemn the sulfur component in wine. Below are reasons why these claims are myths and not true.

  • Red wine as well as other wines have thousands of chemical compounds that are generated in the process of winemaking, especially during fermentation. Thus, these compounds are essential to maintain the acidity, flavor, and aroma of the wine. Components like tannin, histamine, congeners, tyramines, and thousands of different types of molecules turn the grape into wine and they are present in all types of wines. Nobody knows which component is causing headaches to whom. So, blaming red wine for headaches may not be accurate.
  • Too much sulfur indeed leads to many common wine faults. But sulfur is one of the essential components to make wine. Secondly, sulfur is widely used to preserve different types of foods in food manufacturing and processing units. So, adding the permitted limit of sulfur neither harm the wine nor the consumers.

Wine flows and faults are normal and natural. They are usually caused by excess use of some components, contaminations, and inappropriate wine-making procedures. While flaws are often admitted, faults are defects leading to wine spoilage. Many of the wine faults cannot be treated or removed. Interestingly, some people like wine flaws and some mild faults for which many winemakers deliberately make flaws and mild faults.

Hi, I'm Douglas Cassius, I have worked with many brands that manufacture freezers and refrigerators, so here I will be sharing that knowledge and helping HomeyCart readers.

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