When Bad Things Happen to Good Wine

At its least glamorous, stripped of its mysterious and romantic qualities, wine is a processed food.

As such, there are times, rare though they may be, when things go wrong.

The good news is that there’s never a reason for wine-gone-bad to even touch one’s lips. Unlike the recent salmonella incident with eggs, which saw hundreds of unsuspecting consumers fall ill, virtually every “problem” that a bottle of wine could have is easily detectable and, thus, avoidable.

Here are the four most common occurrences or conditions that can transform wine drinking into a memorable experience… for all the wrong reasons…

1. CORKED. When a wine is exposed to a compound (which we could spell, but not pronounce, for you) that makes it smell like wet cardboard, it is said to be corked. Interestingly, the condition rarely has anything to do with the cork, other than its role as the carrier of the contaminant. However, the cork often is the culprit when a wine is…

2. MADERIZED. Sherry typically tastes like raisins and nuts, but other wines do not. If your Cabernet Sauvignon has those aroma and flavor qualities, it is maderized – not a good thing. It got that way because oxygen got into the bottle, and oxygen speeds the aging process of wine. Besides a bad cork, other conditions contributing to a maderized – or “cooked” – wine are overexposure to heat and light. That’s why I cringe anytime I walk by a liquor store or market that displays bottles of wine in its window.

3. THE FIZZ FACTOR. We know that Champagne is supposed to be fizzy and bubbly, but still wine is not. If there are bubbles in your Chardonnay, chances are it has undergone a second fermentation while in the bottle. The reasons for this are scientific, but you don’t need to have an advanced degree to recognize whether those unexpected bubbles are problematic. Reason: The wine will smell like sour cabbage, perhaps with a little garlic thrown in.

4. SULPHUR. I have never met a person who enjoys the “aroma” of rotten eggs. If that scent is in your wine glass, you’re dealing with part of a batch of wine that likely was subjected to a little too much sulphur during the winemaking process. But before you pour that stinky wine down the sink, give it a good swirl in your glass or decant it. In many cases, that sulphur scent will “blow off,” and the wine will smell like wine again. There are no concerns over drinking an over-sulphured wine; it’s simply a matter of getting past that scent. And if your wine does smell like sulphur, you’re within your rights to ask for a replacement glass or bottle.

P.S.: Yes, we know that sulphur often is spelled S-U-L-F-U-R these days. Old chemistry class lessons die hard…

What about sediment sometimes found in bottles of red wine, or those golden or purple crystals seen in some bottles or clinging to corks?

Virtually all red wines will “throw” some sediment over time… those crystals are a form of tartaric acid… and neither is a problem. But they can be a little off-putting to the eye, so if you prefer your wine sediment- and tartrate-free, simply decant it.

While bad things can happen to good wine, keep in mind that such occurrences are rare. Depending on which survey or study you care to believe, only between 1 and 6 percent of all wine bottles are problematic in some way. As a wine drinker, the odds are definitely in your favor.

Posted in Editor's Journal
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