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Don’t Be a Dork: 10 Wine Terms to Learn Before You Go on a Date

Don’t Be a Dork: 10 Wine Terms to Learn Before You Go on a Date



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You don’t have to be an expert to understand the language of ordering and drinking

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Let’s say you’re a beer guy or gal who knows a great Belgian from a rip-off, but you’ve never paid much attention to wine. Now, you’ve got a date with someone who loves wine and knows a little bit about it, and you’re looking to impress him or her.

Once the wine list comes around, it’s your time to shine. The best thing to do in situations like this is to show your date that you actually know what you’re talking about, because you don’t want to come off like a complete idiot.

While wine savvy wasn’t built in a day, there’s plenty to know about the vino. Whether it is terms to know when checking out the wine list, terms to know when the server pours you a taste of wine before you accept the bottle, or basic terms to know when discussing a wine, here are a few useful terms to get you started.

Don’t Be a Dork: 10 Wine Terms to Learn Before You Go on a Date

Thinkstock

Let’s say you’re a beer guy or gal who knows a great Belgian from a rip-off, but you’ve never paid much attention to wine. Whether it is terms to know when checking out the wine list, terms to know when the server pours you a taste of wine before you accept the bottle, or basic terms to know when discussing a wine, here are a few useful terms to get you started.

Bordeaux Blend

A red wine made from a blend of the classic grapes of Bordeaux, primarily cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and merlot. Bordeaux blends normally come from someplace other than France, such as a Napa Valley or Chile.

Breathe

“Breathing” is the CPR of wine, so this one is simple. If your server asks you if you want to open the wine and let it breathe, answer, “Yes.” Similarly, if the waitress asks if you want her to decant the wine, check your wallet, because this dinner is really going to cost. Say, “Yes,” because transferring the wine from the bottle into a bigger container — particularly if the wine is a big red — will help it suck in the air like a runner after doing wind sprints.

Bret

“Bret” is short for “brettanomyces,” a bug that can make the wine taste funky and earthy. If you’re not sure, ask the waiter is he or she thinks the wine might have a little bret. Remember, it’s no skin off his nose to have it replaced. (If you’re in a group and someone asks you if the wine may have bret, sniff it or taste it, and say, “Possibly, but your nose and palate may be a little more sensitive than mine.” That should get you off the hook.)

Corked

This is one of two terms that allow you to send back a wine immediately. It means that a “bug” in the cork called TCA has infected the smell and taste of the wine. It’s a stale, musty smell, like that of an attic that hasn’t been aired out since your great aunt died. Tell the server the wine may be corked, and usually they will recognize the smell immediately. Warning: If the wine has a screw cap, you may have a tough sell sending it back.

Fresh

“Fresh” is a good catch-all word to describe wines — especially whites — that taste clean and have some zip to them and a crisp finish. A New Zealand sauvignon blanc is usually a good example. The opposite — a wine that has very little structure — is called flabby or fat.

Fruit-Forward

A good catch-all term to describe reds — especially red blends — that hit you with a big, juicy dollop of fruit right from the beginning. They may taste a little too sweet, whether or not they actually are. Argentine blends and California merlots are often fruit-forward.

Hot

For wine, unlike people, “hot” is not a good term. Wines with higher alcohol may seem hot or sharp on the palate. This bothers some people immensely, while others couldn't care less. It is not a reason to send back a wine, but you may check the label to see the percentage of alcohol is in excess of 14 or 15 percent. If it is, your diagnosis may be warranted.

Meritage

The same as a Bordeaux blend. Occasionally, you might see a “white meritage” (pronounced MAIR-uh-tige), which means a blend from primarily sauvignon blanc and sémillon.

Varietal

A wine that is made mostly or totally from the same grape variety, such as chardonnay or malbec.

Vertical and Horizontal Flights

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Sometimes restaurants offer tastings of three or more vintages of the same wine — a “vertical” flight — or a similar tasting of different wines in the same category from the same vintage — a “horizontal” flight. An example of each would be a vertical of, say, five vintages from the same Bordeaux château or a horizontal of five Napa Valley chardonnays from the 2012 vintage.


7 Wine Faults and How to Sniff Them Out

As wine drinkers, we consume a lot of flawed wine without even realizing it. Nothing to be ashamed of because most of us just don’t know what wine flaws are.

The good news is, the majority of wine faults are not bad for us. They just taste bad. So, here’s a short primer on the most common flaws in wine and how to sniff them out.

(For you wine geeks, be sure to check out the Master Guide for more!)

Oxidized Wine …

  • How you can tell: Oxidized wines lose their brightness, both in color and in flavor. Deep reds turn to a brownish-orange color and have a strange vinegar-and-caramelized-apple characteristic.

By the way, white wines are much more susceptible to oxidization than reds, because reds’ higher tannin levels act as a buffer. If you really want to see what this looks like: open a new bottle, pour a glass and save that bottle for about a week. Congrats, you just ruined your wine. Drink some and compare it to that first glass you had.

The Best Wine Tools

From beginner to professional, the right wine tools make for the best drinking experience.

2,4,6-Trichloroanisole (TCA) …aka cork taint

  • How you can tell: Cork tainted wines have a dank odor that smells almost exactly like wet newspaper, moldy cardboard, or wet dog. These off-flavors dominate the corked wine, and there’s minimal fruit flavor.

Sulfur Compounds

  • How you can tell: The most frequent manifestation of a sulfur-related flaw is called mercaptan (it’s related to dihydrogen sulfide). If you notice rotten egg, fart, burnt rubber, cooked garlic, or skunk smells in your wine after decanting it for some time, then you probably have a mercaptan problem.
  • What it is: Sulphur is a complicated issue in wine. Sulfur is added in small amounts to almost all wine to stabilize it. Another sulfur compound found in wine called dihydrogen sulfide (H2S) is a naturally occurring bi-product when fermentations are stressed.

Secondary Fermentation …Bubbles in a non-sparkling wine!

  • How you can tell: Look for bubbles or listen for the psssst. Wines usually smell yeasty. They taste zippy.

Heat Damage …aka cooked wine (“madeirized” wine)

  • What it is: Wine ruined by exposure to too much heat. Imagine a pallet of wine cases cooking in the sun in the parking lot behind a wine store in Phoenix, AZ. Yep, this happens more commonly than you might think!
  • How you can tell: The wine smells jammy: sort of sweet, but processed. The smell is somewhat like a wine reduction sauce, mixed with a nutty, brown, roasted sugar-type aroma. Heat damage often compromises the seal of the bottle (the expansion from the heated air pushes the cork out), oxidization often occurs as well.
  • Can I fix it? No, but you can store your wine at the proper temperature and ensure you are not the problem. Most people accept 55 degrees as the best cellar temperature. The most important part of storage is a consistent temperature. Be mindful of how hot your garage gets in the summer if that’s where you store your wine. Don’t store wine in your attic.

UV Light Damage …aka lightstrike

  • How you can tell: Lightstrike occurs more commonly in delicate white wines like Champagne, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc. It makes the wine smell like a wet wool sweater!
  • What it is: Damage caused by exposure to excessive radiation, usually UV. Most commonly from storing wine in the sun or near a window.
  • Can I fix it? No, but you can be smart about storing your wine out of direct sunlight. The colored glass of wine bottles is supposed to mitigate lightstrike, so if you get a homemade white wine in a mason jar, put it in the darkest corner of your cellar.

Microbial and Bacterial Taint …aka I think something is growing in there

  • How you can tell: Again, there are many other bacteria involved in winemaking. They impart certain positive flavors but also produce signature wine faults. For example, if your wine smells like a gerbil cage, sommeliers call this “mousy,” often found in natural wines.

When you try a wine and breathe out and get a whiff of hay bail, this is called “ropiness” and suggests another over-productive wild microbe.

Not All Wine Faults Are Actually Wine Faults

Volatile Acidity …aka Acetic acid

What it is: This can be one of the most common wine faults, known as vinegar taint, but it is also a tool used by some high-quality winemakers to develop complexity in their flavor profiles.

Very high levels of acetic acid can smell like balsamic vinaigrette. In other words, some vinegar taint is on purpose and that style just isn’t for you. Some acetic acid is a winemaking fault, an accidental process caused when fermenting very-sweet grapes.

Tartrate Crystals …”glass” shards

What it is: These are mineral precipitates that form out of unfiltered, high mineral wines. They are little crystals sitting on the bottom of older bottles. They won’t cause you harm, so long as you don’t cut yourself on them (just kidding!). All you need to do is decant the wine with a filter and leave the sediment in the bottle.

Herbal Aromas …smells “green”

What it is: Herbal aromas are typical parts of certain varietally-specific flavor profiles that can smell of grass, eucalyptus, or asparagus. The most common of these chemicals is methoxypyrazine or “pyrazines” for short, commonly found in Bordeaux-family grapes. To new or unfamiliar wine drinkers, these aromas can seem similar to sulfur or microbial wine faults, but they’re not!

We recommend trying a lot of wines to learn the difference! Chin chin!

Brett …smells “like a farm”

What it is: Brett is short for Brettanomyces which is a type of wild yeast that is very odiferous! Bretty wines smell like a farmyard, hay bails, sweaty saddle, Band-Aid, or “horsey.” Even in very low amounts, Brett often gives wine a metallic taste on the finish.

Despite how horrible this might sound to you, Brett is a wild thing that is loved for creating complexity.

It’s certainly not okay in some wines (such as white wines or Pinot Noir), but in Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or Carignan, it adds interest. Some of you love it, others hate it. But there’s no denying that Brett will be a thing in wine for years to come.

There’s so much more to learn about wine and your journey has just begun with wine faults – join the Wine Folly newsletter and you’ll gain access to our Wine 101 course.


7 Wine Faults and How to Sniff Them Out

As wine drinkers, we consume a lot of flawed wine without even realizing it. Nothing to be ashamed of because most of us just don’t know what wine flaws are.

The good news is, the majority of wine faults are not bad for us. They just taste bad. So, here’s a short primer on the most common flaws in wine and how to sniff them out.

(For you wine geeks, be sure to check out the Master Guide for more!)

Oxidized Wine …

  • How you can tell: Oxidized wines lose their brightness, both in color and in flavor. Deep reds turn to a brownish-orange color and have a strange vinegar-and-caramelized-apple characteristic.

By the way, white wines are much more susceptible to oxidization than reds, because reds’ higher tannin levels act as a buffer. If you really want to see what this looks like: open a new bottle, pour a glass and save that bottle for about a week. Congrats, you just ruined your wine. Drink some and compare it to that first glass you had.

The Best Wine Tools

From beginner to professional, the right wine tools make for the best drinking experience.

2,4,6-Trichloroanisole (TCA) …aka cork taint

  • How you can tell: Cork tainted wines have a dank odor that smells almost exactly like wet newspaper, moldy cardboard, or wet dog. These off-flavors dominate the corked wine, and there’s minimal fruit flavor.

Sulfur Compounds

  • How you can tell: The most frequent manifestation of a sulfur-related flaw is called mercaptan (it’s related to dihydrogen sulfide). If you notice rotten egg, fart, burnt rubber, cooked garlic, or skunk smells in your wine after decanting it for some time, then you probably have a mercaptan problem.
  • What it is: Sulphur is a complicated issue in wine. Sulfur is added in small amounts to almost all wine to stabilize it. Another sulfur compound found in wine called dihydrogen sulfide (H2S) is a naturally occurring bi-product when fermentations are stressed.

Secondary Fermentation …Bubbles in a non-sparkling wine!

  • How you can tell: Look for bubbles or listen for the psssst. Wines usually smell yeasty. They taste zippy.

Heat Damage …aka cooked wine (“madeirized” wine)

  • What it is: Wine ruined by exposure to too much heat. Imagine a pallet of wine cases cooking in the sun in the parking lot behind a wine store in Phoenix, AZ. Yep, this happens more commonly than you might think!
  • How you can tell: The wine smells jammy: sort of sweet, but processed. The smell is somewhat like a wine reduction sauce, mixed with a nutty, brown, roasted sugar-type aroma. Heat damage often compromises the seal of the bottle (the expansion from the heated air pushes the cork out), oxidization often occurs as well.
  • Can I fix it? No, but you can store your wine at the proper temperature and ensure you are not the problem. Most people accept 55 degrees as the best cellar temperature. The most important part of storage is a consistent temperature. Be mindful of how hot your garage gets in the summer if that’s where you store your wine. Don’t store wine in your attic.

UV Light Damage …aka lightstrike

  • How you can tell: Lightstrike occurs more commonly in delicate white wines like Champagne, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc. It makes the wine smell like a wet wool sweater!
  • What it is: Damage caused by exposure to excessive radiation, usually UV. Most commonly from storing wine in the sun or near a window.
  • Can I fix it? No, but you can be smart about storing your wine out of direct sunlight. The colored glass of wine bottles is supposed to mitigate lightstrike, so if you get a homemade white wine in a mason jar, put it in the darkest corner of your cellar.

Microbial and Bacterial Taint …aka I think something is growing in there

  • How you can tell: Again, there are many other bacteria involved in winemaking. They impart certain positive flavors but also produce signature wine faults. For example, if your wine smells like a gerbil cage, sommeliers call this “mousy,” often found in natural wines.

When you try a wine and breathe out and get a whiff of hay bail, this is called “ropiness” and suggests another over-productive wild microbe.

Not All Wine Faults Are Actually Wine Faults

Volatile Acidity …aka Acetic acid

What it is: This can be one of the most common wine faults, known as vinegar taint, but it is also a tool used by some high-quality winemakers to develop complexity in their flavor profiles.

Very high levels of acetic acid can smell like balsamic vinaigrette. In other words, some vinegar taint is on purpose and that style just isn’t for you. Some acetic acid is a winemaking fault, an accidental process caused when fermenting very-sweet grapes.

Tartrate Crystals …”glass” shards

What it is: These are mineral precipitates that form out of unfiltered, high mineral wines. They are little crystals sitting on the bottom of older bottles. They won’t cause you harm, so long as you don’t cut yourself on them (just kidding!). All you need to do is decant the wine with a filter and leave the sediment in the bottle.

Herbal Aromas …smells “green”

What it is: Herbal aromas are typical parts of certain varietally-specific flavor profiles that can smell of grass, eucalyptus, or asparagus. The most common of these chemicals is methoxypyrazine or “pyrazines” for short, commonly found in Bordeaux-family grapes. To new or unfamiliar wine drinkers, these aromas can seem similar to sulfur or microbial wine faults, but they’re not!

We recommend trying a lot of wines to learn the difference! Chin chin!

Brett …smells “like a farm”

What it is: Brett is short for Brettanomyces which is a type of wild yeast that is very odiferous! Bretty wines smell like a farmyard, hay bails, sweaty saddle, Band-Aid, or “horsey.” Even in very low amounts, Brett often gives wine a metallic taste on the finish.

Despite how horrible this might sound to you, Brett is a wild thing that is loved for creating complexity.

It’s certainly not okay in some wines (such as white wines or Pinot Noir), but in Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or Carignan, it adds interest. Some of you love it, others hate it. But there’s no denying that Brett will be a thing in wine for years to come.

There’s so much more to learn about wine and your journey has just begun with wine faults – join the Wine Folly newsletter and you’ll gain access to our Wine 101 course.


7 Wine Faults and How to Sniff Them Out

As wine drinkers, we consume a lot of flawed wine without even realizing it. Nothing to be ashamed of because most of us just don’t know what wine flaws are.

The good news is, the majority of wine faults are not bad for us. They just taste bad. So, here’s a short primer on the most common flaws in wine and how to sniff them out.

(For you wine geeks, be sure to check out the Master Guide for more!)

Oxidized Wine …

  • How you can tell: Oxidized wines lose their brightness, both in color and in flavor. Deep reds turn to a brownish-orange color and have a strange vinegar-and-caramelized-apple characteristic.

By the way, white wines are much more susceptible to oxidization than reds, because reds’ higher tannin levels act as a buffer. If you really want to see what this looks like: open a new bottle, pour a glass and save that bottle for about a week. Congrats, you just ruined your wine. Drink some and compare it to that first glass you had.

The Best Wine Tools

From beginner to professional, the right wine tools make for the best drinking experience.

2,4,6-Trichloroanisole (TCA) …aka cork taint

  • How you can tell: Cork tainted wines have a dank odor that smells almost exactly like wet newspaper, moldy cardboard, or wet dog. These off-flavors dominate the corked wine, and there’s minimal fruit flavor.

Sulfur Compounds

  • How you can tell: The most frequent manifestation of a sulfur-related flaw is called mercaptan (it’s related to dihydrogen sulfide). If you notice rotten egg, fart, burnt rubber, cooked garlic, or skunk smells in your wine after decanting it for some time, then you probably have a mercaptan problem.
  • What it is: Sulphur is a complicated issue in wine. Sulfur is added in small amounts to almost all wine to stabilize it. Another sulfur compound found in wine called dihydrogen sulfide (H2S) is a naturally occurring bi-product when fermentations are stressed.

Secondary Fermentation …Bubbles in a non-sparkling wine!

  • How you can tell: Look for bubbles or listen for the psssst. Wines usually smell yeasty. They taste zippy.

Heat Damage …aka cooked wine (“madeirized” wine)

  • What it is: Wine ruined by exposure to too much heat. Imagine a pallet of wine cases cooking in the sun in the parking lot behind a wine store in Phoenix, AZ. Yep, this happens more commonly than you might think!
  • How you can tell: The wine smells jammy: sort of sweet, but processed. The smell is somewhat like a wine reduction sauce, mixed with a nutty, brown, roasted sugar-type aroma. Heat damage often compromises the seal of the bottle (the expansion from the heated air pushes the cork out), oxidization often occurs as well.
  • Can I fix it? No, but you can store your wine at the proper temperature and ensure you are not the problem. Most people accept 55 degrees as the best cellar temperature. The most important part of storage is a consistent temperature. Be mindful of how hot your garage gets in the summer if that’s where you store your wine. Don’t store wine in your attic.

UV Light Damage …aka lightstrike

  • How you can tell: Lightstrike occurs more commonly in delicate white wines like Champagne, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc. It makes the wine smell like a wet wool sweater!
  • What it is: Damage caused by exposure to excessive radiation, usually UV. Most commonly from storing wine in the sun or near a window.
  • Can I fix it? No, but you can be smart about storing your wine out of direct sunlight. The colored glass of wine bottles is supposed to mitigate lightstrike, so if you get a homemade white wine in a mason jar, put it in the darkest corner of your cellar.

Microbial and Bacterial Taint …aka I think something is growing in there

  • How you can tell: Again, there are many other bacteria involved in winemaking. They impart certain positive flavors but also produce signature wine faults. For example, if your wine smells like a gerbil cage, sommeliers call this “mousy,” often found in natural wines.

When you try a wine and breathe out and get a whiff of hay bail, this is called “ropiness” and suggests another over-productive wild microbe.

Not All Wine Faults Are Actually Wine Faults

Volatile Acidity …aka Acetic acid

What it is: This can be one of the most common wine faults, known as vinegar taint, but it is also a tool used by some high-quality winemakers to develop complexity in their flavor profiles.

Very high levels of acetic acid can smell like balsamic vinaigrette. In other words, some vinegar taint is on purpose and that style just isn’t for you. Some acetic acid is a winemaking fault, an accidental process caused when fermenting very-sweet grapes.

Tartrate Crystals …”glass” shards

What it is: These are mineral precipitates that form out of unfiltered, high mineral wines. They are little crystals sitting on the bottom of older bottles. They won’t cause you harm, so long as you don’t cut yourself on them (just kidding!). All you need to do is decant the wine with a filter and leave the sediment in the bottle.

Herbal Aromas …smells “green”

What it is: Herbal aromas are typical parts of certain varietally-specific flavor profiles that can smell of grass, eucalyptus, or asparagus. The most common of these chemicals is methoxypyrazine or “pyrazines” for short, commonly found in Bordeaux-family grapes. To new or unfamiliar wine drinkers, these aromas can seem similar to sulfur or microbial wine faults, but they’re not!

We recommend trying a lot of wines to learn the difference! Chin chin!

Brett …smells “like a farm”

What it is: Brett is short for Brettanomyces which is a type of wild yeast that is very odiferous! Bretty wines smell like a farmyard, hay bails, sweaty saddle, Band-Aid, or “horsey.” Even in very low amounts, Brett often gives wine a metallic taste on the finish.

Despite how horrible this might sound to you, Brett is a wild thing that is loved for creating complexity.

It’s certainly not okay in some wines (such as white wines or Pinot Noir), but in Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or Carignan, it adds interest. Some of you love it, others hate it. But there’s no denying that Brett will be a thing in wine for years to come.

There’s so much more to learn about wine and your journey has just begun with wine faults – join the Wine Folly newsletter and you’ll gain access to our Wine 101 course.


7 Wine Faults and How to Sniff Them Out

As wine drinkers, we consume a lot of flawed wine without even realizing it. Nothing to be ashamed of because most of us just don’t know what wine flaws are.

The good news is, the majority of wine faults are not bad for us. They just taste bad. So, here’s a short primer on the most common flaws in wine and how to sniff them out.

(For you wine geeks, be sure to check out the Master Guide for more!)

Oxidized Wine …

  • How you can tell: Oxidized wines lose their brightness, both in color and in flavor. Deep reds turn to a brownish-orange color and have a strange vinegar-and-caramelized-apple characteristic.

By the way, white wines are much more susceptible to oxidization than reds, because reds’ higher tannin levels act as a buffer. If you really want to see what this looks like: open a new bottle, pour a glass and save that bottle for about a week. Congrats, you just ruined your wine. Drink some and compare it to that first glass you had.

The Best Wine Tools

From beginner to professional, the right wine tools make for the best drinking experience.

2,4,6-Trichloroanisole (TCA) …aka cork taint

  • How you can tell: Cork tainted wines have a dank odor that smells almost exactly like wet newspaper, moldy cardboard, or wet dog. These off-flavors dominate the corked wine, and there’s minimal fruit flavor.

Sulfur Compounds

  • How you can tell: The most frequent manifestation of a sulfur-related flaw is called mercaptan (it’s related to dihydrogen sulfide). If you notice rotten egg, fart, burnt rubber, cooked garlic, or skunk smells in your wine after decanting it for some time, then you probably have a mercaptan problem.
  • What it is: Sulphur is a complicated issue in wine. Sulfur is added in small amounts to almost all wine to stabilize it. Another sulfur compound found in wine called dihydrogen sulfide (H2S) is a naturally occurring bi-product when fermentations are stressed.

Secondary Fermentation …Bubbles in a non-sparkling wine!

  • How you can tell: Look for bubbles or listen for the psssst. Wines usually smell yeasty. They taste zippy.

Heat Damage …aka cooked wine (“madeirized” wine)

  • What it is: Wine ruined by exposure to too much heat. Imagine a pallet of wine cases cooking in the sun in the parking lot behind a wine store in Phoenix, AZ. Yep, this happens more commonly than you might think!
  • How you can tell: The wine smells jammy: sort of sweet, but processed. The smell is somewhat like a wine reduction sauce, mixed with a nutty, brown, roasted sugar-type aroma. Heat damage often compromises the seal of the bottle (the expansion from the heated air pushes the cork out), oxidization often occurs as well.
  • Can I fix it? No, but you can store your wine at the proper temperature and ensure you are not the problem. Most people accept 55 degrees as the best cellar temperature. The most important part of storage is a consistent temperature. Be mindful of how hot your garage gets in the summer if that’s where you store your wine. Don’t store wine in your attic.

UV Light Damage …aka lightstrike

  • How you can tell: Lightstrike occurs more commonly in delicate white wines like Champagne, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc. It makes the wine smell like a wet wool sweater!
  • What it is: Damage caused by exposure to excessive radiation, usually UV. Most commonly from storing wine in the sun or near a window.
  • Can I fix it? No, but you can be smart about storing your wine out of direct sunlight. The colored glass of wine bottles is supposed to mitigate lightstrike, so if you get a homemade white wine in a mason jar, put it in the darkest corner of your cellar.

Microbial and Bacterial Taint …aka I think something is growing in there

  • How you can tell: Again, there are many other bacteria involved in winemaking. They impart certain positive flavors but also produce signature wine faults. For example, if your wine smells like a gerbil cage, sommeliers call this “mousy,” often found in natural wines.

When you try a wine and breathe out and get a whiff of hay bail, this is called “ropiness” and suggests another over-productive wild microbe.

Not All Wine Faults Are Actually Wine Faults

Volatile Acidity …aka Acetic acid

What it is: This can be one of the most common wine faults, known as vinegar taint, but it is also a tool used by some high-quality winemakers to develop complexity in their flavor profiles.

Very high levels of acetic acid can smell like balsamic vinaigrette. In other words, some vinegar taint is on purpose and that style just isn’t for you. Some acetic acid is a winemaking fault, an accidental process caused when fermenting very-sweet grapes.

Tartrate Crystals …”glass” shards

What it is: These are mineral precipitates that form out of unfiltered, high mineral wines. They are little crystals sitting on the bottom of older bottles. They won’t cause you harm, so long as you don’t cut yourself on them (just kidding!). All you need to do is decant the wine with a filter and leave the sediment in the bottle.

Herbal Aromas …smells “green”

What it is: Herbal aromas are typical parts of certain varietally-specific flavor profiles that can smell of grass, eucalyptus, or asparagus. The most common of these chemicals is methoxypyrazine or “pyrazines” for short, commonly found in Bordeaux-family grapes. To new or unfamiliar wine drinkers, these aromas can seem similar to sulfur or microbial wine faults, but they’re not!

We recommend trying a lot of wines to learn the difference! Chin chin!

Brett …smells “like a farm”

What it is: Brett is short for Brettanomyces which is a type of wild yeast that is very odiferous! Bretty wines smell like a farmyard, hay bails, sweaty saddle, Band-Aid, or “horsey.” Even in very low amounts, Brett often gives wine a metallic taste on the finish.

Despite how horrible this might sound to you, Brett is a wild thing that is loved for creating complexity.

It’s certainly not okay in some wines (such as white wines or Pinot Noir), but in Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or Carignan, it adds interest. Some of you love it, others hate it. But there’s no denying that Brett will be a thing in wine for years to come.

There’s so much more to learn about wine and your journey has just begun with wine faults – join the Wine Folly newsletter and you’ll gain access to our Wine 101 course.


7 Wine Faults and How to Sniff Them Out

As wine drinkers, we consume a lot of flawed wine without even realizing it. Nothing to be ashamed of because most of us just don’t know what wine flaws are.

The good news is, the majority of wine faults are not bad for us. They just taste bad. So, here’s a short primer on the most common flaws in wine and how to sniff them out.

(For you wine geeks, be sure to check out the Master Guide for more!)

Oxidized Wine …

  • How you can tell: Oxidized wines lose their brightness, both in color and in flavor. Deep reds turn to a brownish-orange color and have a strange vinegar-and-caramelized-apple characteristic.

By the way, white wines are much more susceptible to oxidization than reds, because reds’ higher tannin levels act as a buffer. If you really want to see what this looks like: open a new bottle, pour a glass and save that bottle for about a week. Congrats, you just ruined your wine. Drink some and compare it to that first glass you had.

The Best Wine Tools

From beginner to professional, the right wine tools make for the best drinking experience.

2,4,6-Trichloroanisole (TCA) …aka cork taint

  • How you can tell: Cork tainted wines have a dank odor that smells almost exactly like wet newspaper, moldy cardboard, or wet dog. These off-flavors dominate the corked wine, and there’s minimal fruit flavor.

Sulfur Compounds

  • How you can tell: The most frequent manifestation of a sulfur-related flaw is called mercaptan (it’s related to dihydrogen sulfide). If you notice rotten egg, fart, burnt rubber, cooked garlic, or skunk smells in your wine after decanting it for some time, then you probably have a mercaptan problem.
  • What it is: Sulphur is a complicated issue in wine. Sulfur is added in small amounts to almost all wine to stabilize it. Another sulfur compound found in wine called dihydrogen sulfide (H2S) is a naturally occurring bi-product when fermentations are stressed.

Secondary Fermentation …Bubbles in a non-sparkling wine!

  • How you can tell: Look for bubbles or listen for the psssst. Wines usually smell yeasty. They taste zippy.

Heat Damage …aka cooked wine (“madeirized” wine)

  • What it is: Wine ruined by exposure to too much heat. Imagine a pallet of wine cases cooking in the sun in the parking lot behind a wine store in Phoenix, AZ. Yep, this happens more commonly than you might think!
  • How you can tell: The wine smells jammy: sort of sweet, but processed. The smell is somewhat like a wine reduction sauce, mixed with a nutty, brown, roasted sugar-type aroma. Heat damage often compromises the seal of the bottle (the expansion from the heated air pushes the cork out), oxidization often occurs as well.
  • Can I fix it? No, but you can store your wine at the proper temperature and ensure you are not the problem. Most people accept 55 degrees as the best cellar temperature. The most important part of storage is a consistent temperature. Be mindful of how hot your garage gets in the summer if that’s where you store your wine. Don’t store wine in your attic.

UV Light Damage …aka lightstrike

  • How you can tell: Lightstrike occurs more commonly in delicate white wines like Champagne, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc. It makes the wine smell like a wet wool sweater!
  • What it is: Damage caused by exposure to excessive radiation, usually UV. Most commonly from storing wine in the sun or near a window.
  • Can I fix it? No, but you can be smart about storing your wine out of direct sunlight. The colored glass of wine bottles is supposed to mitigate lightstrike, so if you get a homemade white wine in a mason jar, put it in the darkest corner of your cellar.

Microbial and Bacterial Taint …aka I think something is growing in there

  • How you can tell: Again, there are many other bacteria involved in winemaking. They impart certain positive flavors but also produce signature wine faults. For example, if your wine smells like a gerbil cage, sommeliers call this “mousy,” often found in natural wines.

When you try a wine and breathe out and get a whiff of hay bail, this is called “ropiness” and suggests another over-productive wild microbe.

Not All Wine Faults Are Actually Wine Faults

Volatile Acidity …aka Acetic acid

What it is: This can be one of the most common wine faults, known as vinegar taint, but it is also a tool used by some high-quality winemakers to develop complexity in their flavor profiles.

Very high levels of acetic acid can smell like balsamic vinaigrette. In other words, some vinegar taint is on purpose and that style just isn’t for you. Some acetic acid is a winemaking fault, an accidental process caused when fermenting very-sweet grapes.

Tartrate Crystals …”glass” shards

What it is: These are mineral precipitates that form out of unfiltered, high mineral wines. They are little crystals sitting on the bottom of older bottles. They won’t cause you harm, so long as you don’t cut yourself on them (just kidding!). All you need to do is decant the wine with a filter and leave the sediment in the bottle.

Herbal Aromas …smells “green”

What it is: Herbal aromas are typical parts of certain varietally-specific flavor profiles that can smell of grass, eucalyptus, or asparagus. The most common of these chemicals is methoxypyrazine or “pyrazines” for short, commonly found in Bordeaux-family grapes. To new or unfamiliar wine drinkers, these aromas can seem similar to sulfur or microbial wine faults, but they’re not!

We recommend trying a lot of wines to learn the difference! Chin chin!

Brett …smells “like a farm”

What it is: Brett is short for Brettanomyces which is a type of wild yeast that is very odiferous! Bretty wines smell like a farmyard, hay bails, sweaty saddle, Band-Aid, or “horsey.” Even in very low amounts, Brett often gives wine a metallic taste on the finish.

Despite how horrible this might sound to you, Brett is a wild thing that is loved for creating complexity.

It’s certainly not okay in some wines (such as white wines or Pinot Noir), but in Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or Carignan, it adds interest. Some of you love it, others hate it. But there’s no denying that Brett will be a thing in wine for years to come.

There’s so much more to learn about wine and your journey has just begun with wine faults – join the Wine Folly newsletter and you’ll gain access to our Wine 101 course.


7 Wine Faults and How to Sniff Them Out

As wine drinkers, we consume a lot of flawed wine without even realizing it. Nothing to be ashamed of because most of us just don’t know what wine flaws are.

The good news is, the majority of wine faults are not bad for us. They just taste bad. So, here’s a short primer on the most common flaws in wine and how to sniff them out.

(For you wine geeks, be sure to check out the Master Guide for more!)

Oxidized Wine …

  • How you can tell: Oxidized wines lose their brightness, both in color and in flavor. Deep reds turn to a brownish-orange color and have a strange vinegar-and-caramelized-apple characteristic.

By the way, white wines are much more susceptible to oxidization than reds, because reds’ higher tannin levels act as a buffer. If you really want to see what this looks like: open a new bottle, pour a glass and save that bottle for about a week. Congrats, you just ruined your wine. Drink some and compare it to that first glass you had.

The Best Wine Tools

From beginner to professional, the right wine tools make for the best drinking experience.

2,4,6-Trichloroanisole (TCA) …aka cork taint

  • How you can tell: Cork tainted wines have a dank odor that smells almost exactly like wet newspaper, moldy cardboard, or wet dog. These off-flavors dominate the corked wine, and there’s minimal fruit flavor.

Sulfur Compounds

  • How you can tell: The most frequent manifestation of a sulfur-related flaw is called mercaptan (it’s related to dihydrogen sulfide). If you notice rotten egg, fart, burnt rubber, cooked garlic, or skunk smells in your wine after decanting it for some time, then you probably have a mercaptan problem.
  • What it is: Sulphur is a complicated issue in wine. Sulfur is added in small amounts to almost all wine to stabilize it. Another sulfur compound found in wine called dihydrogen sulfide (H2S) is a naturally occurring bi-product when fermentations are stressed.

Secondary Fermentation …Bubbles in a non-sparkling wine!

  • How you can tell: Look for bubbles or listen for the psssst. Wines usually smell yeasty. They taste zippy.

Heat Damage …aka cooked wine (“madeirized” wine)

  • What it is: Wine ruined by exposure to too much heat. Imagine a pallet of wine cases cooking in the sun in the parking lot behind a wine store in Phoenix, AZ. Yep, this happens more commonly than you might think!
  • How you can tell: The wine smells jammy: sort of sweet, but processed. The smell is somewhat like a wine reduction sauce, mixed with a nutty, brown, roasted sugar-type aroma. Heat damage often compromises the seal of the bottle (the expansion from the heated air pushes the cork out), oxidization often occurs as well.
  • Can I fix it? No, but you can store your wine at the proper temperature and ensure you are not the problem. Most people accept 55 degrees as the best cellar temperature. The most important part of storage is a consistent temperature. Be mindful of how hot your garage gets in the summer if that’s where you store your wine. Don’t store wine in your attic.

UV Light Damage …aka lightstrike

  • How you can tell: Lightstrike occurs more commonly in delicate white wines like Champagne, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc. It makes the wine smell like a wet wool sweater!
  • What it is: Damage caused by exposure to excessive radiation, usually UV. Most commonly from storing wine in the sun or near a window.
  • Can I fix it? No, but you can be smart about storing your wine out of direct sunlight. The colored glass of wine bottles is supposed to mitigate lightstrike, so if you get a homemade white wine in a mason jar, put it in the darkest corner of your cellar.

Microbial and Bacterial Taint …aka I think something is growing in there

  • How you can tell: Again, there are many other bacteria involved in winemaking. They impart certain positive flavors but also produce signature wine faults. For example, if your wine smells like a gerbil cage, sommeliers call this “mousy,” often found in natural wines.

When you try a wine and breathe out and get a whiff of hay bail, this is called “ropiness” and suggests another over-productive wild microbe.

Not All Wine Faults Are Actually Wine Faults

Volatile Acidity …aka Acetic acid

What it is: This can be one of the most common wine faults, known as vinegar taint, but it is also a tool used by some high-quality winemakers to develop complexity in their flavor profiles.

Very high levels of acetic acid can smell like balsamic vinaigrette. In other words, some vinegar taint is on purpose and that style just isn’t for you. Some acetic acid is a winemaking fault, an accidental process caused when fermenting very-sweet grapes.

Tartrate Crystals …”glass” shards

What it is: These are mineral precipitates that form out of unfiltered, high mineral wines. They are little crystals sitting on the bottom of older bottles. They won’t cause you harm, so long as you don’t cut yourself on them (just kidding!). All you need to do is decant the wine with a filter and leave the sediment in the bottle.

Herbal Aromas …smells “green”

What it is: Herbal aromas are typical parts of certain varietally-specific flavor profiles that can smell of grass, eucalyptus, or asparagus. The most common of these chemicals is methoxypyrazine or “pyrazines” for short, commonly found in Bordeaux-family grapes. To new or unfamiliar wine drinkers, these aromas can seem similar to sulfur or microbial wine faults, but they’re not!

We recommend trying a lot of wines to learn the difference! Chin chin!

Brett …smells “like a farm”

What it is: Brett is short for Brettanomyces which is a type of wild yeast that is very odiferous! Bretty wines smell like a farmyard, hay bails, sweaty saddle, Band-Aid, or “horsey.” Even in very low amounts, Brett often gives wine a metallic taste on the finish.

Despite how horrible this might sound to you, Brett is a wild thing that is loved for creating complexity.

It’s certainly not okay in some wines (such as white wines or Pinot Noir), but in Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or Carignan, it adds interest. Some of you love it, others hate it. But there’s no denying that Brett will be a thing in wine for years to come.

There’s so much more to learn about wine and your journey has just begun with wine faults – join the Wine Folly newsletter and you’ll gain access to our Wine 101 course.


7 Wine Faults and How to Sniff Them Out

As wine drinkers, we consume a lot of flawed wine without even realizing it. Nothing to be ashamed of because most of us just don’t know what wine flaws are.

The good news is, the majority of wine faults are not bad for us. They just taste bad. So, here’s a short primer on the most common flaws in wine and how to sniff them out.

(For you wine geeks, be sure to check out the Master Guide for more!)

Oxidized Wine …

  • How you can tell: Oxidized wines lose their brightness, both in color and in flavor. Deep reds turn to a brownish-orange color and have a strange vinegar-and-caramelized-apple characteristic.

By the way, white wines are much more susceptible to oxidization than reds, because reds’ higher tannin levels act as a buffer. If you really want to see what this looks like: open a new bottle, pour a glass and save that bottle for about a week. Congrats, you just ruined your wine. Drink some and compare it to that first glass you had.

The Best Wine Tools

From beginner to professional, the right wine tools make for the best drinking experience.

2,4,6-Trichloroanisole (TCA) …aka cork taint

  • How you can tell: Cork tainted wines have a dank odor that smells almost exactly like wet newspaper, moldy cardboard, or wet dog. These off-flavors dominate the corked wine, and there’s minimal fruit flavor.

Sulfur Compounds

  • How you can tell: The most frequent manifestation of a sulfur-related flaw is called mercaptan (it’s related to dihydrogen sulfide). If you notice rotten egg, fart, burnt rubber, cooked garlic, or skunk smells in your wine after decanting it for some time, then you probably have a mercaptan problem.
  • What it is: Sulphur is a complicated issue in wine. Sulfur is added in small amounts to almost all wine to stabilize it. Another sulfur compound found in wine called dihydrogen sulfide (H2S) is a naturally occurring bi-product when fermentations are stressed.

Secondary Fermentation …Bubbles in a non-sparkling wine!

  • How you can tell: Look for bubbles or listen for the psssst. Wines usually smell yeasty. They taste zippy.

Heat Damage …aka cooked wine (“madeirized” wine)

  • What it is: Wine ruined by exposure to too much heat. Imagine a pallet of wine cases cooking in the sun in the parking lot behind a wine store in Phoenix, AZ. Yep, this happens more commonly than you might think!
  • How you can tell: The wine smells jammy: sort of sweet, but processed. The smell is somewhat like a wine reduction sauce, mixed with a nutty, brown, roasted sugar-type aroma. Heat damage often compromises the seal of the bottle (the expansion from the heated air pushes the cork out), oxidization often occurs as well.
  • Can I fix it? No, but you can store your wine at the proper temperature and ensure you are not the problem. Most people accept 55 degrees as the best cellar temperature. The most important part of storage is a consistent temperature. Be mindful of how hot your garage gets in the summer if that’s where you store your wine. Don’t store wine in your attic.

UV Light Damage …aka lightstrike

  • How you can tell: Lightstrike occurs more commonly in delicate white wines like Champagne, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc. It makes the wine smell like a wet wool sweater!
  • What it is: Damage caused by exposure to excessive radiation, usually UV. Most commonly from storing wine in the sun or near a window.
  • Can I fix it? No, but you can be smart about storing your wine out of direct sunlight. The colored glass of wine bottles is supposed to mitigate lightstrike, so if you get a homemade white wine in a mason jar, put it in the darkest corner of your cellar.

Microbial and Bacterial Taint …aka I think something is growing in there

  • How you can tell: Again, there are many other bacteria involved in winemaking. They impart certain positive flavors but also produce signature wine faults. For example, if your wine smells like a gerbil cage, sommeliers call this “mousy,” often found in natural wines.

When you try a wine and breathe out and get a whiff of hay bail, this is called “ropiness” and suggests another over-productive wild microbe.

Not All Wine Faults Are Actually Wine Faults

Volatile Acidity …aka Acetic acid

What it is: This can be one of the most common wine faults, known as vinegar taint, but it is also a tool used by some high-quality winemakers to develop complexity in their flavor profiles.

Very high levels of acetic acid can smell like balsamic vinaigrette. In other words, some vinegar taint is on purpose and that style just isn’t for you. Some acetic acid is a winemaking fault, an accidental process caused when fermenting very-sweet grapes.

Tartrate Crystals …”glass” shards

What it is: These are mineral precipitates that form out of unfiltered, high mineral wines. They are little crystals sitting on the bottom of older bottles. They won’t cause you harm, so long as you don’t cut yourself on them (just kidding!). All you need to do is decant the wine with a filter and leave the sediment in the bottle.

Herbal Aromas …smells “green”

What it is: Herbal aromas are typical parts of certain varietally-specific flavor profiles that can smell of grass, eucalyptus, or asparagus. The most common of these chemicals is methoxypyrazine or “pyrazines” for short, commonly found in Bordeaux-family grapes. To new or unfamiliar wine drinkers, these aromas can seem similar to sulfur or microbial wine faults, but they’re not!

We recommend trying a lot of wines to learn the difference! Chin chin!

Brett …smells “like a farm”

What it is: Brett is short for Brettanomyces which is a type of wild yeast that is very odiferous! Bretty wines smell like a farmyard, hay bails, sweaty saddle, Band-Aid, or “horsey.” Even in very low amounts, Brett often gives wine a metallic taste on the finish.

Despite how horrible this might sound to you, Brett is a wild thing that is loved for creating complexity.

It’s certainly not okay in some wines (such as white wines or Pinot Noir), but in Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or Carignan, it adds interest. Some of you love it, others hate it. But there’s no denying that Brett will be a thing in wine for years to come.

There’s so much more to learn about wine and your journey has just begun with wine faults – join the Wine Folly newsletter and you’ll gain access to our Wine 101 course.


7 Wine Faults and How to Sniff Them Out

As wine drinkers, we consume a lot of flawed wine without even realizing it. Nothing to be ashamed of because most of us just don’t know what wine flaws are.

The good news is, the majority of wine faults are not bad for us. They just taste bad. So, here’s a short primer on the most common flaws in wine and how to sniff them out.

(For you wine geeks, be sure to check out the Master Guide for more!)

Oxidized Wine …

  • How you can tell: Oxidized wines lose their brightness, both in color and in flavor. Deep reds turn to a brownish-orange color and have a strange vinegar-and-caramelized-apple characteristic.

By the way, white wines are much more susceptible to oxidization than reds, because reds’ higher tannin levels act as a buffer. If you really want to see what this looks like: open a new bottle, pour a glass and save that bottle for about a week. Congrats, you just ruined your wine. Drink some and compare it to that first glass you had.

The Best Wine Tools

From beginner to professional, the right wine tools make for the best drinking experience.

2,4,6-Trichloroanisole (TCA) …aka cork taint

  • How you can tell: Cork tainted wines have a dank odor that smells almost exactly like wet newspaper, moldy cardboard, or wet dog. These off-flavors dominate the corked wine, and there’s minimal fruit flavor.

Sulfur Compounds

  • How you can tell: The most frequent manifestation of a sulfur-related flaw is called mercaptan (it’s related to dihydrogen sulfide). If you notice rotten egg, fart, burnt rubber, cooked garlic, or skunk smells in your wine after decanting it for some time, then you probably have a mercaptan problem.
  • What it is: Sulphur is a complicated issue in wine. Sulfur is added in small amounts to almost all wine to stabilize it. Another sulfur compound found in wine called dihydrogen sulfide (H2S) is a naturally occurring bi-product when fermentations are stressed.

Secondary Fermentation …Bubbles in a non-sparkling wine!

  • How you can tell: Look for bubbles or listen for the psssst. Wines usually smell yeasty. They taste zippy.

Heat Damage …aka cooked wine (“madeirized” wine)

  • What it is: Wine ruined by exposure to too much heat. Imagine a pallet of wine cases cooking in the sun in the parking lot behind a wine store in Phoenix, AZ. Yep, this happens more commonly than you might think!
  • How you can tell: The wine smells jammy: sort of sweet, but processed. The smell is somewhat like a wine reduction sauce, mixed with a nutty, brown, roasted sugar-type aroma. Heat damage often compromises the seal of the bottle (the expansion from the heated air pushes the cork out), oxidization often occurs as well.
  • Can I fix it? No, but you can store your wine at the proper temperature and ensure you are not the problem. Most people accept 55 degrees as the best cellar temperature. The most important part of storage is a consistent temperature. Be mindful of how hot your garage gets in the summer if that’s where you store your wine. Don’t store wine in your attic.

UV Light Damage …aka lightstrike

  • How you can tell: Lightstrike occurs more commonly in delicate white wines like Champagne, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc. It makes the wine smell like a wet wool sweater!
  • What it is: Damage caused by exposure to excessive radiation, usually UV. Most commonly from storing wine in the sun or near a window.
  • Can I fix it? No, but you can be smart about storing your wine out of direct sunlight. The colored glass of wine bottles is supposed to mitigate lightstrike, so if you get a homemade white wine in a mason jar, put it in the darkest corner of your cellar.

Microbial and Bacterial Taint …aka I think something is growing in there

  • How you can tell: Again, there are many other bacteria involved in winemaking. They impart certain positive flavors but also produce signature wine faults. For example, if your wine smells like a gerbil cage, sommeliers call this “mousy,” often found in natural wines.

When you try a wine and breathe out and get a whiff of hay bail, this is called “ropiness” and suggests another over-productive wild microbe.

Not All Wine Faults Are Actually Wine Faults

Volatile Acidity …aka Acetic acid

What it is: This can be one of the most common wine faults, known as vinegar taint, but it is also a tool used by some high-quality winemakers to develop complexity in their flavor profiles.

Very high levels of acetic acid can smell like balsamic vinaigrette. In other words, some vinegar taint is on purpose and that style just isn’t for you. Some acetic acid is a winemaking fault, an accidental process caused when fermenting very-sweet grapes.

Tartrate Crystals …”glass” shards

What it is: These are mineral precipitates that form out of unfiltered, high mineral wines. They are little crystals sitting on the bottom of older bottles. They won’t cause you harm, so long as you don’t cut yourself on them (just kidding!). All you need to do is decant the wine with a filter and leave the sediment in the bottle.

Herbal Aromas …smells “green”

What it is: Herbal aromas are typical parts of certain varietally-specific flavor profiles that can smell of grass, eucalyptus, or asparagus. The most common of these chemicals is methoxypyrazine or “pyrazines” for short, commonly found in Bordeaux-family grapes. To new or unfamiliar wine drinkers, these aromas can seem similar to sulfur or microbial wine faults, but they’re not!

We recommend trying a lot of wines to learn the difference! Chin chin!

Brett …smells “like a farm”

What it is: Brett is short for Brettanomyces which is a type of wild yeast that is very odiferous! Bretty wines smell like a farmyard, hay bails, sweaty saddle, Band-Aid, or “horsey.” Even in very low amounts, Brett often gives wine a metallic taste on the finish.

Despite how horrible this might sound to you, Brett is a wild thing that is loved for creating complexity.

It’s certainly not okay in some wines (such as white wines or Pinot Noir), but in Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or Carignan, it adds interest. Some of you love it, others hate it. But there’s no denying that Brett will be a thing in wine for years to come.

There’s so much more to learn about wine and your journey has just begun with wine faults – join the Wine Folly newsletter and you’ll gain access to our Wine 101 course.


7 Wine Faults and How to Sniff Them Out

As wine drinkers, we consume a lot of flawed wine without even realizing it. Nothing to be ashamed of because most of us just don’t know what wine flaws are.

The good news is, the majority of wine faults are not bad for us. They just taste bad. So, here’s a short primer on the most common flaws in wine and how to sniff them out.

(For you wine geeks, be sure to check out the Master Guide for more!)

Oxidized Wine …

  • How you can tell: Oxidized wines lose their brightness, both in color and in flavor. Deep reds turn to a brownish-orange color and have a strange vinegar-and-caramelized-apple characteristic.

By the way, white wines are much more susceptible to oxidization than reds, because reds’ higher tannin levels act as a buffer. If you really want to see what this looks like: open a new bottle, pour a glass and save that bottle for about a week. Congrats, you just ruined your wine. Drink some and compare it to that first glass you had.

The Best Wine Tools

From beginner to professional, the right wine tools make for the best drinking experience.

2,4,6-Trichloroanisole (TCA) …aka cork taint

  • How you can tell: Cork tainted wines have a dank odor that smells almost exactly like wet newspaper, moldy cardboard, or wet dog. These off-flavors dominate the corked wine, and there’s minimal fruit flavor.

Sulfur Compounds

  • How you can tell: The most frequent manifestation of a sulfur-related flaw is called mercaptan (it’s related to dihydrogen sulfide). If you notice rotten egg, fart, burnt rubber, cooked garlic, or skunk smells in your wine after decanting it for some time, then you probably have a mercaptan problem.
  • What it is: Sulphur is a complicated issue in wine. Sulfur is added in small amounts to almost all wine to stabilize it. Another sulfur compound found in wine called dihydrogen sulfide (H2S) is a naturally occurring bi-product when fermentations are stressed.

Secondary Fermentation …Bubbles in a non-sparkling wine!

  • How you can tell: Look for bubbles or listen for the psssst. Wines usually smell yeasty. They taste zippy.

Heat Damage …aka cooked wine (“madeirized” wine)

  • What it is: Wine ruined by exposure to too much heat. Imagine a pallet of wine cases cooking in the sun in the parking lot behind a wine store in Phoenix, AZ. Yep, this happens more commonly than you might think!
  • How you can tell: The wine smells jammy: sort of sweet, but processed. The smell is somewhat like a wine reduction sauce, mixed with a nutty, brown, roasted sugar-type aroma. Heat damage often compromises the seal of the bottle (the expansion from the heated air pushes the cork out), oxidization often occurs as well.
  • Can I fix it? No, but you can store your wine at the proper temperature and ensure you are not the problem. Most people accept 55 degrees as the best cellar temperature. The most important part of storage is a consistent temperature. Be mindful of how hot your garage gets in the summer if that’s where you store your wine. Don’t store wine in your attic.

UV Light Damage …aka lightstrike

  • How you can tell: Lightstrike occurs more commonly in delicate white wines like Champagne, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc. It makes the wine smell like a wet wool sweater!
  • What it is: Damage caused by exposure to excessive radiation, usually UV. Most commonly from storing wine in the sun or near a window.
  • Can I fix it? No, but you can be smart about storing your wine out of direct sunlight. The colored glass of wine bottles is supposed to mitigate lightstrike, so if you get a homemade white wine in a mason jar, put it in the darkest corner of your cellar.

Microbial and Bacterial Taint …aka I think something is growing in there

  • How you can tell: Again, there are many other bacteria involved in winemaking. They impart certain positive flavors but also produce signature wine faults. For example, if your wine smells like a gerbil cage, sommeliers call this “mousy,” often found in natural wines.

When you try a wine and breathe out and get a whiff of hay bail, this is called “ropiness” and suggests another over-productive wild microbe.

Not All Wine Faults Are Actually Wine Faults

Volatile Acidity …aka Acetic acid

What it is: This can be one of the most common wine faults, known as vinegar taint, but it is also a tool used by some high-quality winemakers to develop complexity in their flavor profiles.

Very high levels of acetic acid can smell like balsamic vinaigrette. In other words, some vinegar taint is on purpose and that style just isn’t for you. Some acetic acid is a winemaking fault, an accidental process caused when fermenting very-sweet grapes.

Tartrate Crystals …”glass” shards

What it is: These are mineral precipitates that form out of unfiltered, high mineral wines. They are little crystals sitting on the bottom of older bottles. They won’t cause you harm, so long as you don’t cut yourself on them (just kidding!). All you need to do is decant the wine with a filter and leave the sediment in the bottle.

Herbal Aromas …smells “green”

What it is: Herbal aromas are typical parts of certain varietally-specific flavor profiles that can smell of grass, eucalyptus, or asparagus. The most common of these chemicals is methoxypyrazine or “pyrazines” for short, commonly found in Bordeaux-family grapes. To new or unfamiliar wine drinkers, these aromas can seem similar to sulfur or microbial wine faults, but they’re not!

We recommend trying a lot of wines to learn the difference! Chin chin!

Brett …smells “like a farm”

What it is: Brett is short for Brettanomyces which is a type of wild yeast that is very odiferous! Bretty wines smell like a farmyard, hay bails, sweaty saddle, Band-Aid, or “horsey.” Even in very low amounts, Brett often gives wine a metallic taste on the finish.

Despite how horrible this might sound to you, Brett is a wild thing that is loved for creating complexity.

It’s certainly not okay in some wines (such as white wines or Pinot Noir), but in Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or Carignan, it adds interest. Some of you love it, others hate it. But there’s no denying that Brett will be a thing in wine for years to come.

There’s so much more to learn about wine and your journey has just begun with wine faults – join the Wine Folly newsletter and you’ll gain access to our Wine 101 course.


7 Wine Faults and How to Sniff Them Out

As wine drinkers, we consume a lot of flawed wine without even realizing it. Nothing to be ashamed of because most of us just don’t know what wine flaws are.

The good news is, the majority of wine faults are not bad for us. They just taste bad. So, here’s a short primer on the most common flaws in wine and how to sniff them out.

(For you wine geeks, be sure to check out the Master Guide for more!)

Oxidized Wine …

  • How you can tell: Oxidized wines lose their brightness, both in color and in flavor. Deep reds turn to a brownish-orange color and have a strange vinegar-and-caramelized-apple characteristic.

By the way, white wines are much more susceptible to oxidization than reds, because reds’ higher tannin levels act as a buffer. If you really want to see what this looks like: open a new bottle, pour a glass and save that bottle for about a week. Congrats, you just ruined your wine. Drink some and compare it to that first glass you had.

The Best Wine Tools

From beginner to professional, the right wine tools make for the best drinking experience.

2,4,6-Trichloroanisole (TCA) …aka cork taint

  • How you can tell: Cork tainted wines have a dank odor that smells almost exactly like wet newspaper, moldy cardboard, or wet dog. These off-flavors dominate the corked wine, and there’s minimal fruit flavor.

Sulfur Compounds

  • How you can tell: The most frequent manifestation of a sulfur-related flaw is called mercaptan (it’s related to dihydrogen sulfide). If you notice rotten egg, fart, burnt rubber, cooked garlic, or skunk smells in your wine after decanting it for some time, then you probably have a mercaptan problem.
  • What it is: Sulphur is a complicated issue in wine. Sulfur is added in small amounts to almost all wine to stabilize it. Another sulfur compound found in wine called dihydrogen sulfide (H2S) is a naturally occurring bi-product when fermentations are stressed.

Secondary Fermentation …Bubbles in a non-sparkling wine!

  • How you can tell: Look for bubbles or listen for the psssst. Wines usually smell yeasty. They taste zippy.

Heat Damage …aka cooked wine (“madeirized” wine)

  • What it is: Wine ruined by exposure to too much heat. Imagine a pallet of wine cases cooking in the sun in the parking lot behind a wine store in Phoenix, AZ. Yep, this happens more commonly than you might think!
  • How you can tell: The wine smells jammy: sort of sweet, but processed. The smell is somewhat like a wine reduction sauce, mixed with a nutty, brown, roasted sugar-type aroma. Heat damage often compromises the seal of the bottle (the expansion from the heated air pushes the cork out), oxidization often occurs as well.
  • Can I fix it? No, but you can store your wine at the proper temperature and ensure you are not the problem. Most people accept 55 degrees as the best cellar temperature. The most important part of storage is a consistent temperature. Be mindful of how hot your garage gets in the summer if that’s where you store your wine. Don’t store wine in your attic.

UV Light Damage …aka lightstrike

  • How you can tell: Lightstrike occurs more commonly in delicate white wines like Champagne, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc. It makes the wine smell like a wet wool sweater!
  • What it is: Damage caused by exposure to excessive radiation, usually UV. Most commonly from storing wine in the sun or near a window.
  • Can I fix it? No, but you can be smart about storing your wine out of direct sunlight. The colored glass of wine bottles is supposed to mitigate lightstrike, so if you get a homemade white wine in a mason jar, put it in the darkest corner of your cellar.

Microbial and Bacterial Taint …aka I think something is growing in there

  • How you can tell: Again, there are many other bacteria involved in winemaking. They impart certain positive flavors but also produce signature wine faults. For example, if your wine smells like a gerbil cage, sommeliers call this “mousy,” often found in natural wines.

When you try a wine and breathe out and get a whiff of hay bail, this is called “ropiness” and suggests another over-productive wild microbe.

Not All Wine Faults Are Actually Wine Faults

Volatile Acidity …aka Acetic acid

What it is: This can be one of the most common wine faults, known as vinegar taint, but it is also a tool used by some high-quality winemakers to develop complexity in their flavor profiles.

Very high levels of acetic acid can smell like balsamic vinaigrette. In other words, some vinegar taint is on purpose and that style just isn’t for you. Some acetic acid is a winemaking fault, an accidental process caused when fermenting very-sweet grapes.

Tartrate Crystals …”glass” shards

What it is: These are mineral precipitates that form out of unfiltered, high mineral wines. They are little crystals sitting on the bottom of older bottles. They won’t cause you harm, so long as you don’t cut yourself on them (just kidding!). All you need to do is decant the wine with a filter and leave the sediment in the bottle.

Herbal Aromas …smells “green”

What it is: Herbal aromas are typical parts of certain varietally-specific flavor profiles that can smell of grass, eucalyptus, or asparagus. The most common of these chemicals is methoxypyrazine or “pyrazines” for short, commonly found in Bordeaux-family grapes. To new or unfamiliar wine drinkers, these aromas can seem similar to sulfur or microbial wine faults, but they’re not!

We recommend trying a lot of wines to learn the difference! Chin chin!

Brett …smells “like a farm”

What it is: Brett is short for Brettanomyces which is a type of wild yeast that is very odiferous! Bretty wines smell like a farmyard, hay bails, sweaty saddle, Band-Aid, or “horsey.” Even in very low amounts, Brett often gives wine a metallic taste on the finish.

Despite how horrible this might sound to you, Brett is a wild thing that is loved for creating complexity.

It’s certainly not okay in some wines (such as white wines or Pinot Noir), but in Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or Carignan, it adds interest. Some of you love it, others hate it. But there’s no denying that Brett will be a thing in wine for years to come.

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