Despite modern winemaking, or storage
and shipping technology, nearly 5% of all wines arrive at the table
with less than desired quality. Here are a few tips on how to spot a
poor quality wine.
A good wine must have a satisfactory cork. Even today with
high-technology plastics, many bottles are still stoppered with an
old-fashioned cork. A cork is a product of the bark of specially
selected Mediterranean trees. It has many highly desirable and hard
to duplicate attributes such as it is lightweight, resistant to
disease and airflow, flexible and attractive.
Unfortunately cork is a natural product and is susceptible to attack
by microorganisms. Certain types of fungus, present anywhere that
wine is stored can infiltrate the cork which results in a compound
called TCA (1, 2, 4-trichloroanisol).
TCA and other factors produce appalling odors and tastes in wine,
similar to wet cardboard, mushrooms, mold and even dirty socks. Even
when the odor is mild the taste may be bitter and lack fruitiness.
Moving wine from the vineyard to the table involves trips that
can be as far as thousands of miles. This makes it surprising that
only 5% of wine is partially spoiled due to excessive temperatures.
High temperatures can cause wine to expand slightly increasing the
pressure inside the corked bottle. The pressure can cause the cork
to be pushed up slightly. When the wine cools air seepage can occur.
If the temperature becomes too high the wine can be cooked within
the bottle. If this has happened it will result in a taste more of
stewed prunes than fresh berries. To spot this problem look for
corks that sit above the lip of the bottle, or levels of liquid near
to the base of the neck.
Storage environments subject to excessive heat, cold or incorrect
humidity levels, can cause the cork to shrink or crack. When this
happens infiltration of unwanted amounts of air into the bottle
occurs, causing oxidation. Oxidation is simply oxygen combining with
a variety of the wine components and altering them.
Air taken in small amounts over a number of years may be desirable
to ensure proper aging. However, well before producing vinegar it is
possible to spoil a wine by allowing too much air to reach the wine.
Wine that has become fruitless and resembles old Madeira
(deliberately produced in open air vats) is almost certainly
Sulphur and Sediments
Sulphur is a common preservative in winemaking which is used to
help stabilize the wine. However in excessive concentrations it
produces an undesirable aroma and flavor. The characteristic smell
or taste of mothballs or burnt matches makes it quite easy to spot.
A certain amount of sediment in wine is acceptable and normal.
Ports, older wines and even whites, can often accumulate material
and if properly poured or decanted are fine. Tartrate crystals will
also naturally form in some wines, especially if it is chilled
before shipping and storage. These will not harm the wine but avoid
pouring and tasting them.
Occasionally it is possible for dormant yeasts to remain in the
wine and ferment the wine during years of shipping and storage. This
is a very rare occurrence. Champagne, is deliberately refermented in
the bottle however, for non-sparkling wines this is undesirable but
Manufacturing techniques of bottling, shipping and storing wine
continue to improve and the odds of encountering one of these
conditions is quite rare. Most of the time a wine that doesn't suit
the palate, is simply not for the person tasting it.
Swirl the wine gently, sniff and taste.
Sip of Wine
Wine Aging Table
Wine and Cheese
Wine and Health
British Columbia, Canada
Cotes Du Rhone