5 Terms To Know: Wine Flaws & Faults
You know what's great? A cozy, rainy Sunday at home with the temps not even reaching the mid-60s. After weeks of heat and humidity, this was a welcome change. While the rain did make us reschedule filming, I fully enjoyed the day at home. I can't say that summer is officially gone just yet but I'll gladly pretend for the time being.
You know what's not so great? Flaws and faults. Alas, we all have at least a couple. So, it should be no surprise that wine can also have some flaws of its own.
When it comes to wine flaws and faults there is a difference. Flaws in wine are attributes that can add character and complexity to a wine that are otherwise not considered normal for that grape. The amount that is considered "too much" is a personal preference based on the wine drinker. Faults, on the other hand, completely overwhelm the wine and change the profile in an unfavorable way.
Let's get into a few that can be found in your glass.
4 Wine Flaws & A Fault
VA (Volatile Acidity)
VA is caused by bacteria that can come in contact with the wine during any stage of the winemaking process. Low levels can help a wine seem more complex and fragrant giving off subtle sweet, and tangy balsamic notes (yum), whereas higher levels give wine aromas of vinegar or even nail polish remover. There's always a chance VA in wine will blow off after some time in the glass or in a decanter.
Typically this is caused by the wine closure failing thus letting unwanted oxygen interact with the wine. Wines become deeper in color and more brown than they should be. At high levels, oxidation will lock out fruitiness and freshness. Favorable aromas through intentional oxidation include toffee, caramel, honey, or coffee. Certain wines are made in an oxidative style and in that case, this is not a flaw. One example are wines from the Jura, France.
Gives wine aromas of rotten eggs, boiled cabbage, boiled onions, burnt matches or blocked drains. No one wants to smell any of these. Reduction occurs when wines don't get enough air - the opposite of oxidation. When this happens, volatile sulfur compounds can form. Those turn the wine in your glass into the smell of hard boiled, rotten eggs you forgot were in the back of your fridge. Similar to VA, some people find low levels of reduction pleasant, adding complexity and character to a wine and in some cases, reduction will blow off, or dissipate, once a bottle is opened. Sometimes, like you and I, a wine just needs some breathing room.
Brett is a yeast that can give wine aromas of plastic or animal such as hot vinyl, gamey meat, leather, sweaty horses or even bandaids. While no one wants to drink something that tastes like hot plastic, low levels of brett can be enjoyable. It can add complexity to dark, ripe fruit and brighten floral notes. How much brett is too much? Again, it's a matter of personal preference.
Aka the chemical that causes “Cork Taint”. This gives wine aromas of damp, moldy cardboard, wet dogs, or musty basement. Fruit flavors are muted and wine seems less fresh. When certain phenols or fungi interact with natural corks this chemical compound makes itself known and can ruin your wine drinking experience. TCA is also found in the winery and equipment used during winemaking. No one wants to smell, or drink for that matter, damp, moldy cardboard. This is a fault.
What if your wine has a flaw or fault?
Say you are out to dinner and you get a whiff of something that seems...off. Ask those you are with if they are getting the same thing. Kindly let your server know that you believe there is something off about the wine that was poured. Any good server or restaurant will take the glass and pour you something you'll enjoy - whether it's a glass from a new bottle or a completely different wine altogether.
The other situation is when you bring home a bottle of wine from your local wine shop or the grocery store. You're finally ready to enjoy a glass after a long day. You open the bottle, pour a glass, and instead of enjoying that glass, you're wanting to spit out whatever you just drank. Take that bottle back to the wine store and nicely explain something didn't seem right with this bottle. The shop or grocery store should take the bottle back and offer an exchange or a refund.
These things happen. Don't feel bad about sending a wine back. You should get to enjoy the wine in your glass. It'll be a lot harder to do that if you are having to hold your nose to avoid the smell of nail polish remover or sweaty barn animals.
Now, there's a difference between bringing a wine back that you just don't like vs. a wine that actually has a flaw or fault. Don't be that guy.
Also, keep in mind just because one bottle had a flaw or a fault doesn't mean everything from that producer will have problems. It happens to the best of them. Give the producer another chance before writing them off completely.
Photo by Elisha Terada