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Unmasking Wine Mysteries: How to Identify Wine Faults Before the First Sip


Has anyone not that experienced in wine ever wondered why you try a small taste in a restaurant before it’s served? WINE FAULTS! Here you’ll learn all about some common wine problems or “faults” as they are known and how to detect them. Feel confident sending that wine back and not just drinking a it because you feel uncertain and what to look for when tasting.


Wine, the embodiment of sophistication and complexity, occasionally veils its brilliance with faults that alter its taste, aroma, and appearance. For aspiring sommeliers and bartenders, recognizing these intricacies becomes an integral part of their training, enhancing their ability to curate impeccable drinking experiences for patrons.


Wine drinking throughout history has been important to various cultures and societies for many reasons; religious, social, and to cure one’s sorrows. Wine is a beverage with a storied history, dating back to Ancient Egypt and longer and will no doubt carry on until the end of time.


Vinification, or wine production, has kept pace with the demand for the beverage and currently there are countless varieties on the market ranging from the classic Champagne to novelties such as chocolate flavored red wines. Regardless of the type wine selected at the store or from a restaurant’s menu, it is imperative to know how to detect the flaws in a wine.


Types of Wine Faults


Cork Taint: The Elusive Intrigue

Taste: A pervasive mustiness infiltrates the wine, disrupting its aroma with a wet cardboard or dank cellar odor. The flavors, typically vibrant, appear muted and subdued.

Appearance: While cork taint might not alter the wine's color significantly, it can affect its brilliance and clarity.

Cause: Trichloroanisole (TCA), found in contaminated corks or winery environments, infuses the wine. This fault affects approximately 5-7% of wines, a concerning statistic for sommeliers selecting wines for discerning customers.


Oxidation: The Encounter with Air

Taste: Exposure to excess oxygen flattens the wine's profile, imparting a vinegar-like tang or the taste of stale fruit. Whites tend to adopt brownish hues, while reds turn brick-red.

Appearance: The change in color becomes evident, signaling the wine's exposure to excessive oxygen.

Cause: Faulty closures or improper storage conditions lead to oxidation, notably affecting delicate varietals like Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. Bartender and sommelier training stresses the importance of vigilant storage practices.


Sulphur: The Pungent Undertone

Taste: A pronounced sulfurous note dominates the wine, evoking burnt rubber, rotten eggs, or the aroma of struck matches.

Appearance: While this fault might not significantly alter the wine's appearance, its impact is unmistakably discernible in taste and aroma.

Cause: Overuse of sulfur-based additives during winemaking or inadequate cellar ventilation contributes to this fault. Bartender schools emphasize the impact of additives on wine quality.


High Acidity: The Sharp Vinegary Tinge

Taste: A heightened acidity akin to vinegar overwhelms the wine's natural flavors, masking its intended profile.

Appearance: While the wine's appearance might remain unchanged, the acidic taste becomes the dominant characteristic.

Cause: Uncontrolled fermentation temperatures or microbial activity, particularly acetobacter converting alcohol into acetic acid, leads to this fault. Wine training programs underscore the significance of fermentation control.


Brettanomyces: The Wild, Earthy Notes

Taste: Brettanomyces yeast adds complexity with rustic, earthy tones reminiscent of barnyard or medicinal qualities. However, in excess, it overshadows the wine's intended flavors.

Appearance: Brettanomyces typically doesn't alter a wine's appearance but significantly impacts its taste profile.

Cause: Present in wineries and vineyards, Brettanomyces thrives in residual sugars or poorly sanitized equipment. Aspiring sommeliers learn to distinguish its influence on various wine styles.


Sediments and Deposits: The Unsettling Residue

Taste: While not directly affecting taste, sediments create a gritty texture, altering the wine's mouthfeel.

Appearance: Sediments settle at the bottom of the bottle or glass, visible as fine particles or solid deposits.

Cause: Sediments result from natural components like tannins or yeast, commonly found in aged or unfiltered wines. Bartender training emphasizes proper decanting techniques to separate sediments for a smoother drinking experience.


Heat Damage: The Cooked Wine

Taste: The wine loses vibrancy, exhibiting stewed or baked fruit flavors. Reds may taste prune-like, while whites turn flat with caramelized profiles.

Appearance: While the color might not drastically change, heat damage accelerates aging, altering the wine's intended characteristics.

Cause: Improper storage or transportation in excessively hot conditions results in heat damage. Bartenders and sommeliers grasp the importance of maintaining ideal storage temperatures.


Spotting a cooked wine is fairly easy. Just follow these steps...


Check the Cork: Does it fit firmly into the mouth of the bottle? Is it soaked with wine? Or is it protruding slightly? Any protrusion is a possible sign it is cooked (i.e., the wine has expanded and pushed the cork out). This bottle should be avoided.


Check the Capsule: The capsule is the foil that envelopes the cork. While usually decorative, it is meant to protect the cork from insects and rodents. See if it spins. If it does note then there may be wine reside binding it to the cap from when the wine expanded and leaked around the cork.  


Check the Neck:  Inspect the wine level. Most wines should have a level well into the neck. If the level is too low in an unopened bottle (you will know when you see it) then this bottle probably has had some leakage due to extreme heat and should be avoided.   




Tips for Identifying Wine Faults


Use Your Senses: Engage your sense of sight, smell, taste, and touch to comprehensively evaluate the wine.


Comparative Analysis: Compare the wine against expectations for its varietal, region, and age. Any stark deviations could hint at a fault.


Consider Context: Assessing a wine in various contexts—different glasses, temperatures, and aeration levels—can reveal hidden faults.


Know the Varietal: Different grape varietals might exhibit certain characteristics or faults more prominently. Understanding these nuances aids in fault detection.


Experience Matters: The more exposure you have to different wines, the better equipped you'll be to identify faults. Tasting a diverse range of wines hones your palate.


By honing these observational skills and understanding the telltale signs of various faults, wine enthusiasts, sommeliers, and consumers alike can navigate the world of wines with confidence. While encountering a flawed bottle might initially disappoint, it serves as an educational experience, further enriching one's journey through the captivating realm of oenology. Cheers to appreciating the complexities of wine, faults and all!


By comprehending these intricacies, bartenders and sommeliers elevate their expertise, preserving the integrity of wines and crafting memorable encounters. Aspiring professionals learn that a discerning palate transcends mere appreciation—it becomes an indispensable tool in the art of wine curation and service.


Bartender and sommelier training programs delve extensively into these wine faults, fostering a nuanced understanding of their causes, tastes, and appearances. Mastery over these nuances ensures that professionals can select, store, and serve wines to perfection, guaranteeing patrons an unparalleled drinking experience. Try learning from an accomplished and award-winning bartender training school like 100% Money back guarantee, so there’s never any risk.



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